On Friday, February 15, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of El Freeman, followed by a Q&A with NYFA alumni Elhas Rahim and Antonio Chavez, co-directors of the film. The event was moderated by their former instructor, James Rowe. Rahim, who also acted in the film, is from Kazakhstan and Chavez is from Mexico—their film, El Freeman, explores the immigrant experience in America.
Rowe opened up the Q&A by asking Rahim and Chavez how they personally related to the story in the film. Rahim discussed how there was a time when, in America, he lived in his car and had to navigate being homeless and an immigrant in Los Angeles. This really helped him relate to the film’s themes of desperation and feeling like an outsider.
Another experience that really shaped Rahim’s life—and ultimately the script for El Freeman—was when Rahim tried to save a young woman in Kazakhstan who was attempting to commit suicide by jumping into a river. Rahim almost drowned attempting to save her: “I felt like I [could] die,” he said. That experience pushed Rahim to do whatever necessary to get the script for El Freeman finished, as well as inspired the backstory for the romantic relationship in the film.
Rowe noted that in El Freeman Los Angeles is represented in a grittier, less glamorous fashion than it is in most Hollywood films. Chavez shared that the production team watched a number of films with an unrefined aesthetic to get inspiration: “You start caring more about the characters because you want to pull a bit away [from the fantasy of an idealistic Los Angeles].
One of the members of the audience asked Rahim about why he pushed for a lot of rehearsal before shooting the film. “I knew this film would be more on the acting side of [things],” he replied. Rahim wanted to work through the emotional moments of the script before arriving on set. The other benefit of this was that the actors were more likely to get good takes faster, which helped with an extremely limited shooting schedule.
The New York Film Academy would like to thank NYFA alumni Elhas Rahim and Antonio Chavez for sharing their experiences as immigrants in the American entertainment industry and their advice for our students and independent filmmakers.