“Buster’s Mal Heart”Sarah Adina Smith
’s first feature, “The Midnight Swim
,” won six awards on the festival circuit, including the audience award from AFI Fest. She wrote and directed “Mother’s Day,” a segment of the horror anthology “Holidays
,” which opened the Midnight section at Tribeca 2016 and had a worldwide release shortly thereafter.
“Buster’s Mal Heart” will premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26 and will open in theaters April 28.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
Sas: “Buster’s Mal Heart” is about a man (played by “Mr. Robot
’s” Rami Malek
) with a heart so strong, it rips the fabric of space-time. It’s about a man running away from Fate, his heart screaming into the void, calling the gods to task and getting no answer. But it’s also funny and sweet, because it’s about all the awkward fumbling and messiness of trying to pick a fight with the Cosmos. I like to think of it as an atheist’s prayer.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
Sas: I made this film to talk to God in the only way I know how.
I wanted to tell a story about a man who was literally split in two. One incarnation of him is seeking a reckoning with his maker at the mountaintop while the other incarnation would rather run away, but has been swept out to sea and is forced to have that conversation. I also wanted to go back and tell the story of how this strange glitch came to be.
I tend to be interested in stories where the protagonist somehow defies the laws of the universe. Can the laws of physics ever be broken? And is Love the force that can do that?
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
Sas: I hope they leave with a feeling, not a thought.
We don’t choose to be born. We didn’t create the universe. But here we are, stumbling around in the proverbial dark, looking for the goddamn light switch.
This movie doesn’t turn on the light switch — it short-circuits it.
I wanted to give the viewers a feeling of true peace inside their hearts, a brief respite from the existential storm. I suspect that’s the best we can hope for in this mad game of life, and once we experience that grace, we can work to become better at finding it again in each breath. But the waves will never stop crashing into the sand and we have to rediscover the peace again each time, in each moment — that’s what makes the whole comedy show so beautiful.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
Sas: We were ambitious with the scope of this movie, especially on our meager budget. We shot in the oceans off of Mexico, and in Glacier National Park in Montana. It was a lot of moving parts, a lot of characters, a lot of locations. We did all the things you’re not supposed to do in low-budget filmmaking: night shoots, animals, children, improv, water, weather.
Perhaps I feel that I’ve got something to prove as a woman. I have a lot of movies I want to make, and I don’t shy away from any challenge. I live by the motto “impossible missions are the only ones that succeed.” It’s a Jacques Cousteau
quote, and it’s the thing I come back to before I begin any project. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond what’s possible, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
Sas: I struggled for many, many years trying to raise money to get films made. I was incredibly fortunate to finally find a few financiers to take a risk on me with my earlier films and those same beautiful, brave people continued to lend me their support with “Buster’s Mal Heart.”
Once we had a little under half the funding in place, Gamechanger Films
signed on to make up the difference. They are truly the most supportive company a filmmaker could ask for in terms of just asking the right questions but also believing 100 percent in the filmmaker’s vision. Jonako Donley
— who produced “Buster” — and I enjoyed working with Gamechanger’s Mynette Louie
so much as an executive producer on “Buster” that the three of us are teaming up to make my next film together.
W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at Tribeca?
Sas: I love Tribeca! I love New York
! I went to college in the city so it feels like a homecoming for me. I came to Tribeca last year with my short film “Mother’s Day” that was a part of the feature anthology “Holidays
” and it was a great experience. So I’m really excited to get to come back.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Sas: Lately, the best advice I received was from a fellow director named Maurice Marable
who reminded me there’s never any need to be anyone other than who you are. In an ocean of shifting forces, hang on tight to that life raft.
I can’t remember any of the worst advice, and that’s probably a good thing.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
Sas: I would tell them to do things their own way and don’t feel like you ever have to conform to the system, because the system was largely built by men. We need to take all the good lessons from the past and from those existing systems but also not be afraid to make our own rules.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
Sas: I love “We Need to Talk About Kevin
” by Lynn Ramsey. It’s so rare to find a perfect film and for me, that’s one of them. The psychological pacing is downright masterful.
I also really love the “Top of the Lake
” series by Jane Campion
. When I saw the first season, it kind of threw me off because it tonally reminded me of my own work. She and I must be on a similar wavelength.
W&H: There have been significant conversations over the last couple of years about increasing the amount of opportunities for women directors yet the numbers have not increased. Are you optimistic about the possibilities for change? Share any thoughts you might have.
Sas: I just finished a round of meetings pitching a new series idea and there were zero people of color on the other side of the table. And very few women. And most of the women in the rooms were working under men.
Until the business side of the equation changes, I don’t think the numbers on the creative side will change by much. Not because people aren’t trying or because people are prejudiced, but because all of us tend to feel most comfortable working with people that remind us of ourselves.
We tend to feel better about taking risks on people and stories we see ourselves in. I think that’s human nature. But I also think many good people of all colors and genders are doing their damnedest to check this natural inclination and see beyond themselves.
Change is happening, but slowly. If we want it to happen faster then the people at the top need to look more like the colorful fabric of America and less like Trump’s cabinet.
Tribeca 2017 Women Directors: Meet Sarah Adina Smith
— “Buster’s Mal Heart” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium
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