Indepented cinema took over Oscars
Indepented cinema took over Oscars

Konrad Kyrcz: I've seen that just before our interview you tweeted that you're really excited about your film being screened in Cracow.

Amman Abbasi: Exactly, I'm very excited. I've never been to Poland and to be able to screen my first film here is such a great honor. Cracow has such a very rich history. I'm excited to hear what folks here think about it.

Dayveon is your narrative feature debut but you're by no means a debutant in cinema industry. You've been nominated for Emmy for editing VICE's documentary series "Last Chance High", you've worked David Gordon Green, an acclaimed Hollywood director...

I just try to steadily work. That's really important, to have work in front of me in a substantive way – whether it's editing, music composition or something else. I briefly for David Gordon Green as a director's assistant. It's important to learn those aspects of the trade, so I can be informed with how I approach my own work – that's why I work in editing and make music.

But you didn't edit Dayveon.

I tried it but it didn't work. I needed to take a few steps back and have a different perspective.

You've worked on documentaries before – most recently the just mentioned "Last Chance High". It approached a similar subject. Why did you choose a narrative over a documentary this time?

I felt that... I'm a big fan of cinema. The idea of giving someone a two hour block of narrative. So, when I was working in documentaries, learning those experiences gave me an idea how to turn it into a story. We worked with kids involved in gangs in Chicago but what they were going through, felt very universal, familiar. Anybody can relate to the need for social acceptance at an adolescent age, for belonging to some kind of a group. Of course, gangs have different consequences. I wanted to create a movie that tackled that problem – well, not a problem, a situation – in a universal way. Because that's the heart of the story – a kid that wants to belong.

Dayveon is a very gentle and kind movie but there's also a lot of violence in it. It starts with Dayveon getting jumped on, beaten up and humiliated by a street gang. I'm wondering how did you approach and prepared the actor who played the lead role.

That's a really good question. It's complex. Devin Blackmon, who plays Dayveon, is a very intelligent and gifted actor and he showed with great discipline every day. But, on the other hand, he's still a kid at the end of the day. And it's hard as a kid to differentiate fact from fiction. On the days when the really violent scenes happen we had a sense of warmness on the set. When we called the shot, we wanted to have a sense of celebration for Devin and allow him to navigate that head space. And especially when Devin was in character of getting attacked, we scheduled just that scene. Because it was so emotionally and physically taxing, we wanted to shoot and call it a day. It's not easy to do that at the age of twelve. But he handled it with a great ability. Also, prior to shooting it we talked about it and let him ask any questions. Thanks to that, at the day of the shooting, we knew our comfort zones.

In previous interviews you said that you hired non-actors. And each of them brought something of themselves into the story. How much did their lives related to the people that they presented onscreen?

They all brought something from their personal lives into their stories. They all invested their own experiences into this film. That's why we went with non-actors. Because there's a sense of emotion that comes from a real place and you can't deny that. And that was a very exciting opportunity.

Another non-actors that you hired for the movie were bees. How was working with them? And where did the idea for bees came from?

We got stung a lot. It was tough because they were swarming and weren't listening to directions. We had a bee handler but it was very delicate and we had to be able  to embrace that you have to change to how they behave. But I'm happy we were able to do that and have some kind of CGI. And the idea for them actually came from a fever. Of course, there's a reason why I thought it would work but I don't want to give away and take all the fun.

Coming back to Devin – was he what had in mind right from the start? Or did you see him and thought: "Hah! That's who I need!".

I had something in mind when I started. But when I saw Devin I realized I wanted Devin. He who wasn't who I had in mind but he was even better than I imagined. He delivered the material in a different but in a better than what I had in mind. It's a nice feeling to have and you just have to embrace it.

The whole project started on Kickstaster as "Loudmouth" – did a lot change from the initial campaign, other than the title?

The project is always changing, at least for me. To be able to see this film and this story and let it continually evolve – that's important. Even in the editing, the casting and the production. Until the final days of edit I was still thinking how we could do this or that. It's important to allow yourself and not just say: "This is it and that's is how it works!". Some directors do that and they do it exceptionally. But this was a big ball of evolution. The DNA of the story, it's sentiment and what we wanted to capture never changed, just how we wanted to do it.

And the script was also workshoped extensively with kids who were in the kinds of situations that are depicted in the movie.

Exactly. I've written the script myself based on the stories that I came across in Chicago. And then, in Arkansas, we presented it to the kids that lived through this experiences. It was really nice to hear from them: "This doesn't work because it feels false" or "That rings very true, let's go in this direction". Having that ability to workshop it with this kids was very important for the sincerity of the whole thing.

Is it hard for ethnic minorites to make movies in the United States? It seems that more and more movies are being made about the stories of minorites and by minorities.

Hopefully it's easy for everyone. But there still needs to be much more diverse voice – female voices and minority voices. Diversity is always great for cinema and for any artistic endeavor. Perhaps it hasn't been that way in the past – but that's in the past. Nobody cares about that. There's no gatekeeper, so if there's who wants to make a movie, they should make it, with full confidence and feel as no one can stop them. Because no one can. But we do have a more robust and diverse voice in film making.

Did you follow the #oscarssowhite controversy, and then the surprise win of "Moonlight", which, additionally, was the cheapest movie to win in Oscar in history?

That was exciting. And only more exciting for folks who want make new stories. And even not new stories but one's that have been happening but haven't been touched upon in film making before. Let's hope that's not an anomaly. Let's hope that people can continue to make movies like that, that we've completely taken over the Oscars. There's new way to make movies! It can be cheaper and with more diverse voices. And could be even better that has been done before. I mean, it is better.

Interview: Konrad Kycz