Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

An Interview with Mississippi Film Producer Nina Parikh

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

An Interview with Mississippi Film Producer Nina Parikh

Article excerpt

Looking back at the near unanimous praise for the independent film Ballast in 2008, Nina Parikh seemed the perfect choice to co-produce writer-director Lance Hammer's chamber drama set in the Mississippi Delta. When considering possible locations for the completed script, Hammer contacted Parikh, an alumnus of the University of Southern Mississippi and Deputy Director of the Mississippi Film Office. Parikh, a graduate of Northwest Rankin High School in the Jackson area, attended New York University before enrolling in Southern Miss's Film Program. As one of the founders of the Crossroads Film Festival, she has been active on the regional film scene since graduation. After a series of exchanges with Hammer, Parikh seemed an ideal fit as a first time producer. She played a key organizational role in implementing Hammer's vision of a project that would tap the rich and varied resources of the Delta upon the raw talent of the extended local community.

Ballast focuses on the aftermath of a suicide in which the death of a twin brother drives his grieving sibling to an unsuccessful attempt on his own life. The dead man's twelve year old son has turned to a life of petty crime, while the boy's mother struggles to earn a living and deal with her son's wayward behavior. Events unfold through minimal dialogue and a deliberately paced story, told through indirection and jump cuts instead of the linear, cause and effect storytelling of more conventional narrative films. Ballast demands a more active interpretive engagement on the part of the viewer, but amply rewards such effort in this story of grief, discovery, and renewal.

I caught up with Nina at the Crossroads Film Festival and in the course of our conversation, we covered a wide range of topics including the role of the producer, the film's commitment to an aesthetic which expresses integrity of place, the relationship between the Mississippi delta and nontraditional storytelling, the casting of nonprofessional talent, and the changing role of the film community in Mississippi.

PG: For those who are less than familiar with the role of the producer can you talk a bit about your responsibilities during the preproduction phase of Ballast?

NP: Well, first let me just say that Ballast was not a traditional film in the way it was made. So my role was certainly a little different as a producer than a big Hollywood film. In a general sense I guess a producer kind of wrangles a three ring circus. The producer, the director, the writer and the lead actors are generally considered "above the line" and the crew, the grips, the electricians, the camera crew, make-up artists - all of them are considered "below the line" in traditional Hollywood films. With independent filmmaking, all the lines get blurry. And with this particular film, from the production assistants all the way up to the producer and the actors, everyone got paid exactly the same amount of money. So we were all equal in that way. Because it was such a small budget we felt like that was one way to make sure that no one was being favored in any way. We were all in it together - this was a passionate project - we would all take on whatever role we needed to.

So for me it began with finding and hiring the crew, working with an assistant director and the director on scheduling, helping out with location scouting. You usually have a location manager, but I worked with the director to finalize our locations, worked with the owners of those properties to get contracts signed - all the things a location manager would do. I was also doing things like fetching coffee sometimes (laughter). That's how broad the scope of my job was.

PG: Was it also a matter of coordinating or enhancing communication?

NP: Absolutely. Last year when we premiered it at the Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson, I introduced the film. And I also was able to invite all the people for a special screening for the cast. It was funny. …

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