June 23, 2022 | Nevada Public Radio

What first attracted you to cinema?
I think maybe the Muppets in the mid 70’s. I was obsessed with the Muppets and tried to make my own Muppets as a kid. And of course star wars blew me away, like so many people. I actually had a book of The puppet movie. I would be obsessed with set details and miniature things. Then I bought a video camera around 1980 and started with models, making spaceships and landing them on pieces of foam with talcum powder. I grew up in Bahrain, in the Middle East, and we had very different copyright laws. So the way we looked at media in the 70s in Bahrain was you go to the video store, and you get 30 or 40 or 50 videos in a milk crate, bring them home, bring them back the next month . At a very young age, I just had a million movies at my fingertips that I watched. And that was Bahrain, which is a lot like Vegas, so when I was a kid it was too hot to go play outside, so I stayed inside and watched movies.it’s all day.

What was the inspiration for Don’t move me from the mountain?
No idea. I woke up one morning in February last year and had the film’s protagonist, title, and basic premise in my head. I’m like a creative supernova. I can not help myself. I can just be creative on tap in many different mediums and formats. I always was. I can just turn it off and on at will. All my life I’ve often wondered, will this creativity ever run out? One day will I turn on the tap and nothing comes out? But it still is.

Did you plan to make your first feature film, or was it born out of this particular idea?
It was kind of a few little things. I went to CSN in 2014 and got four (student) Emmys while I was at CSN in the film program. I thought, okay, this kickstarts my film career. So I dropped out of school, expecting the doors of Hollywood to open, and they didn’t. I spent the next few years honing myself, learning my craft as a freelancer and getting better and better as a filmmaker. I was always telling people, “Yeah, I’m a director,” because I’ve done nine shorts, I’ve done 100 TV commercials, I’ve had four Emmys, I’ve gotten loads of awards. And I was like, I feel a little silly, because I tell people I’m a director, but I actually haven’t directed a feature film. So in 2020, I was just like, next year, I just have to get there. Whatever it takes.

What was your strategy to raise funds for this film?
I did it the traditional way. I took to the streets and talked to people and asked people. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was excruciating, painful and difficult. I was in different stages of this process with about 200 people for months. It was brutal. In the end, worse than that, industry pros called me and told me why I shouldn’t do this and why it wouldn’t work. It was really discouraging. I cried a lot and stressed a lot, but I kept persevering and succeeded.

What kind of research did you do?
Because the central subject of this film deals with the homeless and the problem of homelessness in modern America, I wanted to approach the subject with authenticity and dignity. My producer Patrick Wirtz and I contacted Las Vegas Rescue Mission, and they were all about the project. They very graciously arranged interviews which we did with half a dozen people who were not hosted and are now hosted. Similarly, Shine a Light Foundation also took me to the tunnels of Las Vegas. It is by interviewing these people at the shelter that many of the film’s micro-stories, their experiences, were born. I’m really glad we were able to do this, because it added a real layer of authenticity.

How was the experience of filming in the underground tunnels?
Creepy. It was all kinds of trouble. For starters, you can’t get a permit to cut down there, because it’s a storm sewer, so it could flood at any time. So, first of all, we’re shooting guerrilla style. Then when you’re there, nothing that relies on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi works. Things like cameras talking to remote monitors and stuff like that. There were technical problems. And then there are only logistical problems. If I need to use the restroom, it’s a long walk, then a drive to the store, then back.

We chose tunnels on the outskirts of town, where when we spotted them they were uninhabited or lightly inhabited. When we went to shoot, there was one particular day when, at the other end of the tunnel, there was a resident who very clearly didn’t want us and was shouting abuse at us in the dark, and knocking a metal pipe against a metal something. We were terrified. He started a fire to try and smoke us out, and the Henderson fire department had to come down and flood the tunnel. We had to get all our gear out. We had to do the takes between him, yelling at us. We were kind of timing when he was out of breath, and then I was going, “Action!”

What do you hope audiences will take away from watching this film?
I would like to draw attention to the plight of homelessness in America. I hope when people watch it, not only are they entertained, but I hope they see Vegas in a new light. Because no movie has ever shown Vegas like this movie. Compared to like Ocean’s Eleven and Casino, in our film, we use every bit of the buffalo – the mountains, the desert, Summerlin, downtown, in the skyscrapers and CityCenter, under the tunnels, under Caesars. So I’m excited for people to see that, and so is a long-time, proud resident of Vegas.

Of course, I want them to take away the reality of homelessness. The reality is that people are homeless for a multitude of reasons. It’s not always just drugs and alcohol. It’s everything from mental instability to the main character in our movie, she’s actually willfully homeless because she’s punishing herself in penance for what she’s done in the past. And we met people like that during our research.

What does it mean to you to receive this award from the Nevada Women’s Film Festival?
It’s incredibly humiliating. It is very rewarding. I have been working freelance for 10 years, 15 years as an editor. I’ve done shorts over the years, and I’ve had shorts at festivals. Honestly, it comes so much from left field. Never in a million years would I have guessed that they would grant me this honor. It’s very, very nice. To go through this process of making movies and choosing this career path, and still being dedicated to art and craft, I had to make so many personal sacrifices. I had to go without so many things, whether it was personal care or sometimes even food, because I invested that money in the next camera or accessories or whatever I did. I have always had to make huge sacrifices for my art. I don’t really know why I do it. I’m just driven to do it. Any kind of recognition is always a real sense of relief that someone saw what I do.

What are you going to work on next?
It’s crazy, because we are already in full pre-production, and we start production in a few weeks. Stanley Kubrick once said, “You don’t choose your films; your films choose you. And it’s so true. I always said I would never do a documentary, and then this opportunity came to me to do a documentary, and it was just such a great opportunity that I couldn’t look away. The movie is called The shaken and shaken, and this is the story of flair bartending. Vegas is the flair bartending capital of the world, and I was a flair bartender a very long time ago, and I still have deep roots in that community. And we are also developing the film after that. It’s called My Own Private Nazi, and it’s a thriller set in Utah in 1981. I’ve always said I’m a writer in training. I don’t think I’ve done the same genre twice.

Nevada Women’s Film Festival. June 23-26, MEET Las Vegas, 233 S. 4th St. $10 per screening, $30 pass. nwffest.com

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