A Conversation with Filmmaker Babak Andishmand

By Kate Nemeth
SALON CIEL MAGAZINE  November 9th 2012

I met filmmaker Babak Andishmand at Coffee Shop in Union Square on an unseasonably warm day. It was one week after the premiere date of Take Two Film Festival, which was postponed due to complications caused by Hurricane Sandy just days earlier. The city was finally up and running again. Downtown had power, and cell service. I rode the L train for the first time in what felt like
forever. Coffee Shop was packed. Students, Artists, and Businessmen all shared the patio with us as we discussed Babak’s work, his films, and the nature of being a young international artist. Romantic, naive and delicate, Andishmand’s recent work Street Epics examines the concentration and energy of young hopefuls as they bushwhack a path through the city and the culture of contemporary art in NYC. They provide a constructed glimpse into a dream world that so many young people throw themselves into not out of want, but out of necessity.

In your own words, what is Street Epics?

Babak: Street Epics is a documentary series in
which I follow people in New York City. Some of
these people are artists who are trying to establish
themselves in tomorrow’s art world.

You started documenting these artists who had fallen on hard times…

Babak: Not necessarily hard because they all have a very positive outlook on the world. It’s a very fearless generation. I wanted to show their faces because society as a lot of misconceptions about artists, such as that they are very reclusive and cut off from society.

That energy comes through; there is this definite hopefulness. The fact that it’s called Street Epics is interesting; it almost names a subculture…

Babak: I don’t know. I think subculture is too strong of a word. These artists, they are out there and you see their faces… You just don’t know about them or their work.

How do you choose whom to shine the lens on?

Babak: I started following people on the streets if I found them interesting. For example, a Christian Missionary or a man who likes to sleep in the streets even though he has an apartment. At some point I was like, “Ok who am I going to follow now? Artists are amongst the most interesting and dynamic people to me, so I’m going to follow them”. I started with one, and then made another and another and it became a series. I came to New York in January to shoot six episodes, in Amsterdam I shot four. Now I am here shooting Season Two.

Where did these air?

Babak: It is not intended for TV. It’s broadcast quality, but is aimed at theaters and film festivals. So I had a screening in Brooklyn last summer. We showed four episodes there. I am having two episodes show for Take Two. What I am trying to do now is get more funding. I did have some private funding in Holland, which is very unusual because of how it is in Europe… companies don’t do that.

Why do you think you got funding?

Babak: Well. You have to have a pitch. Being an artist is 50% business. If you cannot do business, you will miss your thing. It will come and go. There is a lot of administration, a lot of bookkeeping, a lot of PR, and knowing how to articulate yourself and elaborate on your project to make it appeal to the people who will possibly fund.

Do you think you will continue with Street Epics?

Babak: At some point it night get a different name. I’m working on a number of new episodes now that are a little different. These are going to be at feature length documentary films.

So it will be a little more constructed?

Babak: They all have a scenario, even Moira’s and Bon Jane’s… everything you see is me dealing with a situation I created. It’s not fictional. It’s not journalistic either. I give them cues to build off of.

There is something dreamy that comes out of all of this.

Babak: It’s very aesthetic. It’s romantic. I’m inspired with the notion of the lonesome cowboy.

That’s what they look like! It’s great.

Babak: That’s how I see them. They are all artists who are amongst the people, but get very far away.

Who does the music?

Babak: A world famous musician called Com Truise. His actual name is Seth Haley. He is famous for his electronic, Sci-Fi music genre. His work is amazing. I really wanted to use the song that you hear in the Street Epics trailer “Future World.” I wrote to the record label and they said I would have to pay a lot of money for it. So I wrote a whole essay explaining to them why I needed it and they eventually decided to give me the license. I wrote, “That song represents a generation. It’s fearless”.

There is something very on-point and culturally relevant about the Sci-Fi music genre.

Babak: It’s very romantic. Naive, youthful, but yet aesthetic and relevant. There is a very inspiring monologue in Bon Jane’s piece where she looks at the skyline of Manhattan, standing at the edge of the Williamsburg Bridge and you see a little bit of adolescence in her just for a second. She says, “I look forward to becoming a better woman and a better artist. I’m not that old, I’m still very young at heart. I still have a lot to learn even though I’ve been through a lot. I came to the city to move to the country. It doesn’t make any sense does it?”. But there is something very sweet about it. And then as she disappears into the distance and slowly fades out, on the left part of the frame you see the highway and a sign that says “Welcome to Brooklyn, like no other place in the world”.

You caught the perfect moment.

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