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Posts Tagged ‘Jon Van Dyke’

Monday, October 17, 2011

When Walid Amani showed up for the casting call, he had no idea what was just over the horizon for the aspiring actor who was in possession of the prized SAG card.  He had roles in a couple of independent movies, episodes of NCIS and Lie to Me.  But this one would be very different.  Here in Hollywood, he is a long way from the University of Minnesota where he earned a degree in computer science.  He’s a trained classical pianist.  But when the film’s director and producer agreed with the casting agent saw the test outtakes, Walid would be on his way to India.  He was perfect for the part.

In his former life, he was a natural at the computer.  He can figure things out.  His piano concerts were inspiring.  But acting trumped those other career tracks.  He attacked the craft with the same intensity and focus he brought to those two familiar keyboards.  This role would demand more than he imagined.  He’s conversant in several languages, including Hindi.  He consulted dialect and linguistic coaches, here in California and there in India.  He would play the role of a Dalit man committed to provide and care for an eight-year-old daughter.  His native tongue would be Telegu, and he would speak limited English with a heavy Indian accent.  He would familiarize himself with life in the outcast slum.

So he did his homework.  He practiced until he found a character voice.  And then they introduced him to an eight-year old girl with jet-black hair, big bright eyes and an engaging smile.  Persis Karen, a Dalit, was picked from a large collection of uniformed students who had been snatched from sure hopelessness in neighboring slums.  These girls were engaged in a formal, intense education, which included English, in the heart of India.  They were eager cadidates.  When the director of the movie first met young Persis, he knew he had found Annika.   She would be Walid’s daughter.  He would take the name Kiran.  They would spend the next six weeks together, inseparable.

As I sat in the theater in Nashville after the focus group screening of the film in which Walid and Persis play a major role as Kiran and Annika, I listened in as folks who had little background in the world of India’s Dalit population shared their response to the film.  They expressed wonder and amazement at the performances, which touched them deeply.  Kiran, hopeless, lost, with no means of providing for the daughter he loves, accepts a modest sum of money (rupees) in exchange for the promise of a better life for his little girl.  His new American friend, Caden (Cody Longo), is outraged.  The ugly American becomes a man with possessed by a cause.  The two of them emerge as unlikely partners in a search and rescue mission that takes us into some of India’s darker shadows.

Last night, we met four of the actors who played major roles in the new film, Not Today.  Brent Martz (Producer) and Jon Van Dyke (Director) interviewed them, as they played finished extended scenes.  They reminisced over six weeks of filming on location in India, where their lives were forever changed.  All of them.

The focus group in Nashville raved over the performance of Cody Longo, who plays a privileged Orange County millennial, Caden Welles, who on a sort of dare, goes to India for no other reason than to party with his college pals.  They are the quintessential ugly Americans.  He leaves behind a girlfriend, Audrey (Cassie Scerbo), who loves him but fears what he is becoming.  She’s in turmoil.  Caden’s mother, Sarah (Shari Widmann), divorced from Caden’s father and remarried to Luke (Jon Schneider), knows Caden’s inner strife, and wants desperately for him to find wholeness.  The unexpected quest to find Annika changes everything.  They all delivered.  Their performances rock.  Brent and Jon captured it on film – a stunning achievement.

I’ve always liked DVDs because they include “The Making Of,” which takes us into the background of the story, the on location shooting, a discussion of the film’s purpose and meaning.  Last night, we enjoyed the Making Of Not Today live and in person.

We now have a growing sense of confidence and anticipation that this film is going to reach a large audience, bring awareness and motivation, which, we trust, will mobilize an army.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

 

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Matthew Cork visited India in October of 2007, his experience triggered a movement that has been gathering momentum and is about to break on the scene with powerful force.  About two and a half years ago, inspired by the success of a church in Atlanta, the creative team set out to make a theatrical, full length feature film to capture a wide audience.  It would be a drama, not a documentary, and would build a bridge half way around the world, connecting resources and a laser beam focus on the plight and destiny of a people group of nearly three hundred million – the Dalits of India.

Matthew announced the improbable goal – to eliminate the caste system.  When I first heard him say it, I was struck by the sheer enormity of it.  (“Impossible!” was my first reaction.)  But as we explored the problem and the grass roots movement that is expanding like an October Southern California brush fire, consuming long held prejudices and egregious traditions turning the old ideas of untouchability into ash, we began to understand that the impossible becomes possible.  In response, a single Southern California church, where Matthew Cork serves as Lead Pastor, pledged nearly twenty million dollars (most of it toward building schools for a whole new generation of Dalits) to fuel a campaign that will spell freedom and hope for millions.

What a journey.  Matthew commissioned two of his top creative lieutenants to write a script.  Brent Martz and Jon Van Dyke went to work.  They gave birth to a compelling story: Caden, a privileged, cynical, self-absorbed Southern California twenty-something, travels to India on a lark with his party pals and stumbles across an eight-year-old Dalit, Annikka, and her father Karin, while back home his girlfriend, mother and step-dad pray.  Repelled at first, Caden gradually becomes attached to the wide-eyed little girl and when Karin sells her away for a small fistful of rupees, thinking it will guarantee a better future than he can give, Caden is incensed.  As he connects to the Internet from his luxury hotel, his research gives him a primer on trafficking and the previously calloused Californian becomes obsessed with her rescue.  Together, Caden, the entitled Californian, and Karin, the Dalit father, set out to find Annikka.  Their search takes them all over India, and into the dark world of human trade where children are debased as a sub-human commodity.

The script led to a casting call.  Church folks volunteered to serve the project.  A cinematographer emerged.  Donations materialized.  Excitement accelerated.  Storyboards mapped out production plans.  Slum Dog Millionaire (a surprise hit film which introduced the world to India’s untouchables) stormed the Oscars.  Doors opened in India.  Cast members and crew appeared from both sides of the globe.  A location trip identified sites for filming.  Filmed on location, the movie would take characters through the slums, the marketplace, the trains, the bustling city streets, the dark shadows of the brothel district and back allies where human dignity is forgotten, trampled.  The team faced impossible odds.  Barriers and roadblocks have been encountered all along the way.  Murphy’s Law (if it can go wrong, it will) imposed itself time and again.  And in spite of all the challenges, all the objections, all the predictions of calamity, the seers of doom, all the delays, all the undelivered promises, all the reasons why the team could well have thrown up their hands in discouragement and simply said “never mind”, “I quit”, “this is too much”, “we can’t go on”… in spite of all of that and more, the movie is almost done.  And it is very, very good.

As I write, the production crew is applying the finishing touches.  World-class composer Don Harper has completed an original score.  The mix is nearly complete.  The final edit is going through a color correction, which is tantamount to a Photo Shop of every frame.  The result is eye-popping clarity and crisp resolution.  Much of the dialogue, true to life, is in an Indian dialect.  Animated subtitles bring the conversation to life.  The team will be done mid-summer.  Focus groups will register their responses for final tweaking and presentation to the several major distributors who have already indicated keen interest.

I wish I could express adequately how proud I am of the production team.  I am attached to this project largely because I traveled to India twice these past two years; the first trip along with the writer, director, producer and cinematographer.   We located sites in Hyderabad, on the train, in Calcutta and Mumbai.  As the movie was made, for nearly a full year, I worked with Matthew to write a book that tells the story of Global Freedom.

One man’s vision, one that captured him in the middle of the night in a hotel room in the heart of India, has already moved a mountain.  It’s about to move a nation.

Maybe the whole world.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

Learn more: The Movie | The Book 

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