MAXIMON MONIHAN, a professional skateboarder with a degree in Philosophy and Cultural Studies, is a filmmaker in his own right. His first feature film The Voice of The Voiceless (La Voz de Los Silenciados or LVDLS) was completed this year and premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival 2013 last month (17-24 Oct).
The Voice of The Voiceless (La Voz de Los Silenciados or LVDLS) is a silent film, based on a ‘reality’ where deaf ‘students’ were smuggled into New York from Latin American countries to work the subways as beggars. I met Monihan, Sheena Matheiken (Producer), and Janeva Adena (lead ‘actor’ in the film) in Mumbai… before they zoomed off to Dharamshala to present The Voice of The Voiceless (La Voz de Los Silenciados or LVDLS) at the Dharamshala International Film Festival 2013.
This is the second part of our interview. Read the first part of the interview here.
After Dharamshala, you’re out of India, right?
Sheena: “No, no, we’re coming back to Kerala… in December.”
Monihan: “We are complete novices… we didn’t know what we were doing… and we had originally sent the film here, Mumbai, and then to Kerala… and, somehow, happily we got accepted to Dharamshala… and to other festivals… (laughs)… we had no idea… and Dharamshala was at the last minute…”
Then, going back to New York, to Brooklyn, obviously you’ll be screening it there, right?… now that you’ve premiered it here in Mumbai…
Monihan: “… hopefully…”
Sheena: “… we don’t know what’s going to happen…”
Maximon Monihan, Janeva Adena, Sheena Matheiken
You’ve said earlier that you’ve already shared it among your friends… that’s the safety net… and now, for the first time, that you’ve got a wholesome audience… and you said there was a lot of empathy… that’s a good thing, right?
Both Monihan and Sheena: (happily) “Yeah, right.”
So, how are you going to market this film? Because the message has to be shared, right?
And, for indie filmmakers, it’s one of the toughest things to do.
Sheena: “Yeah. If you know of any good marketing person… because we don’t have one…”
(we all laugh)
Monihan: “… and we’re playing it by ear… we’re learning as we go along and… we’re trying to meet as many people as we can… we’ll probably end up making a lot of silly mistakes… and we might later look back and say, ‘Ooh, we did that?’… And, a lot of the time we’ll put the cart in front of the horse… whatever… it doesn’t matter… we just want to try and get it in front of as many faces as possible… and we feel it will take up a life of its own… and, hopefully, we’ll be able to support it. If people are as enthusiastic as they were here, and in other places, then I’ll be very confident… because people here have been so generous… and nice… that I hope they’ll be the same in New York. Our friends have been very supportive and everybody seems to really like it.”
It’s a feature film, right? And yet, it has such a strong documentary feel to it. And your background has been in making shorts and in research…
Monihan: “… a few shorts… skateboard movies and…
… music videos…
“… yeah, and music videos… but, you know, the dream of every filmmaker is to make a longer format film… but it’s expensive, it’s difficult, it takes a lot of leisure time, resources… so, we are just trying to find our way in…”
What I meant to ask was, it’s a feature film but with a strong line of being a documentary. Though there’s a story to it, the subject is such that it fits into a documentary format. So, how will get the word out about the nature of the film? Will you do some publicity… have a blog?
Sheena: “We have a blog. We’ll be developing it throughout the tour… and we’ve already started doing that. We have a new section on the website. But in terms of positioning it… to me, every film has a special message and… whether it’s obvious or specific, you know…”
… this is specific. It’s very strong in content…
Sheena: “… yeah, but it’s still allegorical… I mean, it can be seen as an allegorical film… and I think it’s important that the film does that and sort of alleviates the art form… and creates a social message… and creates magic… as a film itself. So, for us, it’s a feature… but I don’t want to separate the message…”
Monihan: “… but if somebody got behind it and wanted to have an element of… of the campaign that focused on the message… more of an activist kind of approach… I think that’s absolutely fine… “
It probably needs to… from what I have read about you… not much though… but the fact that you’ve worked with Angela Davis and others at one time… I just thought that you could explore…
Monihan: “… yeah, it’s a responsibility of everybody to… be vocal about these things… and find ways to get people engaged… and if the film can help, then you can take advantage of that.”
