Ramin Bahrani is a director of the people. In all of his films, the subject matter has dealt with people in all walks of life. There was Ahmad, a man who sold coffee on the corners of Manhattan in Man Push Cart, and then he dealt with the farmers of America in At Any Price. In his newest film, 99 Homes, he is handling the housing crisis, in a “deal with the devil” style drama, that points a finger at a corrupt system. Subjects like these make Bahrani one of the strongest directors today. He is a true artist, and sits at the table with the great American directors like Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and Errol Morris.
Bahrani’s success has allowed him to work with great actors, such as Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, and our other guest this week, 13-year old Noah Lomax. He is a bright faced kid from New Orleans, whose passion for acting, even at his young age, led Bahrani to cast him as Connor, the son of a father who does whatever it takes to keep his family from living on the streets. After a screening of 99 Homes at EbertFest, AMovieGuy.com had a chance to sit down with Ramin and Noah to talk about their new film.
AMG.COM: Ramin, this is not your first time at EbertFest. Besides having your new film- 99 Homes playing here, what makes this year at Roger’s fest different?
Ramin:I was here last year for the screening of Life Itself, so of course Roger’s spirit is still here. You can feel his connection to the audience, his sense of community, and his passion for cinema. I think it's just wonderful to see it continuing to move forward. I meet amazing film makers every time.
AMG.COM: Noah, this is your first time at the fest. What has the experience of Ebertfest been like for you?
Noah:It's been great so far. It's my second time at a film festival, my first was in Toronto and that was a great experience. This one is a lot different because I actually got to see and experience other movies. In Toronto I only did press for my movie, and didn't get to see other great films, like A Bronx Tale.
AMG.com: Ramin- in 2009 Roger called you “the new great American director”, when you look back at him making this statement, did you feel a lot of pressure to live up to a claim like this?
Ramin: It is of course very humbling, because it gives you the courage to continue moving forward in the way that you think is good, and is correct, and is honest to yourself. And that you think can connect to an audience, even if it is not the typical movie. 99 Homes is dedicated to Roger. I'm always thinking, can the next film get me a step closer to what he saw in me, because I didn't really see it in myself. Roger made me want to keep pushing myself creatively, instead of staying with what I knew.
AMG.com: Noah, what was it like having a chance to work with someone like Ramin as a director?
Noah: It's been a great experience. He gave me a lot of freedom to do what I wanted with my character. If I asked him what I think I should do in this scene, he would tell me “what do you think you should do?” He treated me like a professional instead of just a child actor.
AMG.com: Ramin, how did you go about choosing Noah for the role to play Connor Nash?
Ramin:I saw his casting tape and I liked it very much. I liked his energy, who he was, the real Noah. I like to go wildly off book on the very first take with any actor. Many actors are not listening to each other; they are just reading the next line. Noah was so awake, alive, and attentive to whatever I said. He quickly moved forward with improvisation because he is so smart. He's creative and imaginative.
AMG.com: Ramin, you have typically made films that deal with people of all colors, kinds and sizes, what would you say draws you to making films with these types of everyday people?
Ramin:For 99 Homes, the world was turned upside down by the banking & housing crisis, and I wanted to know what happened. When I got to the ground in Florida, which was one of the four hardest hit states, in many ways, I immediately saw the story, which was a “deal with the devil” film. A man gets evicted from his home, has to work for the man who evicted him to get his home back, and has to evict people to do that. Next to that, I started seeing endless corruption. The corruption in the foreclosure courts, the corruption from the banks, the real estate brokers all carried guns. Homeowners had guns, some of the homeowners were involved in scams, real-estate brokers were involved in scams. It was an endless web of corruption, within this amazing tale. Andrew's (Garfield) character and Michael's character is a product of the system. It’s not that they are “bad” guys; they want to survive.
AMG.com: Noah, what did you enjoy the most when working with Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, and Laura Dern?
Noah: When I found out that my dad was Spider-Man, I was pretty excited! I met Michael and Laura at the production office, they were very nice. Andrew put a lot of time in to hang out with me, and he felt like an older brother. We all felt like a real family.
AMG.com: Ramin, you once said “The more you risk on making a movie, the better”. What types of risks did you take while making 99 Homes?
Ramin: I talk about this when I teach. When you look at Burden of Dreams, Les Blanks documentary about Herzog making Fitzcarraldo or Hearts of Darkness- The making of Coppola's Apocalypse Now, what are we talking about? Nothing is really hard when you think about those experiences. The challenges I faced were things I did personally. How do I make this a thriller, which is a genre I’m not familiar with, and still be a socialist film?
My whole crew changed. I had 70 crew members, and they were all new. My creative departments, the camera man, the production designer, the costume designer, the line producer, all new. So that was exciting because all of them brought something that I had never done before. There were a lot of things that I wanted to push and challenge. What made it work was my great co-writer, great department heads, great actors, great composers, great producing partners, and now I want to do it again. Try things I haven't done, again.
AMG.com: Noah, how have you become comfortable being an actor? Do you find yourself still able to be a 13 year old kid, and do the fun things that kids want to do?
Noah: Actually, I play football, so that keeps me active and I hang out with my friends, so I still get to do all the things that other 13 year olds get to do. I'm home schooled, so I don't get to go to school everyday, but I still have lots of friends from when I was in school. Acting is something that I still want to do. A day will come where I am going to have to make a decision between kid stuff and acting, but my parents allow me to make that choice.
RAMIN: Noah and his parents are amazing because he's gotten offers before and if he actually doesn’t like the project he says no. His parents encourage that. I think that's amazing from him that he has the maturity to be like, “I'm interested in this”, and his parents are open minded to say, “hey you should do the ones you want and if you don't you should stay and do something else.” Play football, study, read books.
AMG.com: Ramin, can you talk about your film “99 homes” and what you would say you hope audiences to feel watching this film?
Ramin: I want everyone to have their own unique feelings. I see many people crying, I see many people clenching their fists, extremely tense because it's an intense thriller. And I see people angry, even last night after the film someone said “I am so angry, and I have to do something now.” Of course I think this is wonderful. When we talk about 99 Homes, 99 percent is everyone. Meaning, it doesn’t matter what your political agenda is. If you want a tense thriller, it's for you.
AMG.COM: Well thank you both for talking with AMovieGuy.com today. I really appreciate it.
Ramin: Thank you.