Cary McClelland WITHOUT SHEPHERDS Director Interview
Documentary Feature Competition
Six bold people navigate the dangerous waters of Pakistan’s current crisis to discover a new tomorrow: a cricket star starts a progressive political party, a female journalist goes behind Taliban lines, an ex-mujahid seeks redemption, a trucker crosses dangerous territory to feed his family, a supermodel pushes feminism through fashion, and a subversive Sufi rocker uses music to heal. Filmed by a team of Americans and Pakistanis over two years, WITHOUT SHEPHERDS is a portrait of a wildly misunderstood nation, a film that cuts through alarmist media depictions to celebrate the brave modernity of its people.
Fri, 4/12 2:15 PM
Sun, 4/14 6:15 PM
SFF 2013: What drew you to painting this elegant portrait of life in Pakistan during this devastating crisis?
CARY MCCLELLAND: I didn't know what to do with myself after September 11th. As an artist in a country facing two wars, I felt pretty peripheral to everything I read about in the papers -- and ignorant. I felt like I didn't know enough sitting comfortably in New York to make much of a contribution. So I took a pretty radical turn, left a career in the theatre, and dove into international conflict resolution work and human rights advocacy. My career took me around the world, from the DR Congo to Zimbabwe, Egypt to East Timor, and eventually to Pakistan.
The country I met was anything but what was depicted in the news. Sure, there was political corruption and civil violence, but much of those dramas were isolated to the capital and the Afghan border. The rest of the country was left to the people of Pakistan -- families, moderates, poets, students, all deeply yearning to turn their country in a new direction so they could thrive. WITHOUT SHEPHERDS grew out of my unease with the dominant, fear-based image of Pakistan. Our hope is to inject some real empathy, humanity, and hope into the way Pakistan is seen in the world at large. From there, we believe change in our collective policy and political action is possible.
SFF 2013: How did the man who is largely the heart of the film, this suffering truck driver, come to your attention?
CARY MCCLELLAND: The instinct to cover a truck driver was one of our earliest impulses. We wanted an Everyman, an Odysseus character whose journey could take us anywhere we needed to be across the country. We kept visiting this one truck station in Lahore to search for subjects. We maybe interviewed 20 different truckers, and traveled with three. But Abdullah's humor, wisdom and heart stood out. We've been grateful for his presence even from thousands of miles away, over the past two years of editing. We have hours and hours of interview material that has kept us fascinated, in stitches, or in tears. As the years passed while we worked to complete the film, I think we all started to feel a little bit like Abdullah, putting one foot in front of the other, and trusting it would get us where we needed to be.
SFF 2013: Tell us about your view that change will need to come from within Pakistan itself.
CARY MCCLELLAND: Pakistan faces something like a perfect storm of pressures right now. The education system has fallen apart and been replaced by religious institutions. This has made recruitment into transnational militant groups all the easier for young, motivated youth interested in making a better world but confused where to begin. The economy struggles, basic services (health care, power, water) are unreliable, and tensions with India, Afghanistan and America have driven the government into a defensive and secretive posture with the outside world. It does not help that there are few outlets for the Pakistani people themselves to make a difference.
And WITHOUT SHEPHERDS essentially chronicles six different ways people are trying to DIY social change: that might mean starting a political movement, giving your children a brighter future, or personally coming to terms with the mistakes of your past. Pakistan needs the government to be more responsive to the people's will (and not the appetites of a feudal elite). It needs time for communities to build institutions that can make a lasting impact, and it needs an education system that can support long term development. Most of this work needs to come from within, but some can come from a realignment of our own priorities as Americans -- where we focus our energy less on short-term security interests and instead work towards long-term national and regional stability.
SFF 2013: Did you face any obstacles during the making of this film?
CARY MCCLELLAND: In 2009, the Swat valley was caught in the middle of a civil war that displaced millions of Pakistanis. We took our crew up into the region to cover the impact of this conflict on these people. A group of refugees rioted when the government shut down their aid efforts, and we were caught in the middle. It is only because one of our subjects had the courage and temperament to get out of the car and ask the crowd what was wrong, that they allowed us to pass safely. We owe Laiba an incredible debt for her ability to bridge that divide on our behalf. In fact, we owe all our partners a tremendous debt for their trust, hospitality, and encouragement that made this project possible.
