How is filmmaking in Chicago different from the “coasts”?
Kevin Dalvi: Chicago offers amazing scenic views that are a filmmaker’s dream. It has a spectacular downtown and a beautiful lakefront with parks and beaches. Moreover, there is a great sense of community within Chicago’s independent film industry. I have found the local talent here to be extremely cooperative and willing to take ownership of the projects they work on. Every step of the way, we have encountered individuals who have been remarkably helpful in assisting us in various areas of our production. Additionally, there are a number of Illinois tax incentives that make Chicago an attractive place for filmmakers and producers. Last but not least, Chicago is significantly more economical than the coastal metropolises where making a feature length film with a large ensemble cast often becomes a daunting endeavor.
How does Promise Land promote Chicago as a viable place for actors and filmmakers to work?
Kevin Dalvi: The fact that Promise Land was shot entirely in Chicago in less than 21 days on a relatively low budget with a local cast and crew consisting of over 100 individuals, speaks volumes to what Chicago has to offer to independent filmmakers. Moreover, the project served as a platform for a large pool of talented artists from diverse backgrounds to come together to showcase their talents.
With screenings planned in major cities nationwide and abroad, our turf and talent will get tremendous exposure which I anticipate/hope will attract producers and investors from across the country to consider filming their future projects in Chicago.
How has South Asian acting scene changed in Chicago over the years?
Fawzia Mirza: First of all, there are a lot more South Asian actors now then there used to be. Chicago theatres are producing more plays with roles specifically for South Asians and films are being produced dealing with South Asian issues. There’s also more non-traditional casting happening in Chicago, which definitely gives actors of color in general more diverse opportunities. And now, for all actors, it’s not just about waiting for someone to cast you, but it’s about making your own work as well, whether it be a web series, a short or feature-length film or a live show, there’s more room and space to create and have your work seen.
Why should Chicago audiences come to see Promiseland?
Fawzia Mirza: Why not? It’s a Chicago made film. It features a ton of South Asian Chicago actors all in one place. If you’re down with the brown, you need check it out.
Mouzam Makkar: The reasons are endless but here are my top three:
Relevant: Although the movie is fictional, the issues it tackles are not. Promise Land takes the immigration news stories we all hear about and puts a human face on it. Numbers and statistics are one thing but when you’re able to observe and experience individual stories, the issues become clearer.
Represent: The demand for South Asians in the American entertainment industry are on the rise but we still have a long way to go. The only way to ensure these opportunities don’t dry up is by supporting and promoting South Asian representation in the movies and shows you watch. So by watching this movie, you’re saying “yes” to a continued and growing presence of diverse South Asian voices in American media.
Locally grown: The cast and crew are all from Chicago. So by watching Promise Land, you support local talent and local industry, and there is nothing better than that!
How big is the South Asian filmmaking and performing arts community?
Mouzam Makkar: There is a wonderful pool of South Asian talent in Chicago and a great place to check them out is in local theaters, both big and small. In addition, there are a handful of Chicago theaters that have South Asian artists in their ensemble, such as Stage Left Theatre. Myself, as well as one of the other actors in Promise Land, Anita Chandwaney, are both ensemble members of Stage Left and we will both be performing in LeapFest (Stage Left’s annual festival of new plays), in May. Chicago is also home to Rasaka Theatre, the Midwest’s first South Asian American ensemble, which will be producing a show in July. Moreover, there seems to be some movement toward non-stereotypical casting for these South Asian artists, which is always exciting.
Most South Asian roles in Western Media are stereotypical. What’s different about your role in Promiseland?
Fawzia Mirza: When brown people first started popping up on TV and in movies over the years, we were usually terrorists or taxi cab drivers or store owners or the funny immigrant. Now, those roles are still out there, but there’s way more diversity in casting. I mean, look at Chicago homegrown actor, Danny Pudi on “Community’ – or even that there are two South Asians playing lead roles in major-network new sitcoms next season. It’s exciting stuff! In Promiseland, this South-Asian-American film, I get to play an Indian immigrant lesbian. I think for Indian audiences especially, you rarely get to see characters like this on screen.
Mouzam Makkar: Well, I’m not playing a doctor or a terrorist! But in all seriousness, audiences are used to one-dimensional roles for South Asians and for the vast majority, the characters are not very relatable. In Promise Land, I play a culinary student who, besides being of South Asian origin, is just a typical young American. She hangs out with her friends, works hard in school, and has goals, hopes and dreams, just like everybody else. So when her life turns upside down, the audience, regardless of their background, can identify with her.
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