Sundance-winning writer/director Amin Matalqa has made a career combining drama and comedy to bridge the cultural gaps between East and West using the power of cinema. His first feature film Captain Abu Raed won Grand Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the 2008 Heartland Film Festival along with 27 international festival prizes, and became Jordan’s first-ever Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film. This led to his next opportunity to direct for Walt Disney Studios, the inspirational soccer family film The United, which brought together a cast of players from across the Middle East and North Africa to star with Egyptian legend, Farouq El-Fishawy. The United was the first film ever produced by a major Hollywood studio for the Arab world, and has been released in over 80 international markets. For his third feature, the romantic comedy Strangely in Love, Amin decided to make a modern indie adaptation of a classic Russian tale, Dostoevsky’s “White Nights,” set in a whimsical Los Angeles. The film will world premiere at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival.
HFF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?
AM: Strangely in Love is a modern-day LA-set whimsical comedy adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella “White Nights.” The film is about a naive man who falls in love with a hot-headed blind girl and tries to help her win back her ex-lover just so he can spend time with her. The idea started when I read the book. I thought it would be so much fun to look at Dostoevsky, the father of Russian misery in literature, through the prism of someone like Charlie Chaplin and set it in LA where we can have a collision of two worlds: the urban and the whimsical. We made the film on a very small budget as a labor of love, and it was an incredibly satisfying experience. Everyone worked on the film for the love of making movies. We’re very excited to share it with everyone.
HFF: What was your role in the production?
AM: Writer, director, producer. Our crew was so small that I was also my own script supervisor and sometimes my own AD as well.
HFF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?
AM: I had a great experience at Heartland when I came with my first film, Captain Abu Raed, in 2008. We all felt this is a perfect place to premier our feel good comedy.
HFF: This year’s tagline is “Shift Your Perspective” – what lasting effect will your film have on moviegoers?
AM: I always strive to have heart in my movies, and while this is my most stylized and eccentric film, I feel that it has my sense of humor, and that’s one of the things that makes it so personal for me. It’s not so much that there are jokes but rather it’s the naive and desperate behavior of the characters that so entertains me. We got some wonderful performances from Jemuel, Michelle, Sean and Amanda. Ray’s cinematography is gorgeous, and Austin’s music is my favorite of his film scores.
HFF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?
AM: It probably all boils down to Steven Spielberg. My life was never the same after seeing ET.
HFF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now but you weren’t told when you started your career?
AM: That making the film is only half the battle. Getting it out to your audience is a whole other field that needs a lot of time and expertise.
HFF: What are some of your favorite movies?
AM: Top ten films: ET, Amadeus, Cinema Paradiso, Lawrence of Arabia, Cast Away, Fargo, Rear Window, City Lights, Modern Times, Die Hard, Glengarry Glen Ross, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The 400 Blows, Casino, Goodfellas, The Shawshank Redemption, My Life as a Dog, Inglorious Bastards, Forrest Gump, Back to the Future, Rango, Dances with Wolves, Bolt, Braveheart, Peter Pan . . . the list goes on.
HFF: What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?
AM: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – because of Michael Kamen’s magnificent score.
HFF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?
AM: This is the premier. I love sharing the film with the enthusiastic crowd. Really looking forward to hearing the reactions to the film.
HFF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?
AM: The film has a pretty significant tonal arc from the characters to the music. How did that come about?
See the world premiere of Strangely in Love at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival:
- Sunday, Oct. 19 – 12:30 p.m. at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
- Tuesday, Oct. 21 – 4:30 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Wednesday, Oct. 22 – 7:00 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Saturday, Oct. 25 – 10:45 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14