Fall River highlights the essence of love. Communities and people are not statistics. Lives are never one dimensional. Fall River is the antidote of all the negativity and divisiveness we cannot ignore and from which none of us can escape unscathed.
Hi Pat and Jamil,
Really glad for the opportunity to learn more about you and your films and share it with our audience.
What made you decide to work together? What does each of you bring to the team?
Pat: Our origin story is that we met in a very gray, nearly lifeless cubical at an advertising agency. I was working as a coordinator and Jamil was my intern. We worked together for three months and developed a deep, immediate friendship. We both left pretty soon after, but we had talked about the idea of making something together. We had similar ideas on the types of stories we wanted to see and, ultimately, make.
As luck would have it, we stumbled into this opportunity to direct a film adaptation of a poem called Things I Carry Into the World for this nonprofit called Motionpoems. We both felt like it was a good chance to see what we had, and it turned out we really loved working as a team.
Jamil: We’re likeminded in the right ways, but differ enough that we’re better together than we are individually. As far as decision making, we’re 50/50. It’s always democratic. We talk through everything exhaustively. Sometimes too exhaustively. We definitely have our regular disagreements, but we always talk through them and come out the other side with the best version of the thing we both wanted.
Pat's background is more as a writer, so his thinking tends to lean on structure and motivation. I come from a place of visual creativity with my photography background. I think about everything as a series of photographs and what they mean together based off the feeling or emotion those photographs are projecting. We usually end up somewhere in the middle, which tends to be the sweet spot.
Is there a specific moment that sort of paved the way for you to choose a career in film?
Pat: There’s not a specific moment; it was a gradual, cumulative effect. I was that annoying kid watching Ingmar Bergman in high school, so I loved films well before I knew I wanted to make them. I do remember watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the first time and being amazed the emotional effect that film had on me. It was a “Oh, I didn’t know a movie could do that…” moment. Then I just made it a priority to learn about all kinds of films from all kinds of cultures. I fell in love with the art form. By the time I got to college, I realized almost all of my tangible skills involved film, and that I was probably screwed if I didn’t decide to work in the film industry.
Jamil: I don’t think so. When I was young, I didn’t even think the film industry was a field I could be a part of. It felt so out of reach as if it wasn’t real. That’s probably why I clung to every black movie I got my hands on because it seemed like there aren’t many and closer to reality. Growing up, when my parents would show me the limited photographs they had of their childhood, I would come up with stories for each one, essentially painting out the “before & after” of each image. I loved to think about the story and all that went into each photograph, as if they were moving. They would give me the backstory on each one and my mind began creating a world around them. It’s not like today where you can hold the shutter on a digital camera and have 500 pictures from one memory. You were given one and the rest was your imagination. I felt like I always had a love for film and didn’t act on it until I knew it was something that was actually doable.
How do you define your filmmaking approach?
Pat: I wouldn’t give it a definition. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. We’re still learning. We try to be very open-minded and let stories and characters dictate what the filmmaking approach is, rather than forcing a style onto them. Of course, we make pivotal creative decisions, but we do it on a macro level.
Jamil: I echo all of Pat’s points. I think we approach every project with an open mind and heart on what is best for each specific project. We have specific stories that interest us but we don’t want to coerce any narrative or theme if a project does not call for it organically.
Fall River is your latest project. Why is it relevant now?
Pat: Well, I’m probably the wrong person to ask, because the film’s subject is myself and my grandmother, so that story will always be relevant to me. I’ll defer to Jamil, but I will say: Everybody has complicated relationships to their origins and history to some degree. Given how polarized this country is right now, it feels more important than ever to examine everything closely and have nuanced conversations. I think that’s what will resonate most. At least, I hope so.
Jamil: In my eyes, a film like Fall River will always be relevant. A story that gives insight on different human experiences will always be relevant. That’s what makes us as human beings attempt to understand one another. Fall River I’ll probably have a little bias in my answer because I couldn’t imagine saying a project I worked on and love is not relevant, haha. But yes! It’s timeless in my eyes.
What type of questions did you consider when you came up with the idea for this film?
Pat: A big one was wanting to explore what it means to be from somewhere, to call someplace “home.” I have a complicated relationship with my hometown of Fall River. It’s never been somewhere I’ve been proud to be from. I’m not sure why that is, or if it’s even changed, but I do think, as I’ve gotten older, I’m able to consider nuances and gray areas in a way I used to not be able to. The notion that nothing is good and bad, and everything exists somewhere in between. Of course, that’s a massive spectrum, and there are exceptions, as well as many, many things pulling heavily toward either side. But as an example, my entire experience in Fall River was with my mom, who died very suddenly when I was eleven, and even before that, we had a pretty rough go of it. That is a tragedy that essentially produced the beautiful, close bond my grandmother and I have today. By mere necessity. Jamil and I saw parallels between my family’s story and the perception of Fall River being statistically “one of the worst places to live in the country” versus the complex realities of people’s lives, “good” and “bad” and everything in between, throughout the town.
Jamil: After reading the article that Pat mentioned, another question we asked ourselves is “What’s the story of Fall River?” What struck us from the article was how it took a city that is filled with families, memories, family history (Pat included) and gave it such an analytical conclusion of what the city was about. As if that’s it and that’s the reason why it’s the worst place to be. Data doesn’t have the ability to show a perspective of Fall River like Pat, or anyone from that city, has. And that’s true for any city or town across the world. We know the statistics were factual and gives context to the certain troubles Fall River has, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture of what the city is about. The more and more we asked ourselves, the more we found out (and it was given to us) that the story of Fall River is the story that we (more so, Pat) knew all along. And that’s the story you see in the film.
