Minhal Baig wowed audiences with her debut feature film, Hala, at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, which was based on her short of the same title. A coming-of-age drama centering on a Muslim American teenager grappling with her world unraveling, Hala captures the “in between” feelings one experiences at the end of high school, but specifically through the lens of someone who is also straddling two cultures.
Geraldine Viswanathan plays Hala and effectively conveys her inner thoughts as she navigates living under her conservative Pakistani parents’ rules. We witness this young adult grappling with the ramifications of her culture, rather than her religion. She’s also unapologetically experimenting with her sexuality, which is usually quite taboo. The portrayal and journey of Hala is illuminating and thought-provoking. We see her every thought as she pulls you in with her performance.
Another engaging part of the film is the transformation of the relationship between Hala and her mother, Eram (played by Purbi Joshi). Both actresses capture the nuance of this delicate relationship. We see Eram grapple with what her life has become and choose to change her narrative. She sees the life that has been dictated to her and courageously chooses to challenge that norm. Her decision to embrace independence and navigate life husband-less certainly inspires Hala, as she sets off for her next journey of self-discovery at college.
This film is a welcome addition to cinema in 2019, as it depicts relationships and life experiences we haven’t traditionally viewed onscreen. Baig’s writing is thoughtful and compelling. Two interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits—women worked as 75% of below-the-line roles and the inclusion rider (a provision in an actor’s or filmmaker’s contract that provides for a certain level of diversity in casting and production staff) was adopted for production. That, coupled with the insightful story, makes Minhal Baig a filmmaker to watch.
Watch the short film Hala.
Jennifer Zahlit is a theatre and film director who has just returned to LA after directing the sold-out NYC run of Michael Weller’s Moonchildren. She attended the Directors Lab West (2017) and co-founded the bicoastal play reading series and theatre company Plays for the People.
Larkin Bell is an actress, artist, and filmmaker who recently starred in the feature film Hatchback and the short film Honor Council, produced by Josh Hutchinson and Indigenous Media. She has performed onstage in Los Angeles with The Theatre @ Boston Court and IAMA Theatre Company. Both women are alumnae of the USC School of Dramatic Arts and recently shot their first 20-minute short film together.
A Female Lens, a new podcast spotlighting women in film, has officially launched under the creative direction of LA-based filmmakers Jennifer Zahlit and Larkin Bell. The weekly show, is cohosted by Zahlit and Bell, and features interviews with women across various disciplines in film and a topical news segment. A Female Lens focuses on making the film industry more accessible to women and aims to grow a supportive community of female creatives poised for real-world collaboration.