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An Interview with Hamza Zaman, Director of The Institute

by Mike Haberfelner

April 2022

Films directed by Hamza Zaman on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie The Institute - in a few words, what is it about?

 

It's about many things, on the surface it’s about an unfortunate couple who is unable to conceive, but it veers into the power dynamics of healthcare, predatory behaviors, charismatic leadership, morality, relationship pressures and desire for children with both heterosexual and homosexual couples among other topics.

 

What were your sources of inspiration when writing The Institute, and is the movie in any way based on personal experiences (however veiled)?

 

Some inspiration surely stemmed from me and my wife discussing the start of our family. That is where the “seed” of the idea was lain.

 

A few words about The Institute's approach to horror?

 

I prefer a more cerebral and sinister style and I love the fear that comes from solitude and the loss of control one feels when ingesting mysterious substances. I am also a fan of larger themes rather than someone just trying to kill you for no reason.

 

What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

Film is a visual art so foremost during the shoot I thought about the image. What can this convey, how interesting does this look, and how can the camera help tell the story. That being said I also feel the director's job is to make the actors look their best. I always tell the performers that I am their safety net and if I am asking for a retake it is because I think they can be shown in a better light or do a better delivery.

 

Do talk about The Institute's key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Victorya Brandart had been with the project almost from the beginning, and she really showed commitment to the storyline. When my first choice for a male lead dropped out due to scheduling conflicts (we shot during the height of Covid so things got chaotic), Victorya suggested Ignacyo Matynia, and their previous acquaintance made them comfortable with each other. This helped their chemistry on camera and made for a believable couple. The other members of the ensemble were either people I had worked with before - like Jarred Harper whom I directed in a comedy play - or people who auditioned like Joy Donze, and were perfect for the part.

 

You of course also have to talk about your quite impressive locations for a bit, and what was it like filming there?

 

We were blessed with our locations - from The Lands Institute itself to the cave, and of course the beautiful private estate on the water - it was all amazing to shoot in the magical Catskill mountains for this lush retreat.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

We were also very blessed to have the art of the Ballatore estate lent to us for the shoot - this was figurative iron sculptures as well as paintings from the late great Anthony Ballatore. It really helped set the mood for the shoot as it walked the line between beauty and the grotesque.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of The Institute?

 

I have been happy that so many people have loved watching the film! We have a fair amount of critical praise to boot, but it's the public that I make films for. I want to give people a few minutes of fun and escape from the everyday toil, so it’s gratifying when people enjoy all our hard work!

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

I am working on a couple of films - a heist movie and another thriller, plus some long form works. Keep an eye out on Headless Films website, our social media, or reach out to join our mailing list for more updates.

 

What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I think my first desire came from watching cartoons as a kid - I wanted different things to happen and said one day I am going to make work that I would like and that wouldn’t annoy me. I really began writing informally when I was 14 or 15 in high school when my first screenplays were written. In college I took some screenwriting classes and did some more polished works but never really shot anything. After deciding to stop dreaming and start delivering I started writing short films and writing plays for the stage and getting them produced. This is my feature debut.

 

Judging from your filmography, you're feeling as comfortable behind the camera as in front of it - so what can you tell us about Hamza Zaman, the actor?

 

I sort of fell into acting late in life. I did background for a friend's film and then on a whim decided to put up a picture on IMDb. A few days later someone called me from LA and asked if I had a rep yet - she helped me work out my first portfolio, and I then took some classes and kept working on it because it taught me a lot about filmmaking and I kept getting work. I have a couple of dozen credits as an actor but am really only starting to hit my stride as a filmmaker now.

 

Do talk about your filmwork prior to The Institute, in whatever position?

 

My last couple of shorts were Sickness (2019), which premiered at the South Asian International Film Festival as part of the HBO shorts contest, and Tribe ( 2020), which premiered at Chelsea Film Festival. Sickness bears an eerie similarity to the pandemic and predated it by a year so some of my friends joke it was a warning. After making Tribe I felt it was time to tackle a feature, and I hope its plot doesn’t also begin to resemble reality.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

I like to stay curious and ensure I am an advocate for the performers. It's part of a director's job to protect them and help them grow as artists. I also feel that film is a collaborative art form so the director is just one member of a large team needed to bring a story to light. This is why I named my production company Headless Films. It’s really all about the whole production and post production crew - not just the director.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Kubrick, Villeneuve, Aronofsky

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Right now I really loved Dune, and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic. I am also a fan of Star Wars and its spoof Spaceballs.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

I don’t actively dislike anyone else’s conception of art - but I wouldn’t watch the Human Centipede again.

 

Feeling lucky ?
Want to
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Find Hamza Zaman
at the amazons ...

USA  amazon.com

Great Britain (a.k.a. the United Kingdom)  amazon.co.uk

Germany (East AND West)  amazon.de

Looking for imports ?
Find Hamza Zaman here ...

Thailand  eThaiCD.com
Your shop for all things Thai

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

www.institutemovie.com

Instagram: headlessfilms 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/institutemovie/

www.headlessfilms.com

My IG is hamza.zam

And we could really use some review love on Rotten Tomatoes and Amazon!

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

This was an indie so we didn’t have huge trailers or anything like that, but we worked hard to have a heightened level of cuisine and some fun recreational activities for the summer camp where we built our bubble. Basically I also think it's important to have some fun so you can blow off some steam after the 10+ hour days on a shoot!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

My pleasure!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

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On the same day
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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