MEMBER MONDAYS is a weekly interview series highlighting current members & alumni of the Austin School of Film + Austin Cinemaker Space community! Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our incredibly eclectic community members, and doing a deep dive into their work. Insight into what makes them, them.
After taking several classes at Austin School of Film, Dara Anya has several short films under his creative belt. One of these was the short film Forced to Swim, which was recently selected to screen at the inaugural Austin Indie Fest this upcoming weekend. We spoke with him about the film and his journey to becoming a filmmaker.
Before we get into any origin of the film or even you as a filmmaker, I want to capture the moment when you knew your film was accepted into the Austin Indie Fest: what were you feeling? What were you thinking, in that moment?
Dara Anya: When I found out my film was accepted into the Austin Indie Fest, feelings of excitement and honor surrounded me. I submitted Forced To Swim to 40 film festivals, 26 of which had not selected it (13 are currently undecided). After receiving continuous E-Mails stating my short was ‘Not Selected’, the status became the norm. Receiving the E-Mail that the Austin Indie Fest selected my short was an unexpected reward, which was quite stimulating. It’s reassuring to have your work appreciated and enjoyed by others. The existence of the film -though it brings me pride- is irrelevant without acknowledgement. The selection of my film was a proud moment for me: to know that my investment, and the investment of others in me, paid off.
Where did the idea for “Forced to Swim” come from? Everyone has such a different process for their writing, so I’d love for you to give us a glimpse of the journey that script took from the initial concept to the final draft.
DA: The idea for Forced To Swim stemmed from my fascination in the experiment by the same name. The Forced to Swim Test is a behavioral despair test, which was constantly brought up during my undergraduate years as a Neuroscience major at UT. The writing process for the film was quite interesting for me. I began with the climactic scene – a man in despair contemplating ending his life– and then I built a story and world around that. There are many drafts, ideas, and deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut.
And all that being said, after the writing process, what was production like?
DA: This was my first short film and my first time producing anything, but I knew I could handle it. Fortunately, I had the guidance of Carrie Cates, my instructor for Digital Filmmaking and Production Management at the Austin School of Film. I wrote the screenplay knowing that the project would be a low-budget short, making my vision achievable. Then, I created a shot list and designed the production. For the cast, I cast myself (if you’re not going to cast yourself, whose going to cast you?), and Michelle Dunn (whom I met during my undergraduate years). I was introduced to a great filming community through the Austin School of Film, which was where I found my Director of Photography Louis Toliver Jr. .
Production was a great learning experience for me. I had never filmed or handled a camera before, so a lot was new to the crew and me. The greatest challenge faced was lighting and not having enough of it. I learned so much about light temperatures, which I found extremely fascinating. During production, I was overwhelmed with excitement masked in concern. Production was great fun with good friends to keep me balanced.
In the film, there’s such a great attention to detail in the production design, which I feel like gets thrown to the wayside in other low-budget shorts. Why was it so important to you to be incredibly detailed in all aspects of design?
DA: The story and how it’s conveyed was important to me. I don’t believe in extraneous details, which is one reason there is no dialogue in this short, but I wanted every aspect of the film, from the music to the flowers on the counter to the paintings on the wall, to facilitate in the telling of a unified story.
Take us back even further in the past: where did your love for filmmaking begin? What is it about film, both as a creator and a viewer, that makes you passionate or excited?
DA: My love for film stems from my family. I remember watching Turner Classic Movies with my parents, brothers and grandmother. My aunt had a bag full of VHS tapes of Alfred Hitchcock, Marx brothers, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis films. Film watching has been a positive communal activity. I love film in the way it can harness emotions and resonate with individuals. It’s insanely fascinating to think about film and entertainment as types of medicine. I retreat to films during troubling times or to gain new perspectives. I believe films can engender new perspectives, new ideas, new concepts and hypotheticals one might not have every fathomed in order to elicit empathy and sympathy towards characters and other individuals in our lives. The accumulation of these perspectives, this open-mindedness has the ability to produce a well-rounded individual and a better person.
What’s next for you as an artist? What other films have you made, what are you making: what’s the next thing? Where do you see yourself taking your art?
DA: Right now, filmmaking is my hobby. I hope that one day it will become one of my professions. After taking the Avant Garde & Experimental Filmmaking course (instructed by Faiza Karcheni) at the Austin School of Film, I’ve created my first experimental short film, Natural Beauty, on Super 8mm film. Now that I have a narrative and experimental short under my belt, I aim to create an animated and documentary short. Along similar lines, composing the music for Forced To Swim was a highlight for me. I will continue pursing music composition in addition to filmmaking. Art is too intellectually and creatively stimulating for me to stop. I will not stop anytime soon.
INTERVIEW BY: Spencer Mirabal
[See Dara’s film Forced to Swim at Austin Indie Fest this Saturday! Details for the screening can be found HERE!]