“It is about staying true to yourself and still belonging to your family. Specifically, IMYT is a story about a Muslim cop, a single father to a teenage ballerina, and how they both balance the unannounced surprise visit of the estranged grandfather from Pakistan. This coincides with the cop being asked by his boss to go undercover in the community mosque. The cop now uses his father to re-enter the mosque.” Director Iram Parveen Bilal on I’LL MEET YOU THERE which screens at the 2020 edition of SxSW 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 SxSW! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?
This is my first time here! The cast, crew and I will be at the screenings, excited to engage with audiences.
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past?
In my previous life I was a Physics Olympiad from Pakistan and went to an uber nerdy school to become an engineer. But for film…I started in the documentary editing space working for great bosses like Amy Berg. Through that, I made my first fiction feature inspired by one of the documentary subjects in my motherland of Pakistan. It was called JOSH and was a mystery thriller set in Karachi. I raised a quarter million dollars in the great recession, with no prior experience, and went to Pakistan to film it. It was a soup to nuts, shoot through distribution exercise in indie producing and directing. It ended up being in the permanent selection of the Library of Congress and Pakistan’s first film on Netflix. Since then, I’ve been hired to write and direct and IMYT is my second feature as a writer/director, despite actually being my very first script, one I started writing in film school more than a decade ago.
How did this project come together?
This project is ten years in the making. I can’t possibly summarize this for you but suffice it to say that we raised and lost the money twice due to very sexist reasons with private investors outside the business. I attended various script labs and in the end tried really hard to work “through the system” for financing, and failed at that. Ultimately, I had to hit the pavement with private investors yet again, and make the film for half of what I wanted to and go completely indie, shooting it in 19 days. Ten days before we were filming, I was told we only had money to complete 75% of the film. How we ended up completing the film is a story I’ll save for the Q&As. It is a story of triumph with a picture perfect ending. In competition at an A-list festival!
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
I’m a sucker for good performances and definitely, an actor’s director. Watching actors deliver their craft excites me and keeps my emotions involved and fully locked in the frame.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
Biggest challenge was raising the money. Most rewarding: Our wrap in NYC. There were two rainbows in the rainy New York sky. We wrapped 11 years after I penned the first word of this script.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie!
Anthony C. Kuhnz, my cinematographer and I had a detailed grid of the frame rates and shutter speeds for each scene. We experimented with a slight frame rate change for each character to create a subtle difference in the feel of the visuals with either protagonist being that we are a dual protagonist movie. We also used step printing to change the literal pace of the visuals when one of the protagonists engages in her character story; mostly through dance or in scenes where she experiences verses of the Quran. We are happy with the results. They seem to work just like we wanted them to! We shot on an Arri Alexa SXT.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here at SxSW?
I’m very excited about engaging with the audience. And I hope that all our screenings are sold out. The epic end of this dream would be to make a sale and secure distribution!
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
We are headed to Sarasota right afterwards. However, we are also purely focused on distribution after SXSW which will be a combination of theatrical and VOD.
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
I’d love to showcase this film in all the red states of America with community screenings to start and provoke a dialogue of creating empathy amongst Americans of the “other”. I think that genuine curiosity is the only antidote to fear.
What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie like talking or texting?
I usually get into conflicts with people in movie theatres as I ask them to please have courtesy since we have also paid to enjoy the movie just like them.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
Be sure you want to do this, and for the right reasons, not for fame or money as those can be earned with far less demanding professions. If you do realize this is for you, then understand that it takes rigorous work ethic, collaboration and constant hustle to make it work. Never give up. Lastly, a filmmaker is just that…they “make” films, no matter how short or long. So make films. Don’t talk about making them. There is no replacement for experience.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen?
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE by Wong Kar-Wai.
For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!