Former NYFA Student’s ‘Utopia’ Earns Afghanistan’s Entry for Academy Award

October 30, 2015
chris robb
Producer Chris Robb in Kabul

Often times in filmmaking, producers and directors will “cheat” their location by recreating a scene on set or in a completely different country. With former New York Film Academy student Chris Robb’s co-production of Utopia, Robb and his team kept to the story’s authenticity. Together with his company, Tripswitch Productions, along with World Film Production, Afghan Films, and Nay Media, Robb and his team shot on location in Afghanistan, India and the U.K. As one of the many rewarding results of his efforts, the film Utopia, directed by Hassan Nazer, is Afghanistan’s official entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2016 Academy Awards.

“You can’t get anymore authentic than shooting Afghanistan for Afghanistan and having it present in the film with Afghans playing Afghan roles,” said Robb. “The heart of the film is in Afghanistan, so it made sense that Afghanistan was the heart of this production. We loved their commitment to drive their country forward post Taliban, and this film brings new ideas to their country. There was a real sense that a brighter future for Afghanistan lies ahead.”

chris robb

Robb admits, however, that he and his crew were forced to be vigilant in Afghanistan. “You are aware that danger could come from any direction at any time,” said Robb. “We had a team of armed security to protect the crew at all times, which caused its own set of problems, keeping them out of the line of sight, but it was a necessary. The problem is: who is Taliban and who is not? The only difference is one has a gun hidden from sight. They don’t like cameras over there, so we had to hide the camera from sight as much as possible and be creative with that.”

The film includes three intersecting stories of loneliness and isolation that center around Janan, a woman from Afghanistan who travels to the UK for artificial insemination. Complications arise when William, a medical sciences student working at the clinic, switches the donors semen for his own.

“Making Utopia was a blessing for me,” says director Hassan Nazer. “I’m an immigrant myself, and what is an immigrant? It’s someone who has made a huge and decisive leap in their life and is now living in a different part of the planet. A new life, within some new kind of cultural rules and that’s what the heroine of our film, Janan, has done. She has taken an enormous decision on the cusp of her middle age. A decision that has a huge impact on the other two main characters’ journeys through life. You wouldn’t be able to find so many scripts these days looking this hopeful at Afghanistan’s future, so when I read it the first time, I knew I was going to direct this film.”

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you can attend a screening of Utopia on November 1st at 7pm at IPIC Theatre—Westwood, 10840 Wilshire Blvd. Following the screening there will be a Q&A with Robb and some of the other producers and cast from the film. From there, we hope to see the film at the 2016 Academy Awards!