Thursday, September 29, 2016

Exclusive interview with the Director of Queen of Katwe, Mira Nair #QueenofKatweEvent

****Disney provided an all-expense paid trip for me to cover this great event ****

During the whirlwind press trip for Queen of Katwe, we were very fortunate to have a sit down interview with the amazing director, Mira Kair. Some of her best known films are Mississippi Masala, The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay!, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Mira, was genuinely excited about her latest project Queen of Katwe and we were just as excited to get started with our questions!

 Photo credit Carol Jones / All Mommy Wants

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the project?

Mira Nair:  “This story of Phiona Mutesi, who lived 15 minutes from home,  I did not know about her.  I knew about her, because, a young man from this building, Tendo Nagenda, who’s a Ugandan,  VP of this -- of Disney came to see me in my garden in Kampala when he was at a family reunion about four years ago.  And he showed me this little article about Phiona in the ESPN journal, about this child who sold corn in Katwe, um, who now was heading to becoming a chess prodigy and going to the Olympics in Russia.  And I was completely struck by the story…”
 Photo credit Carol Jones / All Mommy Wants

What challenges did you face bringing this amazing story to life?

Mira Nair:  “The most beautiful challenge was to distill the love and familiarity I have with, my adopted home of Uganda, the people, the sassiness, the vibrancy…  I wanted to capture that sort of emphasis of like no matter what we don’t have, we will put forward something that is excellent.  The great challenge was to capture that sense of what we call in slang in Kampala lifist, somebody who embraces life fully and doesn’t complain about what you don’t have.  If you have half an inch of water, you will wash your hair, you know, and no one will know that you had a struggle.

This the quality of what I live around and this is the quality that I hoped to capture.  Phiona, in her real remarkably and utterly true story, gives us so much of that, because  the other thing I really wanted to capture is, you cannot do it alone. You have to have the fire in you, but it takes a village.  It takes a teacher to see your talent.  It takes a mother to shepherd you, whether it is a right shepherding or not.
The other sweet challenge was filming chess. It’s really a challenge to film chess, because it’s a highly intellectual game.  And it’s about strategizing and making moves, and how can I as a visual filmmaker, as a visualist, make chess interesting?  They were real games, real moves that Phiona was famous for.  It wasn’t a made-up situation. We filmed every game differently from the other.  And that was a challenge, because there’s only so many things you can do with the chess board.  How to create chess so that it can be emotional, dramatic, and propel the story forward, and yet not bore you to death and yet be, satisfying the chess officiandos”. 
Did you place chess before, or did you have to learn the game before the movie?

Mira Nair:  “I was the mother of a competitive chess player.  My son played competitive chess when he was eight, and we would go to Parsippany and go the Holiday Inn in Atlanta.  I was at all kinds of places… I was part of the chess circle, but I didn’t really know chess well.  I understood it, but I didn’t really play it.  Phiona Mutesi…taught me chess, prior to the shooting.  She would just laugh at me, because I was reckless and I would, I would just move the piece.  She would say, Mira, you must consider the other side of the board.  So much with the other side of the board.  It’s like a metaphor for the world. She would say are you, are you focusing on the game or on your film?  I said the film.  I love that she, as a teacher, she was fantastic”. 

 Photo credit Carol Jones / All Mommy Wants

How was it working with the costume designer, did you have to change outfits a lot?  

Mira Nair:  “The vibrancy of the style is something I have loved, as I lived there, you know, it’s, it’s about really having a sense of smartness…  
We worked with a great costume designer, Mobolaji Dawodu.  My fish seller was wearing a genuine Pucci dress, with the kitenge wrap on it.  Lupita’s clothing is not like made because she’s a movie star or anything.  This is how it is there, because all our clothing, the costumes in our film, all came from Owino, the actual second-hand market. We really did not have and did not need a big budget for this.  Even though everyone is dressed very vividly, it is actually how people are. And we went into the second-hand markets for all of it”.   
Can you talk about casting a little bit? How did you come upon bringing those into the film?

