Bavand Karim is a writer and producer of films and television programs and Assistant Professor of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College. His projects include the award-winning documentary films Nation of Exiles and Hate Crimes in the Heartland. Karim’s major motion picture credits include Knight of Cups, Maps to the Stars, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Hangover III, and more. He is the CEO of Be Positive Pictures, and a producer for the Emmy-winning production company, Lioness Media Arts. For more information, visit www.bavandkarim.com.
What do you do best?
Diversify. I am a generalist, and my artistic work includes writing, music, filmmaking, and more. I don’t limit myself by focusing on one skill more than another. I think my strongest attributes - leadership and communication - are informed by a high degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. I could not pursue so many different creative interests and maintain a successful professional career without strong organizational and problem solving skills.
Filmmaking in particular is a mixture of so many creative skills – writing, photography, lighting, directing, production design, editing, and more. One aspect of filmmaking that outside observers tend to overlook is that, as an independent filmmaker, you often manage every aspect of a project, from big picture decisions down to the smallest details. My most successful endeavors have been defined by my ability to develop a creative vision, gather resources, and fit the individual parts together into a polished product.
What makes you the best?
I’m not the best, but I’m willing to keep trying. I think it is important to maintain perspective and remember that everything is relative, and that a person is defined by much more than the sum of their professional experience. In a sense, I think we learned our most important lessons in kindergarten: kindness, patience, sharing, and love. I try to live my life in such a way that I am not always in the center of it.
Professionally, I have worked hard to develop an adaptive creative method. One concept that is central to my work is the idea of authenticity. I think my values are reflected through the stories I choose to tell, all of which advocate freedom, equality, and civil rights. Nation of Exiles, which examines Iranian politics, is an especially personal film. As an Iranian-American, a journalist, a filmmaker, and someone who was raised in a politically aware household, I found myself at the intersection of a variety of identities that made me the right person to tell the story.
So I’m not sure that anyone can be the best at anything. A more practical goal might be to find a sense of authenticity in your work by pursuing projects that correspond strongly to your own sense of personal identity. This way your work is sure to be truthful.
What are your aspirations?
Some of my most ambitious long-term goals involve creating media that presents minorities and people of color in ways that challenge the hetero-normative standards of white identity in cinema and television. Part of this involves raising awareness of the deceptive messaging in some our favorite movies and TV shows. Generally speaking, American media is dominated by inaccurate stereotypes that produce toxic effects. We all have the potential to become agents of cultural change. I feel it is the duty of both media producers and audiences to be more critically informed regarding the programs we create and consume.
Each new accomplishment is built upon the foundation of prior achievement. In this sense, each of my career milestones - publishing my thesis, working in TV and movies, screening at festivals, receiving distribution, and earning a tenure-track faculty position – has been, at it’s own moment in time, the biggest success of my career. For many in the entertainment industry, simply finding work is a success. As a first-generation American and the son of working-class immigrants, the fact that I advanced so far as to work in Hollywood, write and produce my own movies, and teach at a top-ten film school is much more than I ever imagined for myself as a child. Certainly, I failed many times too, but I always looked for lessons within those failures that would allow me grow. As a result, my proudest achievement is the sense of self-actualization that I have gained through my life’s creative work.
Most Challenging Moment?
Life is a series of challenging moments. My most memorable frustrations have occurred when working with individuals who put their own agendas ahead of the best interests of the project. Creative collaboration demands compromise, and it is common for successful people to have large and delicate egos. However, the focus should always be on the work, and never on the self.
One specific experience comes to mind when I had just completed my MFA and was working to develop an original television program. One member of our creative team was always rude and aggressively critical of me in a strikingly personal tone. In many ways he was simply a bully. Over the course of the project it became evident that he was compensating for an utter lack of skill. He could barely operate a camera and made no contribution to our creative work. So the lesson I learned from that particular challenge is that difficult circumstances are only temporary, and tend to work themselves out.
There are a variety of quotations and poetic verses that inspire me in different ways. One of my favorites quotes is from Maya Angelou, who said, “People will forget what you say, but they will remember how you make them feel.” I value this because life often reduces us to our jobs, and we spend the majority of our time performing thankless tasks for others. I feel strongly that it is important to look for the best in others, treat people with dignity and respect, and find ways to establish meaningful human connections that will have a lasting impact on people’s lives. One of my favorite poems is Her Anxiety by Yeats, because it reminds me of the temporary nature of everything, especially the things that are closest to our hearts. We are only here for a short time, and the nature of life demands constant change. You have to go with the flow.
Through my work I have been blessed to meet many unique and talented individuals who have had a positive effect on my life. One of my mentors, Rachel Lyon, has been significantly influential in shaping my creative and professional development and guiding my career down a path toward sustainability. Rachel is an Emmy-winning filmmaker who worked for years with Ted Turner and has produced more than 60 different projects. She believed in my potential and took a chance on me while I was still a student, and taught me the nuances of documentary filmmaking, from both a creative and logistical standpoint. To this day she is still finding ways to teach me things, challenge me, and motivate me to be the best filmmaker I can be.
It is difficult to choose, but family is close to my heart, and although I have visited many beautiful places, I have found nowhere that offers the comforts of home.
I try to experiment with as many new digital media tools as I can get my hands on. I look forward to the next generation of media technology that includes digital imaging stations, ultra low-light sensors, lightweight motion stabilizers, and a variety of other devices that allow independent filmmakers like myself to work better, faster, and more efficiently.
Life. I enjoy what I do. At the present time, I am greatly invested in developing the Studio Television Program at Emerson College by working with our students to help them build the foundational skills to become leaders in their respective fields. Besides teaching, I produce a television show with WGBH, and host weekly music performances in Boston. I feel fortunate to be in a position where, if I am struck by creative inspiration for a story or movie idea, I do have the resources available – studios, cameras, lights, and crew members – to make my idea a reality. I still desire to learn, to grow as a person, and to create. I feel like the world is my sandbox.