MAI Interview with Natasha Kermani
by: Noel Nuccioni , November 10, 2018
by: Noel Nuccioni , November 10, 2018
Natasha Kermani is an independent film director with a background in the sound department. Her work is mostly genre, with science-fiction, family drama, and thriller. In her recent feature, Imitation Girl (2017), a sci-fi psychological drama, she explores classic horror themes such as ‘otherness’ and feminine identity. The film was distributed by Dread Central Presents, a horror label from Epic Pictures. (Millican 2018) With Kermani’s voice in indie cinema, the label’s director of distribution expressed the desire to take the audience outside of what is typically expected of the horror genre. (Millican 2018).
MAI: There is a recent surge of female-directed horrors by smaller, independent production companies. What do you think of this, and how do you feel this has influenced — and will continue to affect — the industry at large?
NK: Genre has certainly proven to be an accessible entry point for female filmmakers. Independent production companies are more willing to take a chance. I think it is because they know that horror has a constant audience who is always hungry for more content. I have to say that I’ve also found that horror fans can be some of the most inclusive, supportive, and open-minded audiences out there, which, I’ll admit, was a bit of a surprise. The effect so far has been that we see many more female filmmakers popping up. The hope is that women will be able to move into other parts of the industry — drama, action, comedy, etc.— because women can tell all sorts of stories.
MAI: What are your personal concerns about the late-capitalist society we live in? And how do you like to approach them in your films?
NK: I think it’s good to use films as a way to check in with ourselves as a community — what do we value? How do we treat others in our society? What is our vision for the future? I don’t know if it’s my place to answer any of those questions for anyone else, but I do see my role as being part of asking those questions. The greatest compliment is that your work started a conversation. Without dialogue, we, the people, lose our voices.
MAI: Recently, there has been, among many feminist scholars, an interest in intersectionality. This has foregrounded the importance of dealing with problems that not only regard white women from higher-middle class but also include a wider range of preoccupations of contemporary society, such as rape culture, systematic inequalities, racial imbalances, and gender expectations imposed on women and girls. In light of this, what do you think about the importance of horror being a ‘new’ space for an inclusive, intersectional and political feminist debate?
NK: Horror has a long history of being a forum for exploring exactly these themes, and in my opinion, that’s when it really thrives. From tackling issues of race relations, gender relations, political anxieties, etc., horror has often been at the forefront and a way for underrepresented communities to express themselves.
MAI: What do you feel are the major concerns you and other female filmmakers are now portraying on the screen?
NK: My next project, a horror film, has to do with independent thought and the struggle we each must face to face our fears and think for ourselves. There’s a seductive quality to being told what to do, what to believe, how to react — but this is not being free, this is just some other form of serfdom. So that, to me, is something that I feel drawn to as a writer, and that I am currently working to put on the screen.
MAI: What specifically interests you about the notion of female identity?
NK: I’m interested in female identity because it is an aspect of my own identity! I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but the truth is that each of us is on a journey to understand ourselves. We each have a story to tell, and I do believe that we should tell the story that’s ours to tell — and if you are honest, I believe that audiences will respond to that honesty and truthfulness. The female identity, of course, is multi-faceted, and my perspective is just one nodal point in that huge universe of experience, but it’s definitely a point of view that is just now beginning to be put to the forefront of cinema. For so long we’ve seen, quite literally, through someone else’s lens. I think both men and women are interested in the female experience; I wouldn’t say I’m more drawn to one or the other, but rather I am just choosing to explore an identity that I can call my own, in hope of creating work that is honest and truthful.
MAI: It is noticeable how, in your film, a lot of attention is given to the characters’ internal struggle with their place in the world and social expectations of them, especially compared to more mainstream productions of the same genre. How do you use the character’s affective reality – their emotions and their psychological state – to create a sense of anxiety and discomfort? How important is it to you to create a sense of fear that goes beyond the ‘surface’ of horror?
