Sai Selvarajan Highlights Emotional Immigrant Stories in 'Coup D'etat Math'

by Heather Leighton on July 12, 2021
Coup D Etat Math Thumbnail
Self portrait of Sai Selvarajan. | Credit: Sai Selvarajan/Reel South

Editor's Note: This article was previously published for Reel South October 2020.

"Coup d'etat Math" is an animated short film from filmmaker Sai Selvarajan that depicts four stories of immigrants' complex journeys. Purposely ambiguous in place and time, each story builds upon the other — like battle raps of struggle — a fight to be born, to survive, to find a place, and to go on in the face of immeasurable loss. Not everything adds up evenly or neatly, and that’s the point. We have immense ability to feel compassion, if we just stop to hear what brings people from A to B.

Before the film's Reel South premiere, we caught up with Selvarajan to speak with him about the film and the process making it. Read below to hear from this clever filmmaker.

Heather Leighton: What was your process in creating the film?

Sai Selvarajan: First thing was to get my emotions onto paper. After Trump won and especially after the Muslim ban, I knew I had to make/do something. But once I was able to figure out what I wanted the film to be, then it was coming up with the visual styles of each story.

Heather: How did you come up with the visualizations for each of the stories?

Sai: I wanted each one to have its own visual language. Not just stylistically, but metaphorically. The second story is so tactile in nature that I wanted to be watercolor on puppy paper so as the viewer you could see texture but still feel the emotion.

I would love for people to feel empathy for immigrants.
Sai Selvarajan

Heather: What do you hope people will take away from your film?

Sai: I would love for people to feel empathy for immigrants.

Heather: What did you learn while creating the film? What surprised you?

Sai: The thing I learned was to trust your instincts. Especially as film festival deadlines were approaching, I had to really buckle down and finish the film and so there wasn’t a lot of time to experiment. As I went with my instincts, I realized that so much of filmmaking is betting on yourself. What surprised me was the overwhelming amount of help and love I got throughout the process. Indie filmmaking relies on collaborations and favors, and I found that a lot of people believed in the film as much as I did and were willing to go the extra mile to help make this film happen.

Heather: How has the reaction been since creating the film?

Sai: The reaction has been great! Since I watched the first cut, I knew I had something there, but there’s always self doubt. But I have a handful of people that I really trust when it comes to constructive criticism, and they all really loved the film. So that made me feel like I had something here.

Heather: Is there anything else you'd like to share with the Reel South audience?

Sai: Without organizations like Reel South filmmakers like myself wouldn’t have the opportunity to show our films, so it's much appreciated.

"Coup D'etat Math" will be streaming on PBS.org from July 12-23 as part of the PBS Short Film Festival 2021.

Coup d’etat Math

This animated short depicts four stories that speak to the complex equation of each immigrant’s journey.
Coup d’etat Math

About the Author

Heather Leighton is a digital producer for Reel South.