SFF 2013: What were some of your most rewarding experiences during the making of this film?
CARY MCCLELLAND: By and large, we had the warmest response from everyone we encountered directly through the film. Anyone we contacted to participate in the film welcomed us openly. Even those who weren’t comfortable participating, first welcomed us into their home, offered us tea or a meal, and heard us out fully before saying no. This was largely due to the presence of Pakistani filmmakers and journalists in key creative roles on our team, their trust helped assuage people's natural suspicions about the presence of an American filmmaker. Imran Babur in particular worked with incredible dedication on behalf of our mission for almost three years. His talent is writ large across this project, and our friendship, which has deepened especially of late, has become perhaps my most cherished product of the film.
SFF 2013: Please tell our readers anything else you would like them to know about your film:
CARY MCCLELLAND: Honestly, we really hope you take the chance to come see this film on the big screen. There are a lot of great films at this festival, and terrific docs in particular, but there is a special window into Pakistan that we have to share. We didn't just want to make something informative or just tell a good story, but we wanted to get into the emotion and poetry of the country, so that we could all leave feeling a part of it. I think there's a really beautiful experience that comes from us all sharing that in the room together. Perhaps the old theatre director in me. Regardless, I look forward to meeting and talking to everyone who makes it to the screenings. It's going to be a lot of fun.
LILI TAYLOR Sarasota Film Festival Interview
Lili Taylor remains one of our finest actresses. Since making her indelible debut in Donald Petrie’s MYSTIC PIZZA, she has given brilliant performances in Paul Weitz's BEING FLYNN opposite Robert Deniro, Andrew Wagner’s STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING, opposite Frank Langella; Robert Altman’s PRET A PORTER and SHORT CUTS, sharing a Golden Globe Award as well as a Venice International Film Festival honor with the ensemble cast of the latter, Stephen Frears’ HIGH FIDELITY, Oliver Stone’s BORN ON THE FOURTH OF
JULY, Cameron Crowe’s SAY ANYTHING and Mary Harron’s THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE and I SHOT ANDY WARHOL. Ms. Taylor received an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in Nancy Savoca’s HOUSEHOLD SAINTS, and also starred for the filmmaker in DOGFIGHT. She will soon appear in THE CONJURING (directed by James Wan) and featuring Sarasota actress Shanley Caswell and Eli Roth's HEMLOCK GROVE exclusive to Netflix.
Lili Taylor appears in THE COLD LANDS, Tom Gilroy’s (SPRING FORWARD) long-awaited sophomore feature. It is part of our Narrative Feature Competition and you can see it—
THURSDAY, April 11, 7:15 PM with Lili Taylor and director Tom Gilroy
scheduled for the Q&A
Encore SATURDAY, April 13, 7:00 PM
Lili will also be honored at our TRIBUTE LUNCHEON, receiving the Career Achievement in Acting Award.
Friday, April 12, 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM, SARASOTA YACHT CLUB, 1100 John Ringling Blvd.
Lili is also part of our IN CONVERSATION series. She will discuss her life and career—
Friday, April 12, 2:00 PM, FLORIDA STUDIO THEATER, JOHN C. COURT CABARET
SFF 2013: Let’s begin with THE COLD LANDS. Your character, Nicole, brings a sense of warmth and balance to young Atticus’s life but also encourages him to question many things. She’s something of an anchor for him in part of the story. How did you approach this role and your relationship to both Atticus and Silas, who plays him?
LILI TAYLOR: Tom Gilroy is one of my oldest and closest friends, so we had been talking about the script and the ideas and the characters for some time. I felt like I approached it through a collaborative effort with Tom. Tom knew much more about the situation than I did, so I gleaned what I could from him.
SFF 2013: What audiences do you feel would really be drawn to this story?
LILI TAYLOR: Tom took a lot of care with the shot compositions and storyboards, etc., so there is going to be a strong visual component to the film. I guess you could say it's of the art house variety, but if it's distributed well then hopefully anyone can have access to it and enjoy it.
SFF 2013: What do you hope audiences will take from your performance in THE COLD LANDS and the film itself?
