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Shihadah’s “Northfound” is honest and revealing

Iris and Finn are two sisters with a special affinity for hot dogs and sexy cartoon animals. Devastated by Iris’s recent diagnosis, the two are left to navigate their short time left together while looking to a childhood fantasy to brighten what future they have left. Their plans are cut short, however, when Iris suddenly takes a turn for the worst, leaving Finn to somehow recreate the light her sister has been so desperate to see.

Dana Shihadah is a Milwaukee-based filmmaker who graduated in 2016 with her BFA from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has a special affinity for simplistic lighting and authentic acting. During her time at UWM, she co-founded the progressive film club Reel Women while actively worked on professional sets in lighting and camera, now working full time in both departments. Over the years, her work has been screened at festivals both in the United States and abroad.

Q/A with Dana Shihadah

1. What first drew you to making this specific film project?

Every student at my school was required to make a short film for their thesis project during their senior year, which was my necessary push to create “Northfound,” although it wasn’t the inspiration. The idea came from a recent experience I had had with my older sister and the dark moments in our relationship during a very difficult time. For a number of months, she was fighting to stay alive as her body was shutting down, every day was a question mark and every moment was a gift. I took it upon myself to be her personal nurse and body guard against the world, attempting to block every negativity and never leaving her side. What I wanted to do was take care of her in every humanly way possible, but many times I was smothering her with care and did not allow her to function as a human, as feeble as she might have appeared. Every scene in the film is based on a real moment we shared; whether a bizarre conversation about cartoons or an argument about tea, rolling out a sleeping bag beside her bed or breaking down in the bathroom alone. I wanted the film to be a way to process what we had experienced together and a way to celebrate the life we shared as sisters. (She’s doing marvelously now, by the way.)

2. What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process and why? Any examples of this from your project screening at the MWFF?

One of my favorite aspects would be the collaboration, especially while on set. I love to see different minds work together, how each person in their own department fulfill their talents and together create something you could never achieve on your own. I’m humbled every time I am on set and observe each crew and cast member invest their own talents and efforts into something they believe in. I had many moments like this while filming Northfound, such as sitting on the bathroom floor with actors to discuss some of our darkest moments and most painful memories in an attempt to reach a point of genuine emotion for a scene. The dedication Erika and Angie put forth for their scenes were incredible, I was floored every day I got to work with them. Another example of the collaboration I love so much is the night of filming the final scene of the film. It was an exceptionally frigid March night and I had just lost my filming location, but after a friend was able to offer his parents’ backyard for the shoot, it was all hands on deck. I had put out a call for extras and contacted many friends to help out with the night, but I hardly expected a response since our new location was a solid hour drive and we would be filming all night (in below freezing weather, mind you). The amount of people who showed up blew me away, I wept with gratitude my entire drive home after we wrapped. People have much bigger hearts than we give credit for, sometimes.

3. What were some influences for you on this project and/or as a filmmaker in general?

I drew writing and directing inspiration from films such as Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012) and Short Term 12 (2013), and especially Skeleton Twins (2014). These films portrayed characters with depth and dislikes and faults in various relationships, each plot offering specific insight into the nuances of the sister’s connection in Northfound and how to effectively write the scenes from my head onto paper, and then authentically direct the scenes from paper into existence.  Visual inspirations included the above films as well as Submarine (2010), Electrick Children (2012), and Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Each of these films bring their own unique blend of beauty and honesty, brilliance and simplicity. The environment embraces the actors without drowning them, the light highlights the performances without drawing attention away from the story. I strive to channel each of the cinematographer’s balance in my own way, drawing inspiration and interpreting into my own work. I want the visuals of my films to be honest to the point that they are not interfering with the actors while also building into the actor’s performance, a balancing act for every shot. The authenticity each of these films portray in the writing, directing, and cinematography are excellent examples of how powerful films can be when all of these elements are brought together with the same level of integrity, humanness, and movie magic.

4. What is your favorite film?

My favorite film has and always will be “Toy Story,” a film through which I discover more and more magic. It is incredible to me how much heart is in something that almost appears crudely made in this day and age. The storytelling is mastery, the universe and light are brilliant, I could gush for hours. Growing up with the film definitely contributed to its place of honor in my heart, but I can recognize that from a young age it moved me. It is difficult to express how exactly the film impacted me, but it is like a combination of tasting your first s’more, watching Beyoncé dance, and listening to your favorite joke; life feels a little better, the world looks a little more colorful, things feel a little more possible.

“Northfound” is the final Regional film of the evening on Saturday, August 26 starting at 7pm.

2017 MWFF TICKET INFORMATION
Fest tickets can be purchased online below or at mosaicfilmfest.com/attend for $10 starting on July 9th.

These are all screening/all weekend VIP tickets. They will also be available on Friday, August 25th at the Nordlof Center box office during the event.

Single day tickets will be available at the box office on both Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th. They cost $5. Those tickets are only available on August 26th and 27th and are good for a full day of screenings on the day purchased.

For more information about the 2017 Mosaic World Film Festival as well as a list of all the films being featured visit mosaicfilmfest.com.

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