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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

MoMA to Showcase Ramin Bahrani's Films

If you live in New York City and you’ve not had a chance to see Ramin Bahrani’s films, now’s your chance. Bahrani won the Spirit Awards’ Someone to Watch Award last year, and this year Chop Shop was nominated for Spirit Awards for both direction and cinematography; Roger Ebert featured Man Push Cart in his 2006 Overlooked Film Festival (also known as Ebertfest), and Chop Shop will play at Ebertfest 2009, coming up in April.
Bahrani’s newest film, Goodbye Solo, which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival before playing the Toronto International Film Festival last September, is opening March 27 in New York City at the Angelika (roll-out to other cities to follow).
Leading up to the opening, the Museum of Modern Art is screening all Bahrani’s films. Here are the screening times, so you can mark your calendars:
Wednesday, March 4th: MAN PUSH CART 615pm & CHOP SHOP 8:15pm
Thursday, March 5th: GOODBYE SOLO 7pm (Bahrani will attend for intro and Q&A)
Friday, March 6th: CHOP SHOP 6pm
Saturday, March 7th: MAN PUSH CART 6pm
If you’re not in NYC, but you are going to SXSW, Goodbye Solo is playing at the fest on March 16th and 19th.
I’ve written before about how much I love this filmmaker’s work, and I want to take the opportunity now to talk about all these films. Bahrani, in his first three films, has worked with themes of immigrants, poverty, outsiders, and surviving on the fringes of society, and each of the films explores these themes through unique, interesting characters, symbolism and a vaguely open-ended conclusion that leaves it to the viewer to project what arc the characters will continue to take off the screen.

Bahrani’s a great example of a young independent filmmaker who’s made very solid films while never compromising the vision he had for each story. Further, he’s whip-smart when it comes to knowing both how to get his films financed outside the studio system and very effectively marketing his work, and I hope in the Q&A for Goodbye Solo he might have the opportunity to discuss this aspect of the business with any young indie filmmakers who might be in the house. I meet so many filmmakers who have great ideas and even good films with their first or second effort who have no idea how to deal with the business side of the industry; Bahrani’s learned a lot along the way that other indie filmmakers could learn from.
Man Push Cart follows Ahmad (Ahmad Razvi), once a famous Pakistani rockstar, who’s now an immigrant manning a push cart on the streets of Manhattan and struggling to survive. Bahrani follows Ahmad through his life as he pushes and pulls his cart every day, struggling to save up money, anonymous to the busy New Yorkers who stop at his cart for coffee and a doughnut on their way to work, and dreaming of being able to get back into music again.
In Chop Shop, Bahrani turns his lens to Ale (Alejandro Polanco), a young boy who lives and works in New York’s rough Iron Triangle district, learning the trade of stripping stolen cars for parts to support himself and his older sister, as he tries to keep his sister from turning to a life of prostitution. And in Goodbye Solo, the director looks at aging and death through William (Red West), an older man with a heavy heart who hires a young immigrant taxi driver, Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) to drive him in a month to the remote mountaintop where he plans to end his life.
I highly recommend seeing all these films on a big screen, the better to appreciate the beauty of Michael Simmonds’ cinematography (one of these days, Simmonds and Bahrani will both get Oscar nods for their work together, trust me on this). Simmonds and Bahrani work seamlessly together, and Bahrani’s films are all great examples of how to marry the art and craft of filmmaking into a whole that works on just about every level. The filmmaker and his DP start planning shots weeks, sometimes months before the shoot, and Bahrani is known for his meticulous planning, for his own work ethic, and for the work he puts his actors through in developing their characters.
In shooting Man Push Cart, for instance, every shot you see of Ahmad lugging that cart through the streets of New York City is Ahmad physically doing that work — there’s no big truck off-screen pulling the cart along while the actor huffs and puffs dramatically. One night during filming, they shot a night shot (if memory serves, its the one where Ahmad loses control of the cart and very nearly gets hit by a large truck — that part wasn’t exactly planned) and then stayed up through the night so they could shoot another shot of Ahmad pushing his cart in the early morning hours.
For Chop Shop, Bahrani, tipped off by a friend that the Iron Triangle district might be an interesting setting for a film, spent nearly a year hanging out in the rough-and-tumble district, getting to know the men who live and work there, until they trusted him and became so used to Bahrani and Simmonds hanging around with their cameras that they ignored their presence. The shop were Ale lives and works in the film is a real shop, his boss in the film the real owner of that shop, and young Ale learned the ropes of the trade and was paid for the work he did on cars there during filming. With Goodbye Solo, Bahrani had his lead live in an apartment in North Carolina (where Bahrani himself was born and raised) and learn to drive a cab until the work of a cab driver became natural to him and he could drive the cab around without it detracting from his acting in the film.
I also recommend seeing the films in the order in which they were made, if you can, the better to appreciate both Bahrani’s growth as a filmmaker through the films and the aspects of the direction and cinematography that carry over from film to film. It’s a great opportunity to catch this rising young filmmaker’s work in one fell swoop, and if I lived in New York City myself, I’d be there, even though I’ve seen each of the films more than once.
Good stuff, and a great chance to both support an independent filmmaker and to catch up with Bahrani before he takes his filmmaking to the next level. Bahrani’s next film, interestingly enough, is supposed to be a period drama set in the Gold Rush, and the filmmaker told me when I sat down with him in Toronto that he was anticipating having a bigger budget this time around, and possibly some well-known names in the cast. I can’t wait to see what he does with that one.

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2 Responses to “MoMA to Showcase Ramin Bahrani's Films”

  1. John Wildman says:

    Kim –
    I believe you and I have spoken more than once about our mutual fandom of Ramin and his films. I have a non-rational feeling that he should always bring his films to both AFI FEST and AFI DALLAS simply to give me my personal opportunity to sing his praises to those not in-the-know yet while he is under my PR wing (so-to-speak).
    However, you just filled us in on some details about his process and prep that were very enlightening to me and now I really can’t wait to get a crack at his next film.
    Great stuff – thanks!

  2. As a fan of Bahrani’s work, I’m especially looking forward to “Goodbye Solo,” since I live in/around Blowing Rock, NC.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon