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6Qs with Filmmaker Mai Iskander //

bySeif Al-Din

Mai IskanderHalf Egyptian, half Czech, and all talent, Filmmaker Mai Iskander does it all. She produced, directed and filmed Garbage Dreams and she’s worked on over a dozen features as a camera assistant (including The Preacher’s Wife, Men In Black and As Good as It Gets). She claims she’d be a social activist or work in economic development if she weren’t in film. But when your film tackles the very issues activists and development organizations are working to resolve, and it gets nominated for an Oscar — why even consider any other field?

Paper or plastic: Paper
Favorite movie of all time: The Last of The Mohicans
Now playing: Al Green

1. How did you get into film?
I always knew I wanted to be in film, so I went to Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. I started working as a camera assistant in college with Miroslav Ondricek (Amadeus, Ragtime), which was a great opportunity.

Making a movie is so hard that in order for me feel motivated to do it over the long haul I feel like there needs to be a real humanitarian aspect to it because thats what motivates me.

2. Why Garbage Dreams?
I got to know the garbage village when I was 12 years old, when a family friend took me there to attend a wedding. It was such a contrast, because the wedding was full of celebration and happiness, yet the environment was chaotic and very impoverished, with garbage everywhere. That just really piqued my curiosity, and I kept thinking about it. When I went back in 2005, I wanted to do some sort of community service, so I worked at the recycling school that had just opened — I was painting murals with the kids and helping out. One day I brought in a video camera to cut a little video of them making the school pretty, and they just got so excited about the camera coming out. What was so neat about these kids was that I thought they would be so weighed down by the poverty that they live in and in fact it was quite the opposite. It was neat to be around that kind of youthful energy.

3. You followed the characters in Garbage Dreams around for four years. Do you think there is potential for a sequel?
I don’t think we could stand each other (laughs). Being filmed is really exhausting, and it was hard for them because they were either working or going to school, so to do interviews they had to take time off.

4.  You directed, produced and filmed Garbage Dreams Рwhich role was the hardest to play?
Producing. Things that worked in Egypt don’t work here so well. For example, being dramatic and very pushy works really well over there, but here people get really annoyed with that.

I love shooting ’cause I feel like you can just sit back and observe people. And I like just spending time with the characters.

5. What’s next?
With Garbage Dreams short-listed for the Academy Award, we’re still working on a whole publicity campaign. I’m really interested in continuing to work with issues that deal with poverty alleviation and sustainable environment.

6. If you could create a role for any actor in the world, who would it be and why?
Honestly, I’d love to create a role for Ossama (from Garbage Dreams) where he would be like a Clark Gable. Just because when we did the publicity thing, he was the only one that did his hair up…he had a whole Clark Gable thing going.

For more on Garbage Dreams, check out the trailer and our review >>

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