Here is my interview with The Trouble With Angels Director Sam Chegini who is from Qazvin, Iran:
Nigrin: Your beautiful animation The Trouble with Angels features the music and likeness of Jakko Jakszyk who is currently performing with King Crimson. How did you get involved with this film project?
Chegini: It goes way back. I've been a big fan of Chris de Burgh's music and I was in touch with his producer, Chris Porter, the legendary British producer who has produced many hit songs back in the 80s. He is currently the main sound man for King Crimson. I sent one of my animations for him to watch titled Traveller in 2014 and I was extremely lucky he liked my animation! In 2015, I received an e-mail from him saying that he wanted me to work on one of the songs co-written by Jakko and Sir Lenny Henry, titled The Cops Don't Know for Sir Lenny Henry's blues album "New Millennium Blues". It was a song in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign. That's how I first met Jakko online. Later I received an e-mail from him saying how much he liked my animation. 4 years later we did two films together for his solo album Secrets and Lies, one The Trouble with Angels and another one titled Uncertain Times starring the renowned British comedian and actor, Al Murray. It's really a great honor for me to have collaborated with Jakko on three projects so far.
Nigrin: Your film pays homage to Wim Wenders’s 1987 film Wings of Desire where angels long for mortality. Was this something that Jakko suggested you emulate in your film? Were there other films that influenced you?
Chegini: Yes, Jakko mentioned the film in his first e-mail to me about the song The Trouble with Angels. He also sent me a photograph of an angel with wings along with an 80s music video. Later I phoned him and we discussed it further and I explained I was thinking of this concept with rotoscope animation and rather in chapters because the music video he sent was a sequence plan and I, coming from a background as an editor prefer the cut. But the film and the music video had one thing in common and that was the black and white film which turned to color at times and I liked that. That's how I got the idea to show the girl in color for the closing of my film. I also watched the movie again and since I was a big fan of the Hollywood adaptation, City of Angels, I immediately thought of including the "falling scene" which both films have in common. I find the City of Angels starring Nicholas Cage is a bit more dramatic in that particular scene which I thought would work better for a music video. The whispers that you can hear in the intro of my video were also inspired by the original film and for that, I actually asked people from different countries to record whispers in different languages and send me their voices! That may not even be noticed when you listen, but it was a pretty delightful process in the making! If you listen carefully, there are voices in Russian, French, Farsi, Turkish, English, Dutch, German, etc.
Nigrin: What techniques were used to create the look of your animation?
Chegini: Compared to my first collaboration with Jakko and Sir Lenny Henry on The Cops Don't Know which had a graphic novel theme and partly rotoscope animation, Jakko wanted something more "artistic" for this video. so, I studied some paintings of angels of different eras and that's how I came up with the scene of the gallery. I wanted to make an entire rotoscope animation. Having nearly a 6-minute song, it's a quite time-consuming process to make something in that style. For instance, in The Cops Don't Know I had about 15 animators helping me in the process which is both time-consuming and costly. But for The Trouble with Angels, we didn't have much time, and the fact that we ran into many problems in the making made me decide to use computer animation as the main technique. So, I came up with this script for the song, and later I decided to record Jakko on the green screen and use composition animation in order to turn it into this rotoscope charcoal vibe animation. That's how I made the entire video. We first shot the films using the green screen, I composed them with some of my favorite photographs of different locations I had in mind and the rest was done on the computer with different techniques. I partly used 2D cut-outs like the hand of God from Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ painting and then I made all those scenes into this composition of charcoal computer-generated animation using a combination of my own charcoal drawings on paper and digital painting.
Nigrin: Did you have any difficulties in making this film given that you are based in Iran and Jakko is based in England?
Chegini: Gosh… this will be a long list. I seriously think there were not any problems left that we did not run into! I mean I'm amazed we finally made it happen! It was early September 2019 when Jakko first contacted me about this and I started working on the video. Around that time, the political climate in Iran was awful. Jakko and I immediately lost connection because of the Internet cut-off in Iran. There were protests going on in the streets here as the result of the new sanctions set on Iran by Donald Trump and the government had turned the internet off. It took quite a while till I had internet access again which was a nightmare for me. So, I called my friend Mert in Turkey and asked him to call Jakko and explain why I was not available. Later I asked my friends, Dutch musicians, Linde Nijland and Bert Ridderbos, who were having a tour in England at the time, to see if they were able to pay a visit to Jakko in London and record some sample shots for me to start with. They kindly agreed and we scheduled a meeting with Jakko and they phoned me when they were there and as I did not have an internet connection, I had to explain whatever I needed over the phone and because of that, the videos did not turn out as well as we had hoped for. So Jakko and I decided to re-record the footage and I asked him if it was possible for him to write me an official letter so that I could get a visa and travel to England to shoot him on a green screen. He kindly did that and again as I did not have an internet connection, he had to send it via post in an envelope. By the time I received the letter, there were new restrictions announced from the embassy that advised Iranians against traveling to the USA or UK. Internet was back on in Iran by Christmas and I could write Jakko and inform him that I could do this in the Netherlands as it was a bit easier for me to get a visa for there or if he was able to travel, we could do it in Istanbul for I didn't need a visa to travel to Turkey. He kindly agreed. We booked the flights and hotel, he found and booked this green screen studio in Istanbul, and everything was set and literally, 24 hours later, Donald Trump ordered the assassination of the Iranian general in Iraq which resulted in new warnings in the area and Jakko wrote to me that his manager did not think it was a good idea to travel at the time. The next day, Iran bombed some US military base in Iraq and the tragedy of the Ukrainian passenger jet followed... Which canceled all flights coming out of Tehran. So, I informed Jakko and I remember receiving this email from him saying he would understand if we couldn't do this anymore. But eventually, we shot the films remotely in a green screen studio in London and I had to prepare all the shot lists and storyboards to send to Toby Amies, the British filmmaker who has directed the "King Crimson" documentary. He had kindly offered to help us as the cameraman that day. Jakko had me on Skype on his iPhone and they had clamped the phone into the monitor of the camera so that I could see what was going on, and I was sitting here in my studio in Qazvin projecting the monitor on my screen to make sure I didn't lose any details, directing the video via internet and on the other end, Toby had his Bluetooth headphones on, hearing my directions and then passing them on to Jakko. So thanks to the wonderful Toby Amies we could finally shoot Jakko's sequences remotely. Later I needed to shoot this crowd scene of people holding candles and yet I needed to shoot "The Girl" scene as well. I was going to do all that here in Iran, but as soon as I started planning for it, the pandemic started and the next thing I knew, we were in a lockdown! I had to do those scenes remotely too. Again, my friends Linde Nijland and Bert Ridderbos in the Netherlands kindly helped me in the process and offered to buy a green screen in the Netherlands so that we could shoot them remotely on the green screen since the lockdown had not yet started in the Netherlands. They also asked their friends to join and of course, they take credit for finding the perfect match for the role of "The Girl" with Sietske Ketelaar. I had a famous Iranian actress in mind to play that role but I am very happy we found Sietske. She traveled such a long way with her family to reach Linde and Bert and we shot her scenes there. In the end, a combination of those scenes together with another remote shoot in Turkey with the help of my friend Alireza Sakaki in Istanbul made the "crowd sequence" possible. so the virus was kind of following us as we were shooting this in all these 3 countries! I mean this video would have not been possible without the kind help I received along the way. I don't think anyone would have a better example of Murphy's law?
Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you would like to relay to us?
Chegini: The amazing thing is that a frame of the video made it as the cover art for Jakko's new solo album Secrets and Lies. The Trouble with Angels will always remain a symbol of not giving up for me. Whatever comes in the way, if you believe in what you do, you will make it happen. That’s how others will believe in you and help you proceed with your dream. So yes, all the stories I shared, happy and sad, are all memorable for me. One that will always make me smile would be the first time Jakko watched the video and replied to my email: “Could I just change the following……Only joking!”
Here is more info on this film and the Super Shorts I Screening:
The Trouble With Angels – Sam Chegini (Qazvin, Iran) The innate urge to reach out to a stranger, following a chance meeting in Monte Carlo. Combined with the monochrome memories of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, where a moment of crisis is redefined by something magical. This beautiful animation features the music and likeness of Jakko M Jakszyk who is currently performing with King Crimson. 2020; 6 min.
Tides – Andre Silva (Wilmington, North Carolina) Filmed at Masonboro Island, an undeveloped barrier island in southeastern North Carolina, Tides contemplates the liminal space between the modern technological world and that more ecological dimension we label as “nature” or “the environment.” 2020; 8 min.
The Fabric of You – Josephine Lohoar Self (Glasgow, Scotland) Set in the Bronx, in the era of 1950s McCarthyism, everybody wants to look the same. Michael a gay, twenty-something-year old mouse, hides his true identity while he works as a tailor. When Isaac enters the shop one day he offers the escapism and love Michael craves. In Michael’s confined apartment, he becomes tormented by the memories of Isaac’s tragic death. Michael’s memories and flashbacks are triggered when he notices Isaac’s jacket draped on the back of a chair. Haunted by the solace Isaac once offered, he struggles to come to terms with his loss. 2020; 11 min.
Haiku – Martin Gerigk (Krefeld, Germany) Haiku is a symphonic audiovisual project for two Japanese performers, alternating percussion groups, soundscapes and rhythmicized video sequences. The film is an experimental approach to pay tribute to the extraordinary art of Japanese haiku poetry. In Japanese, subtitled. 2020; 17 min.
Gloria – Felipe Vellasco (São Paulo, Brazil) Gloria is a revenge story which happens in a near possible future, in Cuba, where the economic embargo has ended and the country faces a fast social transformation. In this context, an old inveterate communist tries to resist his family's ambitions and to deal with ghosts from the past. In Spanish, subtitled. 2020; 24 min.
Sunday, January 31, 2021 - $12=General
Film will be available on VOD (Video On Demand) for 24 hours on its showdate.
To buy tickets for this screening go here:
(848) 932-8482; www.njfilmfest.com