Pat: Up to this point, overwhelmingly positive (knock on wood). Sometimes I wonder if people have been as nice as they have been because they’re afraid to tell me they didn’t like a film about my family’s life, hah! We’ve gotten to screen it at some incredible film festivals and get feedback from people we both admire a lot. It’s been so gratifying to get to share my grandmother’s personality with people.
Jamil: Yeah, it’s been pretty wonderful. The most exciting part is to see people from Fall River love the film. Seeing the comments of them recognizing the streets and faces throughout the film is a damn good feeling, but hard to explain. If I were to see a film or footage of a place that I frequented as a child, it would bring me a sense of comfort and nostalgia. I’m glad we were able to provoke that feeling for the people who’ve seen it. A lot of people that I haven’t talked to in a while have been sending messages about how the story has moved them. It’s a very humbling and exciting feeling. What elements do you focus more with each theme you take on?
Pat: We figure out what, or who, the point of view is. That’s when thematic elements tend to fall into place. We try not to make films about themes, but rather, films about people. I find that when people make stuff about themes, it ends up feeling broad and unspecific; whereas when you focus on the details of somebody’s humanity, themes come out organically. I use Moonlight as an example, because it’s such a breathtakingly perfect film. Moonlight is about the singular experience of Chiron. The film never tries to be about class struggle, or blackness, or queerness; it’s only concerned with being about that boy, then teenager, then man. His story, and his humanity, bring those elements out in a much more compelling way than if Barry Jenkins had said “let’s make a movie about themes XYZ.” By being honest to your story and characters, themes surface on their own.
Jamil: Again, it’ll be a copy and paste situation happening with this question, ha! I can reiterate what Pat said about making films about themes though because that’s important to note. The themes in which we explore do come organically because we are moved by the true, human stories that naturally give a platform for a specific theme. Versus it being the other way around. To get a little more specific, we’ll always revert back to the merit of our subject to see what elements of a theme are present. But again, it always starts with the subject then branches to the themes. I think it depends on what the theme is in order to see what elements to focus on.
What kind of impression do you want to make on your audience?
Both: We always say that we’re more interested in asking questions than we are providing answers. We’re not so much into standing on a soapbox and preaching values. We obviously have values and beliefs, and they’re definitely represented in our work, but in general, we try to make stuff that an audience can find their own way into. Give space to think and feel. If we can make a viewer think, or feel, some layer deeper than they had, then at least we’ve made them feel something. Also, a good impression. Not a bad one.
Who are the people you want to impress the most?
Pat: What an interesting question. I suppose the cliché response would be the woman who raised me, my grandmother, but the truth is she would be impressed if I told her about the avocado I had for lunch, so that seems like a cop out. I guess I’d like to impress our creative peers whose work I respect and admire. When people who have made art that I love tell us that they like our work, that is very gratifying. Maybe that’s too broad of an answer, but I’m sticking with it.
Jamil: Never been asked this, but it’s certainly a concept that sits in the corner of my mind. My sister is probably the number one person on my list. Similar to Pat, we could get $50 of funding on a project and my sister would be stoked so, I guess it’s always a given. Aside from the people who have been the biggest influences in my life and peers, since those hold true, I’d have to say myself! In a non-arrogant, self-appreciative way. As I think everyone does and should. It’s always impressive to watch yourself grow and change for the better!
Who are the people (artists or not) who have had the biggest influence in your lives, artistic or daily?
Pat: For this one, I can definitely say my grandmother. She taught me empathy and compassion (because men have to rely on women to teach them such things, siiiiiigh). My high school English and theater teacher Mr. Marcello, too. He taught me that expressing myself creatively, and myself generally, was not something to be ashamed of. He was an unbelievable role model and I miss him very much. As an artist, James Baldwin and Andrei Tarkovsky are two of my heroes.
Jamil: Without a doubt my family; my sister Aylin, Anneciğim, Babaciğim (Mom & Dad). To begin listing everything they’ve done for me would require way too much time. They are my support corner in every facet. Early on, I was inspired by Kid Cudi because he brought such different emotion to his music in a time where everything seemed to sound the same and wasn’t surface level jargon. I really connected with it. I actually made a terrible music video (I don’t think it had enough merit to even be called that) in high school to a song called “The Prayer” that I hope no one will ever see. I might be safe, but it’s probably in a black hole on the internet somewhere. As an artist, Jamel Shabazz, Gordon Parks, & Gil-Scott Heron have been great influences for me even when I didn’t recognize who they were but recognized their work and the influence it had on me. They showed me the stories, photographs and insights that I feel the world doesn’t have enough of.
Any new projects you’re currently working you that you might want to share with us?
Both: Yeah! We’re in the process of raising money for a narrative short film we wrote about a young New Jersey native returning to his hometown after the death of his best friend’s brother. It’s a sort of surreal, sleep-deprived weekend, where the main character struggles to reckon with the weights of depression, perceptions, brotherhood, and his own blackness. We’ve got an amazing team of producers and a director of photography on board ready to make that.
We’ve also got this documentary about a small town on the west coast of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria that we’re putting together a test film for with some existing footage we were given that’s pretty incredible.
On top of those two, we’re kicking around a couple of feature film script ideas and music video collaborations.