NK: To me, the draw of the genre is to use it as the lens through which we are telling a grounded, human story. In the end, most genre films that stand the test of time do this. It begins with a core, relatable ‘horror’ that is plaguing our character, then becomes about how we, as storytellers, want to manifest that horror. But without that underlying horror, the film will feel shallow. With Imitation Girl, I wanted to tell a story about a woman who felt out of control of her own life, that she was barreling along without really being able to grasp at anything solid, and an atmosphere of being exhausted by the constant go-go-go of it all. At the same time, I also wanted to show the other side of this character — the side that is curious, and full of love, and intrigued by her surroundings. So from that core idea of having two halves of the same identity, we literally split the character in two, hence the two main characters played by Lauren Ashley Carter. The genre element is only a metaphor for the experience that many, many people can understand and have experienced in their own lives.
MAI: Following from this the last question about affect, it would be interesting to know what is the importance of sound – which was clearly meticulously designed in your film — to convey the characters’ affective responses and the story’s overall themes.
NK: I have a background in sound design, actually, so audio is always something I’m hyper-aware of and thinking about throughout the entire process. Music, of course, is hugely important to augment the experience and get into the character’s head, but your question, I think, is more sound design. I think, for us, the ambient sound was something we wanted to pay special attention to — how do the interiors of NYC feel a bit more claustrophobic vs the interiors in New Mexico, and so on. It was one more tool we had to differentiate between the two women and their respective environments. So, at times the sound design was used to make us feel a little more overwhelmed, or stifled, whereas at other times it was calmer, or more desolate. We got a little funky with a few scenes, using distorted instruments as sound design, etc., for more expressionistic moments.
MAI: It is noticeable that locations used in the film, and the way the footage is edited are essential in communicating the diversity of the multi-layered female experiences that your film deals with. How do you use these tools to highlight the contradictory nature of the characters?
NK: Well, the physical differences in our locations did a lot of the work for us — and a big part of that decision was during our pre-production location scout, where we were specifically looking for spaces that looked and felt very different. So we found New Mexico to have these huge, horizontal, wide open spaces, which we knew would contrast really well with the vertical ‘tallness’ of New York City. For the interiors, we always wanted NYC rooms to feel crowded, collaged, with lots of different colours and bright, poppy details. The desert interiors, however, were more focused around neutrals, beiges, colours that feel more natural and warm. In terms of the editing, we tried to make the two storylines feel balanced so that we weren’t spending too much time in one section or the other, and so that the flow felt smooth and no transitions were super jarring (unless meant to be so).
MAI: With Imitation Girl, you brought together elements of sci-fi and subtle horror — both genres that deal with the ‘other’ in different ways. What was your creative approach to this theme? What is its importance to you?
NK: Though only one character is a literal alien, almost all of the characters we spend time with in the film are on the outskirts — whether it’s the adult film star or the immigrant, there is the shared experience of being on the outside looking in. It is in the alien’s nature to observe and change and grow, but the people in the film have more trouble with it, and so it is a bit bittersweet in that way. All cultures and people have stories about ‘the other,’ and of course many have felt themselves to be ‘the other’ at one point or another in their lives. But being Other is often a strength, and I think for filmmakers it’s important to maintain some sense of Otherness to be able to look and see and have empathy.
MAI: What do you hope to communicate to the audience, especially the female one, with Imitation Girl and the themes you treat in it?
NK: I feel that the end of the film is actually quite optimistic —our alien has found her twin and is taking her away to explore the universe, giving her an opportunity to reclaim some part of herself that she had lost so that she can go forth as a more wholesome person. I hope women can relate to the characters but also are able to laugh at them to a degree — to find humour in the darker parts — and then feel like they are not alone with their experiences or their perceived failures etc., encouraged to reconnect with parts of themselves they may have forgotten or pushed away.
KERMANI, Natasha (2017), Interviewed by Heather Wixson in Daily Dead, available at https://dailydead.com/dances-with-films-2017-interview-writerdirector-natasha-kermani-on-exploring-identity-in-imitation-girl/ (last accessed 3 December 2017).
MILLICAN, Joshua (2018), ‘Porn & Alien Horror Collide in First Trailer for Imitation Girl,’ Horrorfreaknews.com, available at http://horrorfreaknews.com/porn-alien-horror-collide-first-trailer-imitation-girl (last accessed 27 February 2018).
SOWA, Lauren (2018), ‘Women in Film Portraits: Natasha Kermani’, The Independent, available at http://independent-magazine.org/2018/01/interview-director-natasha-kermani/ (last accessed 3 March 2018).
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