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Make Them Believe: Interview with Director Taimi Arvidson
23rd May 2019 by Will Stewart
There are lots of things I like about this film. I like how our protagonist, whilst still young, grew up in an era in Russia where America was still a just a place in the movies and on TV. I like the way he brings his childhood dreams into wrestling character. Aside from the fascinating story of the the main characters, the film crew also manage to capture some great actuality. I like way we get to see the on-stage wrestling alter egos, and also their real personalities backstage. Something we don’t often get to see.
I caught up with the director of this film, Taimi Arvidson, to ask her a few questions about it. 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 filmmaker, and tell me a bit about how you got into filmmaking.
Taimi – I’m a documentary and commercial filmmaker who focuses on telling human stories with heart. I’m just really drawn to stories that focus on interesting characters and the things they’re going through in their lives. I started out as a journalist but really fell in love with filmmaking over time as I got more into the visual side of the field. I worked for years in nonfiction television for networks such as the National Geographic Channel, CNN, OWN, and more before focusing on my own independent films these last few years.
MadeGood – Is this a typical example of your work?
Taimi – I would say this kind of deep character dive is a typical example of my storytelling approach. I like taking topics that are seemingly different, foreign, or subcultures — and finding the angle that makes them surprisingly relatable. I also like to explore the bounds of documentary visuals in my work so this film is definitely an example of pushing the envelope on the balance of story authenticity and stylised cinematography. The make believe world of wrestling gave me the chance to explore the use of more constructed visuals in documentary in an organic way that was really exciting to me as a filmmaker.
MadeGood – How did you hear about your films protagonist, Tim Master, or ‘The American Hope’?
Taimi – I saw photos of the underground wrestling ring on a blog and was immediately drawn to the guy wearing an American flag over his shoulders. I had previously worked in Russia with a great producer and asked him to meet up with Tim for me to see if he was interested in some crazy American girl who wanted to fly across the world to make a film about him…the rest is history! We were really lucky that Tim opened up his life to us and I am forever grateful that he made this film with me. Films like this only get made when people are nice enough to take a risk on you as a filmmaker and have their story told by a stranger.
MadeGood – What made you want to make a film about him, and how did the film come to be?
Taimi – I was really interested in someone who wanted to play the villain. And especially that the villain in this side of the world was American. Tim is one of the kindest people I have ever met and I think it’s really fascinating that he was to tap into a different side of himself through this much maligned character. That duality of personality was what first drew me into the story beyond the American hook.
I was also really drawn to Tim’s desire to chase his wrestling dreams. At the time, I was just embarking on starting my own filmmaking career and found it very cathartic to explore the inner vulnerability of putting yourself out there for your hopes and fantasies despite the risk of emotional — or in Tim’s case, even physical — harm.
MadeGood – One thing that I really love about the film is the small observations about Russian culture, in many ways it’s not about wrestling at all, even though obviously the sport is the narrative of the film. Was this your intention, or did the story evolve as you got more involved?
Taimi – The Russia aspects of the story definitely evolved as we spent more time on the ground talking to everyone about their genuine perceptions of Americans and some of the stereotypes about us in Russian culture. The wrestling league explores those notions through the wrestling storylines — for example, Americans sometimes win the match because they cheat and change international rules randomly. As we explored those conversations in the field and Tim’s interview, we started to delve into Russian culture more and more.
But it was also something we brought out more in various passes of the edit as people watched cuts and gave feedback that this part of the story was really fascinating to them. Our edit also coincided with the 2016 election and rumblings of collusion so we were certainly onto something without fully realising it. It was too early at that time to be fully cognisant of how central Russia would be to the American news cycle.
MadeGood – The production team is relatively large for a film like this, and their are credits for a number of different roles. How hands-on are you as a filmmaker, or do you entrust the cinematography to the DOP, the editing to the editor etc? Or is it a bit of a mix? How did you assemble your team?
Taimi – Definitely a mix. As a director, I see part of my job as finding the right team and putting people in a position that maximises their talents. So I definitely try to give people the space to give their own perspective to the creative endeavour at hand. That said, I come into projects with a clear vision of what I want to achieve and am hands on in working with team members to make sure that’s communicated and executed.
At this point in my independent filmmaking career, assembling teams is honestly usually about finding who is willing to work for free. Much of the Make Them Believe team were good friends of mine who gave me the incredible gift of donating their time for nothing or reduced rates.
MadeGood – What are you working on next.
Taimi – I am currently in production on my first feature length documentary that tells the coming-of-age story of a six-year-old Rohingya boy named Hossain who is growing up in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh. We have received support from the International Documentary Association, Bay Area Video Coalition, Women in Film, and we’re a finalist for the AmDocs Film Fund. This film takes a much more observational approach than Make Them Believe but definitely still has a strong human story at its core.
MadeGood – Thanks Taimi! Good luck with the feature, can’t wait to see it when it’s done!