I was thinking of the Vagina Monologues… you know, get into colleges, get into schools… because the subject… the topic is such that it needs that kind of a push… it needs that kind of a treatment… I don’t know… maybe you can have a sort of ‘Silence Day’ or something…
Sheena: “… yeah, yeah, you need a stronger marketing…”
Monihan: “… yeah, we’re not opposed to that kind of thing at all… if we need to get into colleges…”
But you’ll need the machinery to get it going… you’ll need a team… resources.
Monihan: “There are friends of ours who do more political work… who do work for non-profits… and they’ve been telling us that we’re going to introduce you to him, her… we’re definitely going to pursue that…”
Sheena: “… once we get through these festivals and… “
It’s a very strong message. So you need to bring in that political touch… component…
Both Monihan and Sheena: “… yeah…”
… and, it needs to be done repeatedly… otherwise the message will go waste. In a way it’s good that you’re screening it in India because we have these beggar children on street corners and stations… and I can’t think of any film which addresses them or talks about this subject in the way that you have presented it…
Sheena: “… from that perspective…”
… and we have… and I’m sorry to say this… we have a foreigner coming over and showing us… (we all laugh)… something we should have been doing… ever since we… we celebrated 100 years of Hindi cinema this year… so we have a 100-year film heritage… when we could have taken this up.
(we all go quiet)
We are a Third World country and it’s a huge issue here. You’ve talked about immigrants… or migrants from South America… Latin America… and we are living with similar people in our own country. So, I feel, you need to put together a good marketing agenda…
Both Monihan and Sheena: “… yeah…”
… and if you can push this through… It’s good that you’re coming back to India… I don’t know how big a market Dharamshala will be… I mean, in terms of media… the Delhi media will probably be covering it… you need to keep pushing it…
Monihan: (pointing to Sheena) “She’s very good with all this… the Master of digital perspective…”
You need to come back because, from a selfish perspective, in India, we need something like this. As I said, it’s sad that no Indian has thought of making this film.
(we all go quiet)
Monihan: “I’d say, probably, a lot of people have… but it’s such an exclusive art form that… it’s really in the hands of a small section of society that… and only because we were very stubborn and we had this opportunity to get this shoot going in the way…”
(we all laugh)
I’d say it’s a great reward for India to have a film such as this. Unfortunately, it’s only in Mumbai; and Dharamshala is tiny; Kerala would be great. You’ll have an erudite audience in Kerala. And, they have a film industry which is pretty strong. Unfortunately, the indie film industry hardly exists in India. We don’t have anything like a Sundance here that promotes indie films. And Bollywood is so strong here… with its song-and-dance, happiness, colour… (we all laugh)… and that’s what sells. But Kerala has an indie film movement, so you’re likely to find greater empathy. But, mind you, in Kerala, they are more critical about movies and movie-making.
Monihan: “But we won’t mind that. We are hypercritical of it ourselves. That’s part of the reason why we haven’t figured it all out… how we’re even going to do this or that. We needed to get past the first screening… we needed to have this first stage to get that confidence…”
(we all laugh)
… and now you’ve taken off the starting block. Maybe you need to leave something behind… you could keep in touch with some film journalists or bloggers…
Sheena: “… yeah, we’ll definitely keep in touch with people…”
Monihan: “… yeah, there’s Ani [referring to Aniruddha Guha]… and there’s a film society…”
There are a couple of film institutes… in Pune, Hyderabad…
Monihan: “… yeah, we’ll definitely be pursuing film institutes and people connected with films.”
I won’t take up much more of your time. Are there any other projects that you’re working on?
Monihan: “I have a story, set in Africa. I have two stories in Japan. And one in the American South in the fifties. There are numerous stories but they all go back to the same thing… to questions of power and abuse of power. I’m trying to find ways to do it without sounding preachy… to find a clever way to do it… an interesting way to do it… so they can recognise humanity in other people… or maybe have overlooked… and question themselves and their preconceived notions. If we can think through ourselves and make the films that speak to us, most likely they’ll speak to other people too.”
(we all go quiet)
Monihan: “I probably did a bad thing by reading Maximum City before coming here… you know analysing everything…”
… but that story… the images that come up reading Maximum City… that’s not ALL what Mumbai is about… it’s not all Bollywood or killing or the underworld…
Monihan: “… yeah, there are some 30 million people living in Mumbai… so there are 30 million stories right there.”
Sheena: “At the end of the day, we have to look at things logistically… what makes sense. We’d like to let things happen organically. What is the right movie to work on next? We don’t know yet.”
