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The Shape of Water, sparkling jewels

“The Shape of Water” Sometimes the Sparkling Jewels are Diamonds in the Rough

Santa Barbara- Not far away from the glitterati of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a movie that may be a diamond in the rough. Kum-Kum Bhavnani’s “The Shape of Water” is so well thought of that Oscar winning actress Susan Sarandon is a part of it.
“The Shape of Water” is about five women in four Third World countries who defy odds by using grass roots efforts to make sweeping social changes in their community and in turn, affect the world at large. Filmed in Senegal, Brazil, Jerusalem and India , “Shape…” chronicles the efforts of women who combat genital mutilation, the deforestation of the Rain Forest, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the rights of women to earn a living. Not bad for a university professor who originally had no concept on how to make a film.

“My students kept telling me that I had to do something like write a book,” Bhavnani said. “So through research with my classes showed that women were doing amazing things around the globe.”
“As I was finding out about these organizations, this wasn’t a book, this was a film. This was something visual that film would allow it to come to life. I use a lot of film in my classes because I feel that is how we understand the texture of people’s lives by seeing the raised eyebrows and hearing the laughter. I wanted it to feel filmic.”
After deciding on where to go, in 2002 the grant writing process began a four year journey that was challenged by lots of travel, a hiatus because of a lack of funding, and finally the extended editing process. Not to mention a lot of personal debt.
“Thankfully, we received a grant last year to allow us to finish editing,” Bhavnani said. “We also made one more trip to Senegal.

That was actually the first place we filmed. But since we really didn’t know anything at the time, I wanted to re-shoot.”
Bhavnani received much assistance, not the least of which came from her husband John Foran. Foran, who is also a UCSB professor, helped write the introduction and narration, while providing parental duties.
“Without John, this project wouldn’t be where it is today,” Bhavnani said.
Sarandon’s narration was also another key to the success of the film.

“I knew she was active in social justice,” Bhavnani said. “Because of this, I really wanted her (on the project), so I just cold called numbers and asked people and finally one day I got a phone call back.”

“I sent them my ten pages, but was so worried that she wouldn’t get it, I faxed it three times. Her assistant called back and good naturedly told me he received the first fax and the other two weren’t necessary.

“After, she viewed the film and agreed to do it I took a redeye out to tape. She is such a consummate professional that despite hot water pipes banging above us in the converted studio she did what we asked without any problems.

With filming completed, the narration in the can, the only thing to do was to edit. Small challenge…
“It is a tricky job this film, because it has five stories in four locations and we didn’t want to do it chapter by chapter first Senegal, then Brazil etc,” Bhavnani said. “The challenge was to interweave the stories themselves so it was not a simple rendition of events. There were reasons why my cuts were made in certain points in time and why one story stops and another starts. But in the end, I really think it tells a good story.”

Is there a message in this movie?

“I made the film for those of us who don’t live in the third world can see what is happening there,” Bhavnani said. “Now if the result if I can make any changes how I live my life, fine. It seems like there would be a message, but it is more of saying why don’t we just think about how women can make change in the world and what the conflicts involved are.
It’s a cliché that women all over the world are treated as second class citizens. But I think what is happening that many of us who live in the West tend to think of women who live in the world as downtrodden. We don’t see them as active in changing their world. What I want is for people to see that women all over the world are making changes and that West is not necessarily best. Maybe those of us who live here, can learn how they are making that change.

“The Shape of Water” Premiered Monday the 6th of February at Victoria Hall in Santa Barbara at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Mike Takeuchi

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