Charlie: Interview with Director Kadri Koop
23rd April 2019 by Will Stewart
Since hijacking a plane to Cuba in 1971 to avoid charges of killing a police officer, the Cuban government has provided Charlie Hill refuge, allowing him to live a life beyond the reach of the F.B.I. In a letter to his nine-year-old son, the film takes an intimate look at his account of the events leading up to fleeing the US. All of it plays out against the backdrop of the opening up of US-Cuba relations, which could result in Cuba allowing Hill’s extradition.
We tracked down the director of this film, Kadri Koop, to ask her some questions about Charlie, and being a film maker. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Please introduce yourself as a film maker, and tell us how you got into film making. Is Charlie a typical example of your work?
Kadri – I studied film and literature criticism in college in Amsterdam and then moved to Beijing to pursue a career in documentary film. I had heard about the new and exciting Chinese underground documentary world and was intrigued by the idea of making documentaries in the Middle Kingdom. After some time studying Mandarin, working in a production company and making my own little short films about the immigrant street workers in my neighbourhood in Beijing, I started to miss the West and decided to emigrate to the US. I took an offer to study documentary at Stanford and spent 3-4 years making docs and working in the Bay Area and in NYC. After some time I felt the need to learn more about narrative filmmaking to be able to fuse the two forms – doc and narrative. I’ve always felt more compelled to tell documentary-based stories that are motivated by emotional truth rather than factual. This however requires great visual story telling skills. It also helps to be a great cinematographer. Realising that gave me the impetus to pursue the craft of cinematography and expand my skillset into the narrative world. I’ve spent the last 8 months or so learning about narrative cinematography at American Film Institute and it’s been an incredible journey. Now that I’m mostly focused on shooting for others, the typical example of my ‘own work’ has changed quite a bit. A few years ago “Charlie” would have been the pinnacle of my craft whereas now I see myself shooting anything from commercials to features. “Charlie” is still close to my heart though as it very much represents the kind of visual style and story structure that speaks to me.
MadeGood – How did you find out about Charlie’s story, and what compelled you to make a film about him? Obviously the events referenced in the film took place a long time ago, but do you think the story resonates with modern racial politics?
Kadri – A huge part of telling the story had to do with its relevance to today’s political climate and racial politics. At the time of making the film I’d barely lived in the US for a year and half and it was a huge learning experience to even figure out how to tell this story. I think the challenge was the part that compelled me the most in telling the story. As for how I got in touch with him, I happen to have a journalist friend who was reporting on Charlie in Cuba and he put us in touch.
MadeGood – This film was made a few years ago now, do you have an update on Charlie’s situation? What do you think his outlook is?
Kadri – I’m afraid we’ve fallen out of touch over the years. Communication with people in Cuba can be pretty difficult due to lack of resources. As for his outlook, I do not think that things are looking any better for him during the current administration.
MadeGood – The film has quite rightly done quite well on the film festival circuit. What was your promotion strategy for this film, and what advice would you give other film makers wanting to promote their short documentary?
Kadri – The short answer is that every film will require its own strategy as there’s no one way of promoting a film successfully. If there was, we’d all be having our films at all the best festivals. I also think that no matter how “successful” most filmmakers will always feel like the film could have done better in terms of exposure. As for advice, I don’t have much useful to say other than make sure to always set a decent sum of the budget aside for festival submissions and travel upon acceptance. I wish I had something more useful to to add.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Kadri – As said previously, I’ve transitioned into narrative filmmaking as a DP. This is also why I currently don’t have any doc project in the works. However, I’d love to pick some up during the summer when I finally have some free time (hopefully).
MadeGood – Thanks Kadri! I hope you find the time to make another short in the summer, I’m looking forward to seeing it if you do.