LILI TAYLOR: I'm sure there will be an array of reactions, which is a good thing. I love films (or any art for that matter) that allows the viewer to experience many things; some of which they can't even articulate but can sense.
SFF 2013: Switching to your amazing career, you have delivered one extraordinary performance after another in films ranging from Nancy Savoca’s DOGFIGHT to Mary Harron’s I SHOT ANDY WARHOL to Alan Ball’s SIX FEET UNDER and Paul Weitz’s BEING FLYNN, to name only a few. What do you look for in a role?
LILI TAYLOR: At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the director. Because it can be a great script, it can be a great role, but if the director doesn't have a vision and the ability to execute that vision then none of it means anything. I also think of working with a great director as a learning experience, so even if the role is small I can be getting a lot of the experience in other ways.
SFF 2013: What opportunities do you find that horror and science fiction-themed projects offer you as an actor/storyteller?
LILI TAYLOR: What I've found interesting about these so-called genre projects is that they can be very interesting because there is this tension between the context of the genre and the pushing against it. I've come to realize that even though they are technically in a genre category, they are so much more. There's been something very freeing about it. For me, individually, I feel I can bring a complexity of emotion that one might not be accustomed to in a genre film/tv show. Everything is possible. The genre does not have to be limiting.
Chris Abbott and Carlos Puga BURMA Interview
After a disappointing book publishing meeting and on the eve of an annual family reunion, Christian (Christopher Abbott)'s estranged father unexpectedly shows up at his door asking for help. Despite abandoning the family at the onset of his wife's terminal illness, Dr. Lynn claims he can justify his nine-year absence. Christian reluctantly agrees to escort his father into a hostile family environment. On the morning of the trip, Kate, Christian’s ex-girlfriend shows up to go along on this trip. The return of the father, the presence of the ex-girlfriend and his grief-fueled drug addiction sends an already tense family dynamic reeling.
Winner of the Special Jury Recognition for Ensemble Cast at SXSW.
Red Carpet at 4:13 PM with Chris Abbott and Carlos Puga scheduled to appear.
Thu, 4/11 5:15 PM
SFF 2013: Carlos, please tell us about your directorial approach with this film.
CARLOS PUGA: I came from documentary work and I learned to tune in on what was natural and real. Our actors went into every scene with so much internal work going on that the scenes unfolded in a natural way that was beyond my expectations.
SFF 2013: Chris, what drew you to the role of Christian?
CHRIS ABBOTT: I thought it was interesting to play someone who was very aware of his flaws, and that he had many of them, and that he knew he needed to and wanted to break out of himself. He’s in a cycle and he’s going down some very dark paths. He’s recycling all these bad habits that he has and yet he is trying to change himself. Also I was excited to work with Carlos. We were friends before we did that film. And once we got that cast together with Gaby Hoffman, Chris McCann and Dan Bittner it felt like everything was falling into the right place.
SFF 2013: Carlos, you expressed so much visually, can you talk about that?
CARLOS PUGA: It’s a lot more interesting when things are unsaid and you can figure out on your own. In those silences, with the strength of Chris’s acting, we really get to know him as a character through his choices and actions rather than through a lot of exposition.
SFF 2013: Chris, the family dynamic in this film was all important. How did it come together?
CHRIS ABBOTT: I was the first to be cast, then our casting director had me read with Gaby and Dan. What was most important to us was finding actors with an inherent understanding of natural dialogue, the quality of not overplaying anything. Everyone in the cast has quality as actors.
SFF 2013: Carlos, the story feels so authentic. Did it come from your real life?
CARLOS PUGA: I wouldn’t say the film is autobiographical, though there are certain things I drew from my real life, like being a middle child and my brother and myself gravitating toward the arts. Sibling rivalries, jealousies, other personal stuff may have gotten in there that I changed up a little.
SFF 2013: Chris, who would you say is the audience for BURMA?
CHRIS ABBOTT: Everyone. It’s a family drama that spans multiple generations. In fact, an aspect of the film that I love so much is the fact that the father in this movie had a life before his kids and that’s a highly relevant theme throughout the movie. He says at one point, “the only thing I’m guilty of is loving your mother more than you”, and it sounds like a hurtful thing but I don’t find that it is. It’s just extremely honest. I think everyone can respond to that kind of honesty.