But if you’re going to take six years, then people may not remember you…
(we all laugh)
Sheena: “… I mean the decision-making. I don’t think the actual production will take that long because the next one will be funded…”
Monihan: “… if we even have a four-dollar budget, it’s four dollars more than what we had before… it would be fantastic… (we all laugh)… but if we had what might be a normal budget like most people have… we would work fast.”
Why don’t you look at Kickstarter for funding…?
Sheena: “… I’m not worried about funding. There were many reasons why we didn’t have funding for the first film… but it was very important for us to have complete control of the film… and do it completely on our own terms… and also figure out if we could do it. It’s important to show that you can actually make a meaningful movie with very little… and we see this less and less with independent films… I mean, look at even in Sundance, independent films have budgets like five million… and that’s not necessarily a small budget, though it’s considered a small-budget film. It was important for us to make a film with very little. I have no questions about financing the next film.”
But now you can go back to New York or to your university… to your professors… and say that ‘here it is, I’ve done it in Mumbai… in Kerala…’
Monihan: “… sadly, Angela has retired…”
But she may have the contacts…
Monihan: “… yeah. But there are other professors… and some of them have been following me on… following my blog… they are super enthusiastic… they are excited, they are super supportive.”
One last question (to Janeva, who has been sitting quietly): About ‘the world of the silent’ which I read about. How do you feel about it?
Janeva: “About the project, the film, the finish?”
No, about the way silence is treated in the film?
Janeva: “Oh, I thought it was effective. I think the sound was just right in the cinema… but my theory about people watching it at home… they may not pick up a lot of the subtle sounds… that are important. I remember this from watching the first screening and the second… in the first screening, the sound wasn’t quite right… and in the second screening it was a bit louder… and I could hear all these differences in the environment… like when she is in the van, you could feel the music… you couldn’t hear it, but you could feel the music that was going on in the car… and you feel the differences in the subways… when she gets off the subway… “
It reminded me of this movie Babel… the third story… the deaf Japanese girl… she goes to this disco at night… and there’s this huge noise and lights and colours… and as she enters… there’s silence… she just walks in unaware of the noise… I was so kicked by the whole thing.
Monihan: “That movie came out right after we finished shooting and we were wondering ‘hey’… (we all laugh)… we were thinking we had this clever idea… and we were going to surprise everyone… and ‘oh man’, next time…”
I think it has come out very well in your film. I think it contributes substantially to the goodness of the film… and I hope that, in your other projects, you have something similar… I don’t know what you would call it… which the audience will remember… that’ll be the marker we want inside our heads…
Sheena: “That’s the extra magic that pushes the boundaries…”
Janeva: “My husband, he’s a sound artist and he helps… he’s a composer with a production team in LA… and they call him when they run out of ideas… when they want a sound they can’t really make… his hearing is so… I mean I don’t notice sounds so much but he’s really into it… his hearing is so much…”
Monihan: “… like the guy who did our sound… he’s like a sound genius… he’s so tuned to the tunes, the frequencies, the vibrations… in ways that most people wouldn’t. And, we are hoping that we’ll be able to create a vehicle where we can force your attention onto those things.”
And I think that would help the film to reach others… like the hearing-impaired. There’s one aspect of the story about the migrants… but there are others. You might be able to get companies which manufacture products for the hearing-impaired to sponsor your film.
Sheena: “That’s not a bad idea. You can be our marketing advisor…”
Monihan: “… yeah, you’ll be hearing from us…”
(we all laugh)
I really would like to watch your film again. I wish I could go to Kerala.
Monihan: “We’ll do whatever we can to make sure our film gets back to India. I know for sure that it’ll be playing at the film society. We’ll try to make it happen.”
And you can do a few Skype interviews to promote the film.
Both Monihan and Sheena: “Yeah, we could do Skype interviews.”
Ok then. Thank you so much. I didn’t think we’d be able to meet, but we did. Thanks, this was a great interview.
Monihan, Sheena and Janeva: Thank you.
[The first part of this interview can be found here.]
MORE FROM MUMBAI FILM FESTIVAL 2013
[Mumbai Film Festival 2013 intro]
[Interview: Anu Rangachar]
[Interview: Andrea Pallaoro]
[Interview: Guillaume Brac]
[Interview: Tudor Cristian Jurgiu]