Photo credit: Topaz Peretz
For as much as we’d like to think otherwise, the art form of cinema is completely neutral. It’s not inherently more interesting, more meaningful, or even more entertaining than any other art form.
But when we point to specific movies, movies made with skill and a great deal of ambition, the conversation changes entirely.
In that context, movies can in fact be the most interesting art form around, with the incredible power to make an audience question their personal biases and take a moment to see a specific situation from a different perspective.
And thankfully, there are many young artists getting their start today who have realized the potential power of movies, and how that power can be used to influence and encourage positive change in the world today.
In this article we’ll be discussing one of these talented young filmmakers and how she plans to change the world for the better with her innovative techniques and choice of subject matter.
A Career Built On Expertise and Ambition
Topaz Peretz is originally from North London. She grew up in a highly diverse family, with an Israeli father and an Indonesian mother.
Early on, she realized the benefits of having a unique perspective on the world and all that was happening within it.
As a screenwriter, producer, and director, Peretz has since gone on to create multiple projects, including a piece on pedophilia titled Tainted. She is currently still in the pre-production phase for a film entitled Dollhouse.
The piece will make use of an all-female crew, a technique used back in 1975 by groundbreaking female director Chantal Akerman for her film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels.
Overall, Peretz has been able to combine attributes of some of the most talented and fearless film directors of the last century.
Much of her work features the same sort of delicate creativity that was present in the work of Agnes Varda, who was one of the most inventive French filmmakers of the 20th century, as well as being one of the first prominent female filmmakers in the world.
In terms of subject matter, she follows in the Todd Solondz tradition of not letting any topic, no matter how painful or controversial, be labeled out of bounds.
And her prolific output invokes the same sheer determination as the great British filmmaker Alex Cox.
We had the rare opportunity to speak with Peretz about her past and upcoming projects, as well as her opinions on the power of film and how it can be used as a force for good in the modern age.
The Transportational Abilities of Film
Above all else, movies have the power to transport viewers to a different world, or to a different part of the world we all live in.
And while many directors and producers use this ability to offer audiences a form of escapism from modern life, Peretz prefers to have her films teach the audience something new.
“When watching a movie, you get to live other lives, experience other thoughts and learn new things. It’s about living and being open minded to others. There is no other magic that can immerse a person in a completely different life and world than a movie. And there is no greater ability than being able to change someone’s mind.”
And this holds true even today. Movies can certainly be used a means of introducing people to perspectives they may not have considered before.
The Influential Works
When we asked Peretz about her major cinematic influences, she was quick to mention one of the most prominent Mexican filmmakers of our time.
“Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro is definitely a masterpiece. He’s giving the audience the chance to choose whether to see the reality of the situation or continue to live in the fantasy, which says a lot about you as an audience member in itself.”
But while Peretz surely appreciates contemporary work for its relevance and skillful execution, she also enjoys drawing inspiration from significantly older movies, including one particular classic from the great American director Martin Scorsese.
“Goodfellas by Scorsese is pure genius, both in it’s technical inventions, its editing style, as well as the playfulness of breaking the fourth wall. But most of all, the combination of calming and graceful music placed against violent and horrific images has a wonderful effect.”
The imprint of these great artists can be clearly seen in Peretz’s work, and for good reason. She has been able to absorb the crucial lessons these movies have to teach to anyone who is paying close enough attention.
Travel Broadens the Mind
Another major factor in the shaping of Peretz’s unique artistic style has been the breadth of her diverse cultural knowledge.
This knowledge comes both from her upbringing as well as from the extensive traveling she has done through the years.
“I love traveling. It’s a way to open your mind, experience different lives and different cultures, and understand different ideologies. What may be rude in one culture is polite in another. What is moral in one is immoral in another. It’s all rather fascinating, and has brought a lot of intellectual flavours to my cells.”
A Responsibility to Collective Culture
When it comes to the moral and social responsibilities of movies, opinions often differ. There are certainly many contemporary filmmakers whose common goal is simply to offer a couple hours of light entertainment.
Escapist films like these do not challenge audience members or make them aware of the world’s many injustices desperately in need of a remedy.
Meanwhile, Peretz sits on the other end of the artistic spectrum, maintaining that movies can and should have a serious responsibility to their audience.
“I absolutely do see this as a major responsibility. People tend to take movies at their word, and so there should be a strong element of truth in a movie. Movies, regardless of their genre, relate to real life and real stories.”
In fact, when it comes to certain subjects, movies are the sole source of information for many viewers, taking the place of information that may have come from more reliable sources.
And so it is absolutely crucial that filmmakers like Peretz continue to prioritize genuine information sharing via interesting stories.
How Limitations Can Spur Creativity
And while Peretz is certainly a talented and skilled director, producer, and writer, she has chosen thus far to work on independent productions that allow her the creative freedom she needs to tell important stories.
The downside of working on an independent production, however, is that they often lack the same kind of bloated budgets that many mainstream productions receive without a passing thought.
And not only has Peretz been able to create stunning works of art on a limited budget, she has also been able to save productions money by acting intelligently under pressure.
“A small budget simply means that you must use even more creativity in order to achieve what a story requires. It brings more of a challenge, which makes the filmmaking process both intense and exuberantly fun! On one production, I saved the film, $60K, simply by being creative with vendors. That’s definitely one way to earn the trust of investors!”
How to Cast a Film Like a Pro
Another way to make a wonderful movie with a limited budget is to dedicate a significant amount of time and thought to the casting process for the project.
Famous, expensive actors are not always the most talented actors in the world. It certainly takes much more effort to find an inexperienced actor with real talent, or to recognize raw acting ability in a non-actor.
It all comes down to looking for a special quality in each person, a quality that signals the depth of their ability and their ambition.
“I suppose this ‘it’ factor can be different for each director. For myself, it’s the genuine honesty an actor can bring to their character. If I see an acting cliché, it’s obvious they still have a long way to go. This doesn’t make them a bad actor, it just means they need more training.”
Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers
At the close of our conversation, we decided that it would be beneficial for our readers if we asked Peretz to give some advice for young, aspiring actors and filmmakers.
She was more than happy to oblige with some words of wisdom.
“You must enjoy a life of uncertainty. Criticism is your best friend. You must still find pleasure in watching a magician perform, even though you know the secrets to their tricks.”
It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one that holds true in many areas of interest, not just filmmaking.
Peretz is happy to be serving as an example of increased diversity in media production, as well as a beacon of creativity and innovation in an industry that, at times, has lacked both of these qualities.
She’s living proof of the idea that anyone, through hard work, determination, and natural talent, can achieve their dreams and tell some incredibly important stories in the process.