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Interview with director Liam Lopinto


Liam LoPinto is a filmmaker and animator from New York City. He graduated from NYU Tisch’s UGFTV program in 2017. He also studied at Waseda University in Tokyo and attended CalArts’ Character Animation program from 2017-2021. His film French Fly was selected for CAA Moebius’ Showcase. His documentary “Karam Camera” was made in partnership with Karam Foundation focusing on empowering young Syrian refugees. He’s a first generation Iranian-American and his work focuses on diaspora, refugees, immigrants, and dissidents. His film The Old Young Crow won the Best of Festival award at Palm Springs. He’s also an assistant manager at The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I watched The Miracle Worker when I was 8 years old in Ms. Saul’s Language Arts class and it completely changed how I approached storytelling. It was disturbing and frightening and real yet also tender and beautiful. More specifically the feeling of texture during the climactic “water” sequence and the aura that illuminated from the Keller house made me want to focus on place when it came to my films. I love it when a filmmaker truly makes use of their space. I didn’t pick up a camera fully till 6 years later, but I acknowledge this moment as the birth of what I really wanted to do. Thank you Ms. Saul!

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Not at all. But you need to surround yourself with really talented people and actively be part of a filmmaking community. It’s impossible to do this on your own and by helping others you help yourself. Going to film festivals and continuing to put out work is the best way to engage with your peers. Don’t be afraid of starting out rough because with time you’ll get the hang of it. Also people admire change and growth more than just a plateau of pure talent.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

I think I had to stop focusing on what I wanted to do in the future and instead say do what you can do now while you’ve got it. You can get too stuck in your own plans that you forget that there’s no perfect way to get started. Fall fast and fall early. I learned that when I was in CalArts and was making my first film with the help of everybody I knew at the last minute. Everything before the actual production had to be perfect in my mind and yet I never gave myself room to truly experiment. Don’t br afraid to fail publicly and privately.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Be patient. Every time I looked for the right opportunity to finish this film something was going on in my life. It’s really easy to give up when the end looks so far in sight. In fact, if I wasn’t forced to stop and slow down in my life, I may have not ended up picking the film back up and finishing the edit. Everything was clearer when I took a step back and just absorbed the material. I could truly make it for myself and no other. Fresh eyes are important.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

Well, it was hard to find an Iranian boy in Japan, but through the help of Shohreh Golparian who was Abbas Kiarostami’s translator and assistant during his filming in Japan, we were able to find Nao who plays Mehrdad in the film. Everyone was kind of tied to Shohreh as well. There wasn’t a particular casting agent or anything, it was just who was available. I was 21 when we shot the footage with a cast of 4 and 2 weekends to shoot it. We didn’t get enough crow footage and we screwed up a lot of the dialogue and I didn’t think I would be able to do it and do any animation on the sketchbook. It looked too big of a mountain. So when I picked everything back up I knew I would have to use a consistent voice over and redo certain sounds and cut the film with animation in mind. So I made an animatic with the existing footage and that seemed to help.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

I think it was having no real shot of the crow. It’s all in the sketchbook and we don’t really get a sense of its presence physically with Mehrdad. They never really share a frame together except in the sketchbook. But it was a necessity because we need that crow and we need it to feel looming and artistic and significant.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

Well a lot of my animation friends from CalArts helped me out towards the end. It ended up being a huge undertaking even though I was doing the significant portion of the animation. There were certain segments like Simon’s hand animation and Drew’s stop motion sequence that I knew would make the film and I needed them to do stuff that would take me months to do, but only weeks for them. I think checking in with everybody and demonstrating your passion and what you’re doing on your end helps. Also paying your friends instead of just expecting pro-bono. This was a first time outside of school and it’s important to do so.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I guess there’s no monolith of an audience, but I assume most people want a sense of rhythm and a sense of connection between the storyteller and the work. People pay money to go see films in a theater or even steaming so there’s an obligation to put your all in there. I don’t think filmmakers should spend time worrying about what audiences want and instead work on their craft and ensuring that their work stays personal and creative and full of love. The right audiences will surround them and not everyone has to love every film. 

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Honestly, I didn’t start going to film festivals in a serious capacity until this circuit with “Crow” but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve met so many really talented and genuine filmmakers. Meeting your peers and being inspired by their work and getting to know them has been a real pleasure and it’s been especially lovely to connect with other members of my diaspora. Knowing there are filmmakers like me telling their stories makes me feel really happy. Also, I’ve found out how important it is to get to know programmers. They’re not a monolith or some kind of objective end all be all, but people who have tastes and are trying to do their best. They’re not there to be schmoozed but instead have meaningful conversations about film.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I don’t think anyone should try to be fresh because it’s never going to come across as fresh or original but rather forced. I’m also not sure what a classic and safe cinema style is because it’s historically changed so much and has different implications around the world. I will see that going back to your roots and developing personal relationships with the people you know and your community will improve your films. Connecting with your filmmaking community will change how you approach directing. Your daily interactions with art also will. These are all personal choices, but when you watch a film, you can feel the sincerity. Trying to find new ways of doing something, especially like making movies, can only come from truly the most personal.