Festival Daily

A Round with... Sima Urale

By Eleni Deacon

Who: Sima Urale
What: Two spring waters with a twist of lemon
Where: Brassaii, 461 King Street West
When: Sept. 4, 6pm

Samoa-born, New Zealand-raised director Sima Urale sits down for a drink with the Daily’s Eleni Deacon to chat about the making of her first feature film, Apron Strings.

ED: What first attracted you to the Apron Strings script? What launched you into the project?

SU: The writers, Shuchi Kothari and Dianne Taylor, worked on it for several years by themselves with no director or producer. They came knocking on my door and basically said, “Sima, can you please read this?” I had said before this came along, “There’s no way I’m doing a low-budget. Get lost. No way. I’m never going to put a crew through that.” But then a month later, these lovely writers came along and I read their script and basically I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” The script attracted me because of the issues. And I’m more of a social-issues-based director. Also, the older women acting in it really appealed to me. Gambling is a massive issue, universally. So many families are going poor! The family story really affected me.

ED: Food is obviously a very powerful metaphor in the movie. Were there challenges incorporating this throughout?

SU: Food is expensive, art department-wise. Just taking the time to make food look lovely in those close-up shots is really ultra time-consuming, and much more so than even dealing with extras. And food, of course, comments on the nurturing aspects of the film’s main themes.

ED: Are you a big cook?

SU: No, I’m a terrible cook – everyone knows I’m frightened of cooking! It’s one of my biggest fears!

ED: I noticed colour patterns throughout the film – was that intentional?

SU: I like stylizing things. The three main characters are quite distinctive, and so I intentionally gave them a palette. Anita, the modern Indian woman – contemporary, fashionable – her colour was blue. So her shots had blue tinges, blue lighting; it affected her wardrobe and everything. And then Tara, who is the traditionalist Indian woman, her tones were more earthy mustard colours and fiery colours. And then the third was Lorna, this white Kiwi woman, who was quite faded and old-fashioned. And she took on quite eerie pastel colours. And this also gave [the film] shape.

ED: How was the transition from short films to your first feature?

SU: I love shooting, no matter what. I actually directed a short film of Shuchi’s, Coffee and Allah, just before, so it was quite easy to move into doing the feature film with her. There were lots of challenges, but nothing that scared me one bit. And in fact, when things fall through or things don’t happen, it makes it even more exciting. My producer, Rachel Gardner, she’s a thrill-seeker as well. You just have to jump in and do it. So there’s nothing frightening for me at all.

ED: Are there ways in which this is a distinctively New Zealand movie?

SU: I thought it was a really important film to make because it’s actually the first New Zealand film with substantial Indian content. So for me, it was very important on the bigger scale of the New Zealand industry. And I’m actually really proud. The previous short film, Coffee and Allah, is the first Muslim short for New Zealand. They’re a really small minority in New Zealand, much smaller than here, but it opens up the world for us and for the New Zealand film industry. It allows us as filmmakers to go into exploring these other minority cultures we’re not familiar with, because they are there for us to explore and to tell their stories. And it encourages those minorities to write stories that they want to tell.

ED: What are you looking forward to most at the Festival?

It’s my first time in Toronto. I want to meet local filmmakers, Canadian filmmakers, just get to know what they’re up to. Canada has a lot of similarities to New Zealand; just the setting that we live in, there’s a lot of parallels we can draw. And also Canada has had a history with the New Zealand film industry. And I want to meet with some Ojibwa friends my sister made. Hopefully we’ll get to meet.