Critically acclaimed director, producer, writer and sometimes actor, Michael Polish, has a numerous amount of films under his belt, independent and major studio alike. Being a fan of Polish and his work, we were thrilled that we were granted the opportunity to speak with him about his film work, including “NONA,” and his upcoming film “Axis Sally,” starring the great Al Pacino. Polish has directed the feature films “The Astronaut Farmer” (Billy Bob Thornton), “90 Minutes in Heaven” (Hayden Christensen, Kate Bosworth), among several others, including his passion; independent films.
While speaking about his love for the craft of independent film, Polish shares that “it’s a precarious landscape, because independents are done at a scale, then they get out of control, and then there can be a gold rush of independent films, and then could be not so many films coming out, and then there will be, because it’s independent of a studio. So, certain types of movies have to be funded by a certain type of crowd, and it’s usually people that have money to invest into a film project, and the riskier ones are even hard to do when there is independent money. So there’s always that cycle of what picture you’re going to make, and how much you’re going to struggle, because they don’t make a lot of money, and then if they do, you probably spent a lot of money to get it. And every once in a while you hit a jackpot with the right film at the right price point, and more people have seen it.”
With NONA, Polish’s prolific film that sheds light on a serious situation taking place right under our noses (i.e, in our backyard, in our neighborhoods, in our cities), and is delicately, although realistically true. Polish is exceptionally passionate about this film, given that his “expectation was quite low, anyway, and it was just to finish a movie that I was proud of because it was going to be in a foreign language which doesn’t have a huge appeal. It’s also going to be a subject that there’s not a lot of education behind it, in terms of educating the public of what’s going on with human trafficking, and the result of sex trafficking.” He further explains that “to tackle something, in another language, with the subject matter, and find the challenge in that, because you’re gratified by the whole situation, and you also have a lot of gratitude when you can do it. When you can make a movie about an immigrant who ends up in an awful situation; a horrific situation, because that exists, and it’s here in LA (I’ve seen it). I based it on a few stories that I heard, and then when I went to one of these homes to see it, then I realized that this is one of very, very, very many houses.”
Polish continues stating that “you find that there’s just so many different ways these children, men and women, get involved in sex trafficking. And the ring, it was very hard to cover how many different ways that you end in the position, and how many times these girls move. And how many times the houses move. Or, if you’re in San Francisco, then next week you might be in LA. And this ring, is a flowing ring, and that’s one way of trafficking, sex trafficking, is that they have these groups that go around, and they get trafficked, and the girls never stay in the same house; It’s a larger issue than just what I portrayed, but that’s just one story, so hopefully it sheds just enough light that it expands farther, and people get more involved, because these are daughters and sons of…They’re us. They’re all of us.
When asked how he hopes NONA keeps the conversation going with people and how they react to it, he explains that “when a movies has this type of impact, and the most questions I get is “What would you like people to come from this movie?” or, “What would you like them to know?,” and I’ve come to terms with this to terms with this particular film in one way, and I say this in everything now, that the movie belongs to you now. It’s your story to tell. So, this movie, I would say, you know, it’s your movie now, and you know the story, so it becomes your story. It’s not my story anymore. And I would’ve never went into that knowing that about this movie, but I didn’t have the correct answer that I would have for the last 14 movies I’ve made, where is, well, I want this movie, I want people to laugh. I want people to cry, or I want people to understand about Siamese twins, or building a rocket, these are very specific ideas behind movies, but this one, you don’t want to say, “I hope you enjoyed it.” I hope you understand the mindset of one individual, and that one individual is by the millions. It’s just times by millions. I mean look at a stadium for the Super Bowl, and that’s not even a million people. And that’s sex trafficking, that’s just one number, 75 thousand, 80 thousand people in the stadium.”
Polish directed Al Pacino in his upcoming film “Axis Sally,” due out in 2020. Working with Pacino was obviously a highlight of Polish’s career, and says that “Well, if you ever want to work with great, I did it. I got to work with the greatest actor I’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve never seen anything like it. I think he’s so well recognized, and so well appreciated, that he stays in his own lane. He stays in his own lane because the more you look at his career, the farther he gets…He’s getting older, I always say, the Beatles just keep getting better, ’cause we get farther away from how great they were. They just were great. They were just a great way of making music, and when we’re farther away, it just gets better, like a wine, it just gets better. It just gets better. Al Pacino’s the same way. You look at his career, and you go, he’s on the top of it now, and you know that he is that great.”
Reflecting on his career in film and ultimately, his love of it, he explains that there’s a couple of factors that he drew on, and “I think what made me interested in cinema as an art form, or cinema as … I don’t understand this, but it has all the feelings that I wanna feel, it was a movie called “Once Upon a Time in America.” And it was Sergio Leon’s movie, and it was about these Jewish gangsters. It was his version of the “Godfather,” pretty much. Of a gang growing up, or organized crime, how organized crime was born. And I was fascinated by it ’cause it was four hours long, and I didn’t understand the backwards and forwards of the world, jumping back from ’60s to ’30s to ’40s, but I knew there was a quality about it that made me wanna be part of that world. In terms of movies, I couldn’t figure out if they were a movie, or it was really real life. “E.T.” I thought that was real. I didn’t think that was fake. I think that could really happen, and when Spielberg took me through that journey, then I wanted to know, what’s he creating? That magic that’s between the screen and the audience, and nobody builds that, it’s a communication, how does that work? You know? With a movie as endearing as “E.T.,” it did make me think a lot about make-believe, and believing that there’s another universe, believing that you could store a little creature in your closet, and there’s all kinds of fun things when you’re a young kid, and you see something that inventive. You know? It really helps a young generation to believe in something different.
He expounds further with “And then there’s the “Godfathers” that I got to see, in the ’70s, I was born in ’70. Even though that was the early ’70s, I was able to witness a certain type of cinema, that was very avant garde, it was independent, it was the break up of the studio and people releasing their own movies. So there was a lot of spirit in making upper movies in the ’70s than there were in the ’60s or any previous decade. ’80s were a lot of fun. If you are any age now, you can cut your teeth young, and hopefully get away with mistakes and you can get ’em on screen, but if you want to make a movie now, it’s right there at your fingertips.”
Watch “NONA” here.