Actor Alexander Bedria’s directorial debut The Zim, which he also wrote, took home the top prize when it recently premiered at LA Shorts International Film Festival. Almost 300 shorts were in contention for the award.
The Zim is the story of one man’s struggle to protect his farm and loved ones from a violent land invasion. Inspired by true events that occurred during the controversial Zimbabwean land seizures in the early 2000’s, The Zim follows the story of farmer Daniel Silva (Alexander Bedria) who must decide between fleeing the country or standing his ground. William Zimunya (native Zimbabwean Tongayi Chirisa), his farmhand, is torn between loyalty to his lifelong friend and fear of the powerful men who lead the charge to invade the farm.
“I was inspired by the men and women who endured extraordinary hardship, yet never lost their humanity. I hope the film honors them,” said writer/director Alexander Bedria who nearly five years researching, developing and crowdfunding the film.
As an actor, Bedria has displayed considerable range, recently guest starring on the Showtime series Ray Donovan and HBO’s The Newsroom. His acting credits also include: Scandal, Criminal Minds, 90210, CSI: Miami and The Amazing Spider-man.
This drama stars Alexander Bedria (The Newsroom, Ray Donovan), Tongayi Chrisa (iZombie, Gaffigan), Amanda Wing (Sunshine State), Constance Ejuma (Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, 24), Shaun Baker (V.I.P) and Caroline Largerfelt (Gossip Girl).
For those who haven’t seen the film, please tell us about The Zim.
The Zim is the story of a farmer struggling to protect his family during the violent Zimbabwean land seizures that reached their apex in the early 2000’s. Through the drama, the film explores themes of national and racial identity, brotherhood, and family.
Congratulations on winning such a prestigious award at the LA Shorts Film Festival, what are your thoughts on winning?
Honestly, it’s only just begun to sink in. The premiere would have been enough of a victory – finally getting the opportunity to screen the film to an audience after years of work, and have it be received so warmly. I hadn’t even planned on attending the awards ceremony as, given the sheer volume of films and talent on display, I didn’t think we’d pick up anything. Not to mention, it was our first festival. Thankfully, my wife convinced me to go. When our name was called, we were shocked. It’s a tremendous honor, to say the least, and a testament to the countless hours of hard work put in by our entire team.
Your film has the look and feel of a feature, how did you achieve this?
My cinematographer (Matthew Macar) and I had many conversations about how to create the epic scope we needed to tell this story. Many shorts I’ve seen feel quite contained, which typically is a necessary function of a small budget, but I knew we had to depart from that aesthetic. Matt and I would watch a lot of scenes from films that had a similar tone to what we were looking to achieve. We went back to John Toll’s work a lot. We also enhanced specific shots with CGI to help build the world.
The location also played a huge part, as it not only had to be technically and geographically accurate to Zimbabwe, but also had to have a sense of character to it appropriate to the drama. It took us almost three years to find it. Our production designer, Aaron Mager, did fantastic work with very little money to dress up the house and property accurately.
And of course, there’s the beautiful score that Alex Kovacs and Michael John Mollo composed, which was hauntingly cinematic, and felt like something you’d hear in a major studio release.
The film has a fascinating story, was it based on real people?
The story was inspired by similar events that transpired during that period, but not on any one specific person or people. The characters are an amalgam of real-life people I interviewed or researched through media reports, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, and documentaries.
Your accent in the film is flawless, did you work with an accent coach and what other accents do you have in your repertoire?
That’s very kind. I kept recordings of Zim/Rhodesian accents on my iPhone and listened to them pretty regularly. It was just practice, practice, practice. Even occasionally going about my regular day, getting coffee or groceries, talking with people in the accent. As silly at that could feel, I knew that if I wasn’t comfortable doing it in front of strangers, there’s no way I’d be comfortable doing it in front of my cast and crew!
Early on the project, I worked briefly with dialect coach Kathleen Dunn, who helped me get really specific into the subtle differences between the South African and Zimbabwean accent. And nearing the shoot, Caroline Lagerfelt – who plays Emma – introduced me to the great dialect coach Tim Monich, who’s a legend. He’s coached Marlon Brando, Daniel Day-Lewis, and so many others. Tim was very supportive of the project and generous enough to share some of his personal Zimbabwean dialect collection with me. I’d listen to the recordings in-between takes as I’d switch from director-to-actor mode and back again.
In general, I’ve got a good ear for accents and can mimic mostly anything I hear, but to be afforded the time and freedom to dive into an accent so deeply that it becomes second-nature – like in The Zim – is a rarity.
Would you ever think of developing the film into a feature?
I’m very open to it, and have a few ideas on where I’d take it. A story this rich and complex certainly lends itself to a broader canvas. There was so much I had to lift from early drafts of the script, even scenes I had to remove or truncate in the edit, that would be beautifully suited to a feature version.
Your actors are fantastic, were they actors you already knew or did you find them through auditions?
The cast was a combination of actors I knew and actors we found. Because the setting of the film was so specific, we needed to populate the story with actors who felt authentic to that world. We had a fantastic casting director in Jessica Sherman, who dedicated herself to our project despite working on multiple big-budget film and television productions at the time. I looked at a lot of taped auditions and reels, and consulted with Jessica on each and every audition. I couldn’t be more pleased with the cast we assembled.
As a first time director, what were your challenges and best achievements?
The greatest achievement will always be that we got this film made. There were so many starts and stops, due to financing falling through, locations becoming unavailable, actors not being available…when you develop a project for nearly five years, the challenges are far too many to list. It’s really like pushing a boulder up a hill. At times, the hill is steeper, at times, flatter…and at times the boulder doesn’t seem to move at all!
I knew the ambition of the project meant that huge challenges would be par for the course. I’m just so proud of our cast and crew for sticking with it, with me, and seeing it through to the end.
What is next for you?
I’m currently developing a feature script that I’m planning to bring back a lot of my Zim team for, along with the usual gamut of meetings and auditions that occupy an actor’s calendar. I also hope to continue screening The Zim at festivals throughout the world.
How can our readers keep in touch with your work?
I’d love to have people follow The Zim’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for regular updates on the film. You can also find me on Instagram and Facebook.