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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQS9E4PUhOk

The highly anticipated release of the movie "Torn," is one of the first American-made movies with a Muslim family in the lead roles.  The movie, which opened to favorable reviews, is set in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It is about a two mothers that bond when their teenage sons are killed in a suburban mall explosion, only to learn that one of the sons is the prime suspect.  In this ILLUME EXCLUSIVE, writer/producer Michael Richter shared some of the behind-the-scenes drama of producing an independent film and one that deals with the controversial topics of terrorism, racism and bullying.

ILLUME: Thanks Michael for speaking to ILLUME MEDIA.  Give us a brief account of what the aim is of this movie.

Richter: One of the themes I wanted to explore was how well do we know the people around us.  The film examines the question on both on a personal and societal level. One of the tragedies in the film is that the two mothers really need each other for support.  They are the only two people in the world who can understand what they are going through.  But their friendship and lives are torn apart by the media and society.  They begin by questioning how well they really know each other, but as they try to prove their sons didn't do it, they start to question whether they really ever knew the people in their own family.

ILLUME: You have said that part of making this film was to, "flip stereotypes on their head."  For example, to film-goers to automatically assume the Muslim son is involved in terrorism.  But there is also a social and political context – one very specific to the American experience - to this issue.  Do think that a mainstream American audience will or can understand this?

Richter:  We were exploring stereotypes in the story.  We have a lovely, upper middle class Pakistani couple living the American dream, a white, single, working mother who can barely makes ends meet with an ex-husband who is the most fanatical character in the film, and a black FBI agent who has bought into every stereotype about Muslims.  If after meeting the Pakistani couple you believe that they could really raise a terrorist, then you may be subconsciously doing the same type of stereotyping the film is trying to fight against..

ILLUME: Producing a movie is expensive and an independent film can be tough to fund.  But aside form financial issues, were there any obstacles you faced as a producer/writer along the way – something that stood out.

Richter: I could talk for 10 hours about the challenges of making a film at this budget.  But most interesting was when we were out pitching this film, we'd very often get the response: "That's an interesting premise.  I would definitely go out and see that film, if it was in theaters."  But when it came time to invest money in the film, or pick it up for distribution, they wouldn't do it.  For many different reasons.  Some thought it's too controversial, which I don't think it is.  Others may have felt it would be too hard to find and market to the film's audience.  It was a real surprise to us, because we tried really hard to make a universal film that would appeal to broad audiences.

ILLUME:  Was the movie hard to cast?

Richter: The Director, Jeremiah Birnbaum, led the charge on casting.  But I can tell you that it was important for us for the film to be be authentic, and for us to cast Pakistani actors in the roles.  We were avoiding casting people that "looked the part." For the lead actress, Jeremiah went to Pakistan because we could not find the right actress here.

ILLUME: What has to happen to make this movie a "success" in your sense of the word.

Richter: The fact that people are thinking and talking about the film is in itself a success.  Whenever you write a film about social issues, you want to start a conversation. And, so far, we've started a debate about some of the choices we made (like how we ended the film) and a dialogue around some of the issues (the harms caused by stereotyping, how well do we know the people around us). Even if it starts at a small-scale it is a success, and the hope is it can at some point, be had at a larger scale.





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