Her parents did not understand why she was living with strippers or why she decided to pursue film.
But as Mira Nair stood on the stage of the Music Building last Wednesday, she explained: “Filmmaking is a disease.”
At her screening and lecture, last Wednesday, Nair openly talked about her “disease,” as part of the Women’s History Month celebration.
At the event, Nair screened a relatively unknown film that the French government commissioned her to make after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The film had to be 11 minutes, 9 seconds and one frame. The whole film, “11.09.01,” was a collaboration of different filmmakers around the world.
“The fact that the date was placed before the month showed the international view on 9/11,” Honor Friberg, senior women’s and gender studies major, said.
Nair’s film was based on a newspaper article she read about a Muslim woman whose missing son was wrongly accused of playing a part in the attacks on the Twin Towers. The authorities later found that the missing son died trying to save someone.
Nair approached the family about her idea to make a film from their story, and, with their permission, began work.
Nair said that the film was deemed un-American. “This film was made to tell the story of the other side,” she said.
“I think it is wrong and unfortunate that the truth and reality portrayed was misconstrued as ‘anti-American,’ and thus it did not qualify for screening in public theaters,” Iffat Hussain, adjunct professor of biology, said. “This brings up another example which speaks for our stand on ‘freedom of expression.'”
Nair was born and raised in India and attended Harvard University on a full scholarship. Before she became an acclaimed director or even had the chance to make films, she had many rejections because of her Harvard degree – it overqualified her.
She fell into documentary films. “Documentaries portray the truth of life,” Nair said. “Truths that I believe are more powerful than fiction. You can not just invent it.”
This truth inspired her to make the Oscar-nominated film “Salaam Bombay.” She befriended children from the streets of Bombay to portray their refusal to pity themselves.
At her second home in Eastern Africa, Nair opened a school to train screenwriters. A majority of the students from this school are from places like Kenya and Uganda. Nair said that she created the opportunity for African children because Africa is always in the background in film, and if the children didn’t tell their stories, no one would.
Nair chose to shoot her upcoming film, “Namesake,” turning down opportunities to direct the next “Harry Potter” film and an adaptation of the book “The Devil Wears Prada.”
“You got to believe you have a story to tell,” she said.
Nair said she abandoned acting because her years performing in musicals did nothing to change the world – and she intends to change the world with her films.
“I was first an actor, but it wasn’t for me,” Nair said. “You were at the mercy of someone else’s vision.”
Luckily, Nair now has a vision all her own.