Tuesday 17 October 2017

Interview with Alexander Bedria

For Alexander Bedria the world of film is not just a profession but a calling, one which he has answered and embraced at every level. With his latest short film "The Zim" Alexander has put himself behind the camera, as director, writer and co-producer, as well as in front as Daniel Silva, a native Zimbabwean famer caught up in the country's violent land invasions of the early 2000s. As a film maker Alexander shows us a country torn apart in an effort to redress its colonial past and as Silva, a man who suddenly feels like a stranger in his own country. 

Although still early in its run, "The Zim" garnering some positive reviews (mine will follow) and impressed judges at the LA Shorts International Film FestivalAlexander took time out from his busy schedule to talk to me about his life and passion for acting, and what led him to undertake such a powerful story as "The Zim".

I was born in New York to immigrant parents and lived on Long Island until I was around 12, when my family moved to Florida. Acting came into my life my freshman year of college while taking an introductory drama course. I remember doing my very first scene and finding a profound sense of purpose and freedom in the work, which has stayed with me. As for highlights, I’d say working with Aaron Sorkin on The Newsroom was a pretty big one. Ray Donovan was also a lot of fun. Though as a personal highlight, "The Zim" tops the list.

I am sure it does. So what led you to want to try directing?

Movies have always been a focal point in my life, and I hoped that the opportunity would come to explore directing. Eventually I realised that I had to make the conscious choice to do it, or the opportunity might never come otherwise. With "The Zim", I had a strong instinct as to how to tell the story, and that evolved into the confidence to make it happen.

Alexander Bedria as Daniel Silva in The Zim

Speaking of which, aside from the documentary “Mugabe and the White African” I don’t think any film inspired or based on the land invasions in Zimbabwe has been made. What inspired you to tell the story of this particular dark chapter in the country’s recent history?

The conflict of the story felt universal to me. There were a lot of themes - racial and national identity, family and brotherhood, humanity in the face of violence - that transcend borders and geography. You mentioned Mugabe and the White African, which was incredibly powerful, and really shed a light on the human experience of these events. I wanted to dramatise the land invasions and bring a sense of balanced perspectives to the story, taking the audience on an emotional journey through the cinematic lens.

Wow! How much research went into this project? Did you learn anything interesting that perhaps escaped news reports you’d care to share?

I read everything I could find, starting with the reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO. There were also pieces from major news publications and hours of documentary footage that I went through. But speaking to people who were directly affected by the events offered a deeper insight into their personal experiences. Hearing the emotion in their voices and the passion of their beliefs was the emotional element that couldn’t be communicated in a report.

"I had a strong instinct as to how to tell the story, and that evolved into the confidence to make it happen."
Are any of the characters in the film based on people you have read about or know personally?

The characters are fictionalised, inspired by the real people I came across in the research.

What challenges as an actor did playing Daniel Silva present?

Daniel holds a lot of conflict about his place in a changing world. A lot needed to be communicated quietly, through his internal life. Also, the Zimbabwean accent was very specific, and I wanted it to be as authentic as possible.

You certainly succeeded. How did you handle juggling dual role of star and director?

I found the experience a surprisingly smooth one, which is more a testament to the amazing team I had supporting me on set. I also went in extremely prepared. By the time we finally started shooting, I’d already lived with the story for a few years, so I felt confident in trusting my instincts.

Your co-star Tongayi Chirisa, who plays Daniel's friend William Zimunya, is a native Zimbabwean. Did he offer any insight or personal input to the story? Was he able to relay any recollections of that time?

Tongayi was invaluable to this project. He had an intimate knowledge of the subject and offered countless insights to help us tell this story. It was especially important to him that we convey a balance of character perspectives, and he encouraged me to keep finding ways to further this in every incarnation of the script. He also offered technical advisement on all aspects of production design, helping us achieve as authentic a representation of Zimbabwe as we could.

William and Daniel share good times before the storm
Interesting. There are some multi-faceted qualities to the three male protagonists; Silva identifying himself as African, Zimunya’s difficult dilemma and even Matonga is more than he seems. Was it your attention to avoid any absolutism in the situations you depict?

That’s a great question. Yes, I’m always interested in the human complexity behind moral or political beliefs. The conflict. I believe it’s always there…people are not machines…and absolutism can very easily slide into extremism, and the loss of rational discourse. That’s the dark space where humanity is lost.

Very true. So are there any plans to turn this into a feature film?

The material certainly calls for it. It’s definitely a discussion that’s ongoing. We’ll see what happens with the short.

I look forward to it. How well has “The Zim” been received? Have you heard from anybody who lived through the land grabs to give you their thoughts on your film's depiction?

The film has been received quite well so far. We premiered at LA Shorts International Film Festival and took home their Best of Fest prize, which was a huge honor. I haven’t heard from anyone who has lived through the invasions yet, but we’re still very early in our run, and hope to hear their reactions.
"people are not machines…and absolutism can very easily slide into extremism, and the loss of rational discourse. That’s the dark space where humanity is lost."
What’s next for Alexander Bedria? Any more projects lined up?

I’m currently working on a feature screenplay and meeting on some new television projects. A bit too early to make any big announcements yet!

Sounds exciting, hopefully you'll keep me in the loop. Thank you for taking the time for this interview. I wish you the best of luck with the film.  

Thank you very much, I enjoyed your questions!

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