More from Director of Muslim Teen Romance Film
Naz & Maalik is now available on VOD and DVD. It got a limited, theatrical release, this week, in New York City, starting January 22, the same week as the Blizzard of 2016, which prevented people from seeing it on that Saturday when the Big Apple and much of the Northeast were hit, but now anyone can view it online, and all reading this should. My review of the movie will inform as to why. Its director, Jay Dockendorf, spoke by phone on January 23rd to talk more about the release and the making of it.
The film premiered at the SXSW Festival in 2015. I first talked to Dockendorf in June of that year just prior to its screening at the Frameline Film Festival, which is San Francisco’s preeminent, LGBT film festival. It played at the historic Castro theater with its humongous screen and large audience who received it well.
At first, the 26-year-old filmmaker thought the movie would be polarizing, that people might strongly hate it. He didn’t think his story involving black Muslims who are secretly gay would be the issue or point of contention or revulsion. He thought people would find it too indulgent, too slow, not traditionally structured, without typical conflict or action. Reading reviews, Dockendorf said it hasn’t garnered hate or heavy dislike at all.
There were some complaints, but the young director revealed more self-criticisms. When asked if he’d learned anything through this process, which represents his feature debut as director, he stressed the importance of pre-production. Dockendorf is an English major who attended Yale University. He’s from Los Angeles but he moved to New York in 2012. He works in education and never really studied to be a filmmaker. As such, he was bound to make oversights. Even the most skilled directors do.
He said too much of this movie was put together on the set or on the fly. He said what he learned is the value of pre-production, spending time doing a lot of the leg work or grunt work that goes into building a movie before cameras are ready to roll.
As part of that, he included creating shot lists and location scouting. Shot lists are enumerations of camera angles, camera movements and general descriptions of what will be seen in frame. Location scouting is the process of finding actual places where scenes will physically occur. It’s not that Dockendorf didn’t do any of these things, but there were possibly oversights. For example, he told me his location scouting near a school proved problematic when he perhaps neglected to discover if any major events would be happening at that school, which might be a disturbance to his film like a graduation, which ended up being the case.
The first-time, movie maker was also self-critical about one particular character in his film named Sarah. She’s a FBI agent who follows the two, Muslim boys who are at the center of this film. She suspects them of nefarious deeds but the two are just secretly gay and in love. Dockendorf wanted to base Sarah on an actual or former, FBI agent whom he planned to interview, but that fell through. Sarah then became more inspired by fictional, FBI agents, specifically ones he’d seen on TV, which might not have been the most accurate way to portray such a character.
The two, Muslim teens were inspired by his real-life roommate, however, whom Dockendorf had when he first moved to Brooklyn. It’s one thing to write them but embodying them would be a whole another story. The filmmaker name-checked his casting director Holly Buczek who helped narrow 100 potential actors, mainly black and a few Arabic, down to two pairs. Eventually, he chose Curtiss Cook, Jr. and Kerwin Johnson, Jr., both making their feature debuts.
In my previous article with Dockendorf, he talked about the cinematography and some technical things, but here he went a little further into what the actors were like and how it was working with them. He mentioned Cook’s charisma and humor, as well as Johnson’s confidence and restraint. He talked about both Cook and Johnson taking things upon themselves to co-write their characters in many ways, whether it was actually visiting mosques or finding their own outerwear. All of which comes through when watching the film. The two actors fully embody their characters. He also spoke significantly about the chemistry and rapport between the two.
Attempts to interview Johnson (pictured below) and Cook were unsuccessful.