SxSW 2020 Interview – A PERIOD PIECE director Shuchi Talati

“A woman has her period. She has sex. Corporeal and emotional messiness ensues and a fight erupts mid-coitus.” Director Shuchi Talati on A PERIOD PIECE which screens in the Shorts section of SxSW 2020 Film. 

Editor’s Note: While SxSW was officially cancelled on March 6th, 2020, the below interview was one of many that already took place prior to the festival. To respect the creators, all already performed interviews are presented in their unedited entirety below. All of the below works WILL make their way out into the world in one way or another, and we will update this article with updated information when we have it. — JW

Welcome to the amazing SxSW and congratulations! Are you planning to attend SxSW?

This is my first time at SXSW and I’ll be there March 13-18.

What is it about Austin, either the festival or the town itself, that excites you the most?

The first time I visited Austin, I got blackout drunk and was so mortified by all the embarrassing things I did, that I didn’t want to return for a few years. But I finally showed face last year when my husband’s feature doc, THIS MIGHT HURT, premiered at the Austin Film Festival and it’s pretty cool that now I have a film premiering in Austin.

How did you first hear about the SxSW and wishing to send A PERIOD PIECE into the festival?

I feel like I’ve always known about SXSW and thought about it as a festival that programs weird, bold, adventurous films. So from the beginning, it felt like it would be such a good fit for our weird, sad, funny film. And it’s so fitting that the festival is in a city that prides itself on weirdness!

Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!

There were two main ideas that fueled this film. First, I was like, ”Why don’t women ever have their periods on-screen?” Given that most women between 15-50 spend a quarter of their time menstruating, why is this mostly invisible in our films and TV? This erases our experiences and recasts it as something gross that should be hidden.

The second question that bothered me was this; ”Why are the narratives available to South Asians so limited?” I know so many vibrant, funny, strange South Asians but somehow they don’t seem to make it on screen. Even in films made by South Asians where characters are often defined by their South Asianness. Why can’t we just be people dealing with love, heartbreak, lust… you know, universal life-stuff.

Did you have any creative challenges in making A PERIOD PIECE?

The biggest creative challenge was casting. I’ve never been ghosted by so many actors on any project before! It was easier to cast even unpaid student films! On first contact, actors would often say, “Oh I loved your last time, I’m so interested,” and then disappear upon reading the script even though I was pretty explicit about the fact that the emotional conflict unfolded during a sex scene and the part entailed some nudity. 

This was initially disappointing but my producer Esra Saydam helped me realize that the actors who did write back, and showed up for auditions had the outlaw spirit the roles required. And when we reached out to Sonal Aggarwal (our lead actress), she responded with a multiple exclamation-points enthusiasm. And my producer Esra Saydam said: “That’s the spirit we need!”

The other hard thing was designing the look of the film. Our phenomenal DP, Jih-E Peng, and I wanted a high-contrast look where we exposed for the highlights and where the shadows dropped off sharply. It’s a hard look to achieve on a low budget. It’s also a risky look to commit because we didn’t have the budget to do any tests. Jih-E knew what it would look like and I had a notion from our references but I only really saw it on the first day of the shoot! It was dramatic but I loved it because the high-contrast created visual tension that mirrored the emotional conflict between the two characters.

After SxSW, where is it going next? Anywhere you would love to show it?

We’re still early in our festival run so not much to announce yet! We want to tour the world but especially bring the film to South Asian audiences and spark conversations.

What would you suggest to theatres or even film festivals as a way to show more short films theatrically or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

Theatres should program shorts before features. They should also produce shorts program which can be tied to events like a Q&A with an activist who works in an area related to the film’s subject matter so audiences have an incentive to go to the theatre. And lastly, why shouldn’t Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO curate more short films?

If you know of anyone around you wanting to become a filmmaker/creator, what would you suggest to get their start?

I would say I learned the most working as a director’s assistant when I was starting out. I was able to watch up close as they made hundreds of creative and logistical decisions. I was taking notes as they ran rehearsals, I compiled shot lists to distribute to the crew, I took notes for the composer and graphics people while in the edit.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

I love WASP by Andrea Arnold.

For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!

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