WFF17 – INTERVIEW WITH EISHA MARJARA – DIRECTOR OF ‘VENUS’

'Venus' is a dramatic comedy about a transitioning woman who discovers that she's the father of a 14 year old boy.

DIRECTOR’S BIO: Montreal-based Eisha Marjara first drew attention with the witty and satirical The Incredible Shrinking Woman, but It was her feature NFB docudrama Desperately Seeking Helen that established her a groundbreaking filmmaker. The film received the Critic’s Choice Award at the Locarno Film Festival and the Jury Prize at the München Dokumentarfilm Festival. It has been called it “one of the most auspicious film debuts in the Canadian scene.” Her German-Canadian The Tourist (2006) was nominated as best short at Toronto’s Female Eye Film Festival and the transgender drama House for Sale (2012) received multiple awards at various festivals.

Her essay and photo series on the Air India tragedy of flight 182 entitled Remember me Nought was featured in Descant magazine. She has also authored her debut novel Faerie, about a teenager struggling with anorexia. Faerie has received rave reviews in Canadian and American press, including a star review in US Publisher’s Weekly. Critics called her young adult novel, “polished and poetic”, “a page-turner,” “Marjara, writing in Lila’s affecting voice, delicately captures the deep insecurities of teenhood, the pressure of trying to fit into one ideal of beauty, and the complexity of anorexia with lovely, flowing prose, underscoring the devastating effects that mental illness can have on an entire family.”

Venus is her first fiction feature. She is adapting the feature into a TV series with Compass Productions.

She is developing Calorie, also with Compass Productions. Calorie was selected for the Praxis Screenwriters Lab where she was mentored by screenwriter Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page). Calorie was also selected for the 2016 Goa Film Bazaar coproduction market. Marjara was selected for TIFF Studio this year.

FILM: Venus

WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR FILM?
The inspiration for VENUS came from my short film HOUSE FOR SALE. The film centers on a transgender woman who is having an affair with a married man. I expanded on the subject of the short, and brought in other narrative elements and introduced a rich mix of themes. VENUS is more of a comedy than drama, and focusses on the dynamics of gender identity within family and love relationships. Gender forms a backdrop to Sid’s journey, as she navigates through the maze of other people’s perception of her.

WHAT WERE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES YOU FACED DURING THE FILM?
There were numerous challenges, including financing, distribution, and casting, but for me as a screenwriter, it was getting to the final draft of the script. We had to drop some scenes because of time and budget restraints and that presented challenges in the editing. But somehow it works and flows smoothly. You’re on the ground running, and go along for the ride.

WHAT APPEAL DO YOU THINK YOUR FILM WILL HAVE FOR AUDIENCES
I think people will really love and welcome the film’s fresh take on family, gender and interracial relationships. It’s hilarious and poignant but doesn’t take itself too seriously. The film’s light tone invites the audience into the lives of “marginal” characters they would not otherwise go watch and actually relate to them. They will recognize the universality of all of our experiences in the lives of the characters. I think there is a natural readiness and hunger for stories that are original and nuanced yet light hearted.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A CREATOR?
I was born that way! Seriously. I always knew I was an artist. I attempted to go into sciences to please everyone else, but I fell back into art, first with photography and then cinema. I chose cinema over photography for the power and longevity of storytelling.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NEXT?
I am developing a feature film with Compass Productions called CALORIE. It’s about a stressed out Indo-Canadian mom of two hard-to-handle teen daughters. She sends them off to India for the summer for a serious injection of Indian culture, hoping it’ll set the girls straight. But things go to hell and mom has to fly off to India to save them. I am also adapting VENUS into a TV series with Compass Productions. Aside from filmmaking, I am currently working on my next novel.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING FILMMAKERS?
Get to know who you are, what you do well and what turns you on in: film and in life. I would also suggest finding and / or shadowing a mentor who can guide you along.

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 FAVOURITE FILMS OF ALL TIME?
Heavenly Creatures, Ma Vie en Rose, The Virgin Suicides, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes…

IF YOU HAD TO DESCRIBE YOUR FILM IN THREE WORDS … WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
Transgender, samosas, lady-dad

IF YOU COULD RESHOOT ANY FILM MADE IN THE PAST 20 YEARS, WHICH ONE WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE IT?
Lolita, both versions: Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita in 1962 and Adrian Lyne’s version in 1997. I would adapt the novel for the 21 century and tell the story from Lolita’s point of view. It would be smart, funny and heart breaking. It would be a present day take on Nabokov’s post war portrait of Americana, and give a cheeky contemporary rendition of an era from the perspective of a saucy and way too smart teenaged feminist fatale Lolita.

WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS? (AND WHY)
My mentors are my peers. My producer, Joe Balass is closest to me in the filmmaking industry and we learn a lot from one another. I am also a TIFF Studio participant, and have had the opportunity to be around talented and smart writer-directors whose advice and input I value. Through TIFF Studio I have also had the chance to meet with script consultants, and filmmakers who’ve shared their insight and experience. Such as Isabelle Fauvel, from Paris and Christina Lazaridi.

WHISTLER FILM FESTIVAL SHOWTIMES:
– DECEMBER 2, 2017, 8:30 PM – VILLAGE 8 – THEATRE 6
– DECEMBER 3, 2017, 6:00 PM – VILLAGE 8 – THEATRE 7

GET YOUR TICKETS AT: https://whistlerfilmfestival.com/film/venus/

SYNOPSIS: New York-based actor Debargo Sanyal gives a brilliant performance as Sid, a transitioning woman from Montreal. Her East Indian parents (played by Zena Daruwalla and Gordon Warnecke), have been putting enormous pressure on Sid to marry a nice Indian girl and raise a family. That certainly doesn’t seem to be in the cards given Sid’s transition. Sid’s life is turned upside down when she learns that she has a fourteen year old son, Ralph (played by Jamie Mayers), from an earlier relationship when Sid was still searching for her true identity. Things get understandably tense when Ralph’s Mom (played by Amber Goldfarb) discovers that Ralph has tracked down his biological father, now a woman. Genders, generations and cultures collide in this comedy about the modern family unit. Following a number of acclaimed documentaries and shorts, director Eisha Marjara’s first dramatic feature manages to find just the right life-affirming tone for the subject matter of the film. With tenderness and humour, she delivers a resounding plea for casting off gender stereotypes.

CAST AND CREDITS:
Executive Producer: Kevin Tierney

Producers: Joe Balass, Compass Productions

Cast: Debargo Sanyal, Jamie Mayers, Pierre-Yves Cardinal

Cinematographer: Mark O Fearghail

Editing: Mathieu Bouchard-Malo

Screenplay: Eisha Marjara

Distribution/Print Source: FunFilm Distribution

GET YOUR TICKETS FOR THE WHISTLER FILM FESTIVAL TODAY

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