Sundance 2014: In The Loop With Imperial Dreams Director Malik Vitthal
The debut film by the L.A. native follows a reformed gang member raising his son alone.
After joining the Sundance Screenwriters lab in 2011, Malik met and befriended a former gang member that later served as the inspiration for the lead character in Imperial Dreams. In the film, Bambi, played by British actor John Boyega, wants nothing more than to be a writer and to provide for his young son, but the world that landed him behind bars is all to ready to claim him once again.
Also starring Keke Palmer as Bambi’s incarcerated girlfriend and Anika Noni Rose as a child services caseworker, Imperial Dreams takes a look into L.A.’s gang-filled streets from the perspective of someone who desperately wants to escape it, and Loop21 sat down with the film’s creator to get insight into how the film came to be.
Loop21: Why did you want to be filmmaker?
Malik Vitthal: After playing ice hockey I decided to try my hand in the arts. Filmmaking seemed like the best version of storytelling you could share with a lot of people.
Loop21: How did growing up in L.A. inspire your work?
MV: L.A. is the best place in the world. You can do everything there. You’ve got the beach, sports, commerce, entertainment. I had my friends and family and amazing different cultures. There’s a lot to pull from. There’s very rich soil there.
Loop21: How would you describe your creative process as a filmmaker?
MV: I’m more of an instinctual person. I’m drawn to stories about duality: Characters fighting the good and bad within themselves. Process wise I jump in 100% and just work really hard.
Loop21: What do you look for in a collaborator when working on a film?
MV: I like working with people that love what they do. People that have a commitment to excellence and don’t mind being pushed?
Loop21: What filmmakers have influenced you the most?
MV: I like the guy who made A Prophet (Jacques Audidard). I guess I would say I try to shoot for a Kanye West version of Ken Loach. Ken Loach is a British social filmmaker.
Loop21: What was the genesis of Imperial Dreams?
MV: Five years ago I met this young man in the projects and he opened his world to me. We started hanging out together and through our interaction together and the stuff we went through, I was inspired to make this fictional film.
Loop21: Your lead character is not set up to succeed once he is released from jail. What do you think about the current post-release incarceration process in the U.S?
MV: One of the wisest answers I’ve ever heard about reforming the whole system is that a three-tiered approach would probably be the best. If you solve one level and don’t solve the others, the other two you don’t solve will come back. Work on the education with children, work with people that are getting out and work with programs that help people after release. The bottom line is you can’t fix one thing, like fix the parole system, and think everything is going to be better. This is obviously my opinion, but you need to fix education. You have to do top down if you think anything is going to work. You need more activism and more people taking control of their own community.
Loop21: What do you want someone who grew up like your lead character to take away from Imperial Dreams?
MV: This film is going to be a different experience for each person. I don’t want to dictate what someone’s experience is going to be. If someone is able to gather pursuit of positivity no matter what the circumstances are, or if they can find joy in some of the harder things in their lives, it may help them.
Loop21: The music in the film is like another character and really develops the story. What was the scoring process like?
MV: Our composer Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) helped to bring a gangster odyssey feel that we needed. It’s a hard line that you have to ride with in this film in that you have a child and a 21-year old reformed gang member in the same story. There’s a hard element to it, but you also have to respect the five-year-old son and the journey of protecting that son. Communicating both of their journeys. The father’s journey is inspired by the son’s, and you have to portray that in the character of the music. Steve is such a sophisticated artist and he is able to communicate in a very simple way.
Loop21: What was one of the biggest challenges in getting Imperial Dreams made?
MV: For me it’s always myself. The biggest challenge is not to react to things but to just respond and just pay attention. We had an amazing team, shot the film in 21 days, and just took joy in the suffering.
Loop21: And what advice do you have for other filmmakers?
MV: Perseverance helps. Be competitive with yourself. Not with others, but just with yourself. Try to get the best out of yourself.
Shontel Horne is the Senior Lifestyle and Entertainment Producer for Loop21.com. Follow her on Twitter @writerrambling.
Photo Credit: Filmguide.Sundance.org