Director Natasha Uppal talks about being a regular at the Grand Star and how music makes the world go round.
What was your strategy in the way you told this story?
What was really important was to capture the Grand Star as the main character—this historic building with a swirl of great and rare things contained within it. The building is a living, breathing place, full of life. The hard part was to meet enough of the main characters that create this place without having it drift too far into each of their personal stories. Honestly, a full documentary could be made for each individual. But it was the collective that was important. The Grand Star is a gem.
In shooting the documentary, it was important to know the times and traffic of the place so that the crew would know what area to cover and what person to track, because around 1:00 a.m., you can’t move—the place is so packed. It was important that this documentary share the experience of being there. My hope was to create a musical vibrant piece, one that moves, is musical and colorful as the place itself.
Tell us about your best night at the Grand Star.
The best times were before I started making the documentary, when I was like
everyone else going to enjoy the music and community. The first few months I went were so special. As I got to talk to Frank and Wally and the bartenders, they told me little bits about the place and slowly the history of the place unfolded. They were warm and generous right away. After going there twice I was a “regular”—they treat everyone like that. I’d look around at the bric-a-brac and nostalgic photos, dance my booty off, have great conversations, be comfortable and leave inspired by people and music. A very fulfilling way to spend an evening.
Once the film got underway my brain would drift into logistics: How can I light this dark dance floor, what track is he playing? How am I going to record the band? How much does insurance cost…
What do you hope to achieve with this film?
Share that there are places where harmony and humanity prevail. That people
DO embrace each other’s differences. That music makes the world go around. That this place smashes hard lines and stereotypes and I am sure there are others just like it all over the world, and wouldn’t it be great to see/hear about them more.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I guess the way I think about it is more that: I have a story to tell and if I feel it is important enough to tell and I will continue until it’s told. Not all of my film ideas get made, some morph into another idea or fizzle out, but once I start a project I finish it, that is important to me.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
They celebrate alternative points of view and are one of the rare outlets on television that is about “quality programming.” The commerce engine has a stronghold on TV. It is unbalanced and creates some really bad and sad shows.
If you weren’t a filmmaker, what kind of work do you think you’d be doing?
Teaching kids in the arts. Kids are the greatest, I love being with them. Additionally (if I knew how to) I’d love to design fireworks, furniture and clothes, have some ultra-special-whimsical combos in mind that don’t seem to exist , if ONLY I knew how to make them.
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
Things that do not put you to sleep. Skip the heavy Italian… opt for Thai.
If you could have one motto, what would it be?
What sparks your creativity?
Other artists of all mediums—music, literature, film, painting and mundane things like a sentence I overheard or a clipping in a newspaper or interactions I observed. Anything can spark it really, it’s more about if I am paying attention.
What are your three favorite films?
That’s rough. Okay, if I don’t ponder it over:
Ju Dou (Zhang Yimou)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Terry Gilliam)