"Man Push Cart" Director's New York-by-Way-of-Pakistan Story

Brian Brooks/indieWIRE December 4, 2006

Director Ramin Bahrani’s "Man Push Cart" follows the story of an immigrant push cart operator in New York City who moved from Pakistan where he was once a rock star. A solitary, quiet loner, Ahmad (with a terrific performance from newcomer Ahmad Razvi) strikes up slightly awkward friendships with Noemi, a young Spanish woman who works at a newsstand, and wealthy, jovial Mohammad, who is shocked when he realizes Ahmad was a famous singer in South Asia. Through Ahmad’s relationships with both his new friends, and his estranged family, one begins to realize that he is haunted by a tragedy in his past. "Man Push Cart" won critical praise at the Sundance Film Festival in January and took both an audience award and best actor nod at last year’s Thessaloniki Film Festival before winning an honorable mention in the New American Cinema category at the Seattle International Film Festival in June. Bahrani shares with indieWIRE how "Man Push Cart" had its routes in the lead up to the Afghan war and why money is just an incidental thing.

[SF360.org editor’s note: This article appeared originally in indieWIREon Sept. 7, 2006. The film opens in the Bay Area Dec. 8 at Landmark’s Shattuck and Lumiere theatres.]

indieWIRE: Please give a bit of general background about yourself including current and/or former jobs, where you live etc.

Ramin Bahrani: Age: 31. Live: Brooklyn. Job: Filmmaker. Former Jobs: Too many to list.

indieWIRE: What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

Bahrani: Moths fluttering out of my wallet every time I opened it.

indieWIRE: What other creative outlets do you explore?

Bahrani: Photography.

indieWIRE: Did you go to film school?

Bahrani: I was an undergraduate at Columbia University and studied film theory. I learned filmmaking by making films.

indieWIRE: How and/or where did the initial idea for ‘Man Push Cart’ film come about?

Bahrani: I was in Paris when Bush began to bomb Afghanistan, and I thought: ‘who were the Afghans I knew outside of Iran?’ They were push cart vendors in New York City. Then I thought of Albert Camus’s ‘The Myth of Sisyphus.’ The image of a man dragging his cart on New York’s streets seemed to be a modern day version of that myth. I came back to New York City in 2002 and began working on the film.

indieWIRE: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution for the movie?

Bahrani: There were parts that weren’t challenging?

indieWIRE: How did you finance the film?

Bahrani: Films are made by people, not by money.

indieWIRE: What are your biggest creative influences?

Bahrani: For this film: New York City. Push Cart vendors. Albert Camus. Rumi. Doestovesky. Bresson. Cassavetes. Kiarostami. De Sica. Taxi Driver. Flaherty.

indieWIRE: What is your definition of ‘independent film?’

Bahrani: One made by someone who has not censored himself for economic reasons or by dreams of success.

indieWIRE: What are some of your all-time favorite films and why?

Bahrani: ‘L’Age d’or,’ ‘Man of Aran,’ ‘Pickpocket,’ ‘Au hasard Balthazar,’ ‘La Dolce Vita,’ ‘Where is the Friend’s House?’ ‘Life and Nothing Else,’ ‘L’Eclisse,’ ‘L’Avventura,’ ‘The Tree of Wooden Clogs,’ ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘Vivre sa vie,’ ‘Accattone,’ ‘La Terra Trema,’ ‘Stroszek,’ ‘The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,’ ‘The Decalogue,’ ‘The Apu Trilogy,’ ‘The Boys From Fengkuei,’ and…

indieWIRE: What are your interests outside of film?

Bahrani: Film.

indieWIRE: How do you define success as a filmmaker?

Bahrani: Last night we were shooting a scene for my new film in a junkyard in Queens and I wanted an above ground train passing by in the distant background. In the shot, the lead (a 12-year-old boy) has to walk down a dirt road near a pool of water. We wanted the water to have slight ripples. I was amazed that there were 3 PAs willing to take turns riding a bike though the water to create the effect!

Of course I wanted to do the shot 10 times… and it was 2am… and the train would only come every 20 minutes. Let’s see who shows up for work today.

indieWIRE: What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

Bahrani: For every person who likes my films, there will be someone who hates them.
(Reprinted with permission, copyright Brian Brooks, indieWIRE 2006.)