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netribution > features > interview with illiya chaiken

Marguerita Happy Hour is about a young single mother who lives in Brooklyn. She is in transition from the lifestyle that she is used to leading, which is that of a bohemian scenester, rock and roll Brooklyn chick, to the life of a mother. She is having trouble letting go and coming to terms with her new responsibility. She is also in denial about how this affects her relationship; not only with her boyfriend but also her friends both old and new. She has developed a new social circle, young women in the same circumstances who bring their children along once a week for Marguerita Happy Hour, these days this is as close to partying as they can get!
Marguerita Happy Hour is the first feature for writer / director Illiya Chaiken.

| by deidre st dashiel|
| photos from deidre st dashiel |
| in new york|

What was the inspiration behind the film?
It came largely from personal experience; I am a single mum. I don’t think that we have seen these characters from this perspective before. They are not mess-ups, not the stereotypical roles; they are young, beautiful and going through a change that is complex. I wanted to take a universal theme in a specific environment.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking?
I come from an artistic background; my father was a scenic artist so I grew up going to sets and was fascinated. I wanted to be involved some how. I have always written and been visual. With filmmaking I get to write, paint and boss people around!
I am also very much into editing, I just love the whole process.

How did you go about raising the money to make MMH?
The hardest part was getting my script read. People are afraid to get their feet wet in what might be considered a women s film. I mean in a sense MHH is a strong women’s film but it appeals to everyone, it’s a shame it’s seen as a liability.

Do you think it was harder for you to get MMH off the ground because you are a woman?
The most frustrating thing is being told that your material is financially too risky because it is shown from a woman’s perspective. It’s hard not to let it get to you, and not to remold your vision. I have been subjected to a hell of a lot of poor depictions of women’s characters and now it’s my turn.

Although it may have made the filmmaking process more of a struggle, do you feel being a woman filmmaker a positive thing?
I think it has allowed me to come up with material that is fresh and new. You haven't seen these characters like these, women actors don't get to see parts like this, there is such a scarcity of female roles. I can honestly say that I am doing something original.

You’ve made several short films before, did that help to pave the way for a feature?
The shorts helped to open doors; one of the producers, Michael Ellenbogen, programmed one of my shorts in a festival five years ago. He had kept it on his top ten lists of films so when he was looking for something to produce he called me up and asked if I had anything. They are not calling card films but they gave me the chance to practice the art form.

How has the response been?
People have been very supportive. We premiered at Sundance and screened in Salt Lake City where we sold out and they had to open a second theatre. This isn’t a movie that I thought that would appeal to the Utah crowd! One thing I hear constantly is that the acting is so flawless and natural, that's something you rarely get in low budget indie films.

What was the reason for the character of Zelda having a scar on her face?
It’s a symbolic thing; it’s about markers in time and things that are irrevocable. Like the event of having a baby, there is no turning back, this is a new dimension for Zelda and it also a practical use as there are a lot of flashbacks.

How long was the development process?
I started the script when my daughter was two - she is now five. I imagined her as the baby but by the time we shot she was too old.

How long did it take to shoot?
We shot in three weeks; it was a miracle we shot on super 16 and blew it up to 35. The budget was very low; it was something that I am very proud of.

Do you have another feature in the works?
I have a new script that I am moving forward with which takes place in the suburbs revolving around a high school. 

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