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Independent Lens: Interview with GOODBYE SOLO Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani

By Michelle Michalos
Friday, May 28th, 2010
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goodbyesolo2By Independent Lens

In GOODBYE SOLO, an old man gets into a cab with an unusual request: a one-way ride to his death.  The driver agrees, unless he can talk the man out of it. Director  Ramin Bahrani infused the story with African, Mexican, and Southern influences to create a unique drama that explores the human spirit and the role of free will. Independent Lens sat down with Ramin Bahrani, the writer/director/producer of GOODBYE SOLO, to discuss his inspiration for the film and the critical acclaim it has received.

GOODBYE SOLO premieres on June 1 at 10pm on THIRTEEN.

What keeps him motivated as an independent filmmaker:

Curiosity. A desire to create a new set of values, culture and images as the current ones seem old, wasted, and often disturb me.

His three favorite films:
These are three films that I watched in the last few months and I loved:

The Enigma of Kasper Hauser
The Searchers
The Last Picture Show

His advice for aspiring filmmakers:

Read a lot, and work as many odd jobs outside of the film industry as possible.

His most inspirational food for making independent film:

I don’t know if inspiration exists but it always finds me working.

Independent Lens: What impact do you hope GOODBYE SOLO will have?

Ramin Bahrani: I hope first and foremost that the audience will be engaged and that they will enjoy and be emotionally moved by the story and characters. Perhaps it may also cause one to think about the nature of friendship, of selfless love, and of the ceaseless battle between life and death, hope and despair.

IL: What led you to make this film?

RB: A real mountain called Blowing Rock, and two encounters with strangers in my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina:

A real Senegalese cab driver who is as charming, friendly, and curious as Solo in the film, and with whom I spent six months riding alongside doing the night shift in the cab.

An elderly man standing by the side of the road, totally alone, outside of an “assisted living” home that I would pass every day for months.

Blowing Rock provided me with an ending. It is a real life location along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the North Carolina Mountains that I have been visiting since childhood with my family. In October (when we filmed) it is known for its other-worldly beauty as the leaves change into an explosion of colors that burst and flash out of an enveloping and mysterious fog. Blowing Rock is also known to have a wind so powerful that it can blow a person back up into the heavens.

IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making GOODBYE SOLO?

RB: Every film is a set of neverending challenges.

IL: How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

RB: The two leading actors in the film are both professional, and it was my good fortune they accepted the invitation to be in this film as they are both exceptionally talented.

The rest of the actors are non-professionally trained and locals to Winston-Salem and each of them is a unique gem, especially Diane Franco, the young girl playing Alex, Solo’s step-daughter. None of them knew anything more about the film than the scenes they played in. They trusted me as I trusted them.

IL: Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

RB: William and Solo’s final scene is something very special. Red West, the actor who plays the role of William, has done something phenomenal and magical. West has managed to transfer his inner soul and all our own inner anxieties about the fragility of life, the hopelessness of death, and the power and transient nature of friendship into his face and eyes with only the most subtle of moves, and not even the hint of a verbal utterance. This is what a great actor can do when given respect in cinema.

IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

RB: Thankfully, the response has been very good. The film premiered in the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the International Critic’s Prize for best film, and then it screened at Toronto Film Festival. It was released theatrically in the U.S. starting in March 2009 in more than 100 markets.

The cast has also seen the film and enjoyed it very much. It was a distinct pleasure for the non-professionally trained actors to finally know the full story of the film.

IL: Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

RB: They were nice enough to ask, and it’s a great opportunity to reach a wide, intelligent, and mature audience via such a respected, important, and long-standing American institution as public television.

IL: What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?

RB: My laundry.

Filmmaker Bio

Internationally acclaimed for his first two features, MAN PUSH CART and CHOP SHOP, Bahrani’s films have won countless awards after premiering in festivals such as Cannes, Venice, Sundance, Toronto and Berlin, and appeared on numerous top ten lists. Bahrani was the recipient of the 2008 Independent Spirit Award’s Someone To Watch prize, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been the subject of several international retrospectives including the MoMA and Harvard University.

He also wrote and directed the short subject PLASTIC BAG (narrated by Werner Herzog) which premiered as the opening night film in Venice 2009 where Bahrani also served on the Jury. GOODBYE SOLO is his first film set and shot in his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The film premiered in 2008 and immediately won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival.