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August 2008
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2 | An Exclusive Interview with Director Sanaa Hamri

An Exclusive Interview with Director Sanaa Hamri
By Wilson Morales

August 4, 2008

Having done music videos for Prince and Mariah Carey, amongst others, over the last few years, and then moving on to the next phase of her career, feature films, Sanaa Hamri did well with critics and audience with her first film, 'Something New'. That film starred Sanaa Lathan, Golden Brooks and Taraji P. Henson. For her second films, Hamri continues to work with women themed issues as she takes on a projects that already has built-in fans from the book series and the first film.

In "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2," based on Ann Brashares' best-selling series of novels, four young women (America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively) continue the journey toward adulthood that began with "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." Now three years later, these lifelong friends embark on separate paths for their first year of college and the summer beyond, but remain in touch by sharing their experiences with each other as they always have--with honesty and humor. Discovering their individual strengths, fears, talents and capacity for love through the choices they make, they come to value more than ever the bond they share and the immeasurable power of their friendship.

In speaking exclusively to blackfilm.com, Hamri talks about directing her second film, working with the four leads, and her thought on music videos today.

How did you go from 'Something New' to 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2'?

Sanaa Hamri: I was a huge fan of the first movie and I love the book series, and therefore when I heard that they were looking for a director, I was thinking that it would be a perfect fit for me because it deals with young women. It had a fresh perspective on friendship and the meaning of that. It's just young adult trial and tribulation in which we know we don't see in a lot of Hollywood movies and with this film, I always want to be on the cutting edge.

What will you bring to this film that's different from the first film?

SH: Well, it's a different story, and when you start with a different story, it ultimately brings a new creative energy. It's a not a romantic comedy. It's four young women and their journeys, and how it parallels each other and sometimes converge. It's a completely different genre.

Since the first film came out three years, some of the cast have grown in star status with America and Blake now on popular TV shows with 'Ugly Betty' and 'Gossip Girls' respectively. Was there ever a consideration from the producers to expand their roles, or anyone else?

SH: Honestly, I don't think so. The reason the first film resonated with people was because Ann Brashares, the writer of the book series, had book 2, 3, and 4 and there was potential to continue the stories, and there is a big fanbase of the books as well as the first film, and it felt like a natural thing to have a sequel; and the girls happen to be where they are in their career, which is a progression from where they were in the first movie.

With your first film 'Something New' done and seen already by many, did you feel any pressure in doing this film. Any 'sophomore slump' thoughts go through your head?

SH: (Laughs) Sophomore slump. Usually with filmmakers, the second movie is a lot better. Singers probably go through that with their second album. The pressure that I had was that I had a first movie that was successful, and I'm doing a film based on a book series that also successful, and an international bestseller, so I just wanted to make sure that sequel to resonate and be it's own thing. That for more was the pressure.

As someone who came in from the music video world, is there anything different in terms of shooting the film?

SH: I always use techniques and lighting and all the stuff I did from the video world. Just like with 'Something New', I care that the film looks amazing and it has a certain type of tone and stuff. With 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2', you will be able to see my touch as a director.

How was working with all 4 ladies (America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively)?

SH: These are young actresses who are so talented and professional. They have all been on TV shows and I was very lucky to have all of them together. They knew each other. The dynamic of their friendship outside and off camera really resonated on camera. For a director, that is such a pleasure because as a director, I don't need to introduce my actors to each other. It really cuts your work in half. They are very collaborative and have great ideas. So it was a pleasure.

Any challenges?

SH: The challenges with this film in particular is that you have four storylines with four different characters and you are trying to make sure that the movie makes sense as a whole, with all these different storylines going on. It was very challenging and it just makes you better. I really did a lot of work as they were shooting and writing, and of course, in the post-production process, the editorial process, I could have had my editor Melissa Kent cut several versions of the movie because we have so much footage, and so many different storylines. It was really about finding the best way of presenting the stories.

What makes this film NOT a 'chick flick'?

SH: This movies is definitely is definitely not a chick flick and it's not a teen flick sort of speak. Yes, women are coming in to see this, however, there are a lot of opportunities for fathers to take their daughters, grandfathers to take their grandchildren and so on and so forth. It's definitely a date movie. There is something in here for everybody and it really talks about friendship. To me, friendship is universal and has no gender or color bound. I feel that elemental thing is something that all of us can relate to and it's such a strong presence in this movie. I feel that men should be able to suppport stories about women because we both learn from each other through that process.

When you have a sequel like this film that brings back the original cast and you have a newcomer like Jesse Williams coming into the mix, what do you want him to bring to the table?

SH: In talking about Jesse Williams, he plays a model that Alexis Bledel is in intrigued with and vice-versa. One thing about Jesse is that he's an honest and good guy. I think that there is diversity here. It stems from the book which is very diverse but also it examines the type of relationshiops that young adults are having right now. I feel a lot of times in movies, things are dated. I feel we are in the '90s in terms of what relationships are like. Honestly, young adults are struggling with craft cultural romances, dating, and knowing people. The world is intertwined. I also have great actors on the film like Blythe Danner and Kyle MacLachlan and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Jesse Williams really did an amazing job and I had faith that he embodied that character. As a filmmaker I always want to give an opportunity to very talented people without being fearful of them not being able to pull it off. I truly believe in the talent that I see. That's part of that process.

What sort of films are you looking to do?

SH: I love movies that have a point of view and are refreshing and a have new approach in any subject matter whether it's a comedy or a drama. So long as it has a heart and has something to say without being preachy or overbearing. I definitely want to create more cinemas that opens people's minds and makes them feel good.

As female director, is it a challenge to do a film or get a film that doesn't have a woman's theme to it?

SH: You know, it may be a challenge because people have pre-conceived notions. What I say is that I am not a 19 year woman in middle America indefensive like where some of where some of these characters in films are. I didn't grown up that way and I don't have that experience, but I can direct it. Just like I directed Prince in his music videos. I am a musician with a guitar or someone who is a musical genius but I can film him and make him stand out in the right light. As a filmmaker there are certain things that you are supposed to represent from imagery and stories authenthically and not based exclusively on your experience. I think it's insane to think that a woman can't direct certain types of movies. I don't think what's in between your legs should dictate your creativity.

Can you say at this point that film is your day job and no longer music videos?

SH: I love workingwith artists. It's about the projects for me. The hangup that I have with music in the video world are the lyrics that are not cool. If the music is inspiring and fun and joyous and has all those elements, then sure. To me, it's all about content.

What do you think about the state of music videos these days? Has it grown? Has the IPOD revolution changed things?

SH: I do think the IPOD revolution has changed the music video, however, I will say this. The state of the music videos is still the same. It hasn't progressed. The difference with me was at that time when I was just doing music videos, I would say 'no' to some offers because I didn't want to promote that imagery or those lyrics, so therefore I only worked with certain types of artists like Indie Arie or Lenny Kravitz, ZMariah Carey or Prince. My career started going in that direction.

Why should anyone see 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2'?

SH: Everybody should go and see this movie because it's heartwarming, funny, it's dramatic and it has so much for everybody and you can see yourself reflected in each of the characters because you are working with friendship and dealing with love. I emplore everyone to go see it and have an open mind.

'THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2' opens on August 8, 2008.


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