Mira Nair:  “I always work a lot with non-actors, people who have never faced the camera before, opposite legends like Denzel Washington, on this case Lupita and David.  That kind of, what I think is, alchemy between the, between the sort of purity and lack of artifice, of a child actor, of a child really, not even an actor, opposite a, a legend who has a lot of tricks to their trade and all those tricks kinda have to drop off when you’re faced with the purity and kinda freshness of a kid, especially a kid who comes from the same streets as the story that you’re filming, you know.  For me it was always critical that we don’t go too far afield to find our children.  All our kids came from Katwe or Chibuli, which is the neighboring community right cross the street from Katwe.  I only trust love.  I trust my instinct, you know. I have to love you, because I have to live with you for years”.
 Photo credit Carol Jones / All Mommy Wants

How has the shooting of the film impacted the people of Katwe and Kampala?  

Mira Nair:  “Yes. We have been doing several things.  One is we ran a green set, an ecological set….  Through the shooting of it, we turned everything into a recycled sort of heaven.  We also worked with the community of Katwe.  We called it the Legacy Project while we were shooting, which is all shot in Katwe and the real places anyway to ask what the community needed.   It was decided with the elders of the community that public toilets were the big thing.  We have a project with Disney, to build a whole series of public toilets in Katwe, just a small example.  Recently they had just purchased, land and a building in Katwe to house permanently the Chess Academy.  And then we have an educational fund for all the pioneers in the film”.
 Photo credit Carol Jones / All Mommy Wants

We learned some amazing facts during this interview.. Did you know that when casting for Phiona, Mira saw 700 girls, from all over including Uganda, Kampala, Kenya and in England? Wow! I cannot even imagine chatting with 700 people let alone having 700 auditions! It is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but Mira found that needle when she found out about a dancer named Madina Nalwanga, she was the girl who Mira felt was perfect to portray Phiona. Another amazing fact is even though Harriet (Phiona’s mother) does not speak English she still communicates with Mira to this very day in her own way. When a flower blooms in her garden she takes a picture and sends it to Mira, it is a wonderful connection they have, a connection without words but just with trees.  Overall it was wonderful getting to chat with Mira, she was funny and really genuine. 
Towards the end of the interview she was excited to introduce her son, who has a fun memorable song on the soundtrack, Young Cardamom's #1 Spice. This song is now available to download from Amazon. Click on the video below, and tell me if you can get this catchy song out of your head? I know I sure couldn’t, I made sure I downloaded it and I keep listing to it :).. Are you looking forward to seeing Disney’s Queen of Katwe? The movie is in select theaters now, and will be in theaters nationwide 9/30/16.

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Queen of Katwe is now in select theaters, and opening everywhere on 9/30/16!

Disclosure: The reviews and or opinions on this blog are my own opinions . No monitory compensation was received. I was not required to write a positive review. Your experience may differ. The opinions I have expressed are my own I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsement and Testimonials in Advertising .


Turning the Clock Back said...

This looks like an amazing movie. I will definitely be checking it out once it hits theaters here.

Six Time Mommy TEST said...

This is great! I am actually looking forward to seeing this movie since I saw the previews on tv the other day. it looks great and the director sounds phenomenal! - jeanine

Unknown said...

It's really cool that they purchased the "costumes" right from the source. When I think of movies, I always think that costumes have to be specially designed, but in this case it's exactly what folks wear in that particular region. Very cool.

Dawn Lopez said...

Wow! Interviewing 700 girls must have been a daunting task. This really does look like an amazing film! This was a fun post to read because I enjoy hearing the background story on a film.

Unknown said...

Wow, amazing interview! I will share this with my wife, she likes to watch this movie.

Unknown said...

Wow, interesting read. I love that they ran a green set!

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Disclosure: The reviews and or opinions on this blog are my own opinions, . No compensation was received. All opinions are my own. This is a unofficial fan site that is not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company or Disney theme parks.