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A Q&A with Amman Abbasi 

On making "Dayveon" and more.

click to enlarge ON SET: Abbasi (left) with actor Kordell Johnson.
  • ON SET: Abbasi (left) with actor Kordell Johnson.

Arkansas filmmaker Amman Abbasi believes film should tell the truth, to "tap into something honest." That was his goal with "Dayveon," his debut film, which he not only wrote, directed, edited and produced, but for which he also composed the music. Based on oral histories and workshops with at-risk youth in Wrightsville, the 75-minute drama tells the story of a wounded 13-year old boy — the titular Dayveon — whose mettle is tested after being initiated into a local gang. A Pakistani immigrant whose family moved to Little Rock a few years after the 1994 HBO documentary "Gang War: Bangin' in Little Rock" was released, Abbasi envisioned making "a more nuanced gang story," the film's press kit reads, one focused on "affiliation, friendship and the many layers of the humans within gangs." "Dayveon" will be screened at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, at CALS Ron Robinson Theater as part of the Arkansas Cinema Society's Filmland festival celebrating Arkansas filmmakers. We talked with Abbasi, who lives in Los Angeles but still considers Little Rock his home, ahead of the screening.

Where did you grow up in Arkansas?

I grew up in the Paragould and Jonesboro area. We had relatives in the area and that's where my parents initially moved. At age 9, we moved to Little Rock. We lived in the central part of town. I first attended Hall High School and completed my senior year at Central High School.

What prompted your interest in filmmaking, and who inspires or influences you?

As a child, we often made home movies with a VHS recorder. My initial interest was in music and filmmaking was a hobby. The Dardenne brothers [Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne] and Martin Scorsese are my biggest influencers — and lots of others inspire me.

What prompted your interest in making "Dayveon?"

I was working in Chicago with Brent and Craig Renaud, who were doing a documentary on gang violence in Chicago. I noticed the differences in gang culture in urban vs. rural communities. Gangs in Chicago were more tied to organized crime and drug cartels — in Arkansas, it was more about being part of a community.

Who is Dayveon?

Dayveon is a teenage boy who is struggling with the death of his older brother. He has no parents and finds a sense of community in a street gang in rural Arkansas.

You cap-tured the camaraderie between the black men and boys in the film. Why was this significant?

Often, there is a sensationalized point where men can't be seen as weak and finding common bonds; friendship is seen as weakness. I wanted to dispel the notion of that in this film.

Are the actors from Arkansas?

Yes, the actors are based in Arkansas. I wanted to cast those who were familiar with the environment and culture.

"Dayveon" was shot in Wrightsville. What did you appreciate most about the experience of filmmaking in your home state?

We made it up as we went. There is something really great and inspiring about breaking the rules and following your own path. Arkansas allowed us that freedom, since no one really knew we were making the movie.

What is your dream filmmaking project?

Something that bridges the divide of art house films and large popcorn movies.

What do you enjoy most about capturing stories on film?

Preserving a sense of time, place and character within a unique emotion.

What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers in the South?

Tap into something honest. The best movies often have nothing to do with movies but real life.

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