Thursday, November 19, 2009

‘Simple’ film tackles complex condition

An article posted November 18th on
By Jonathan Bullington

Her uncle’s charge was clear: create a film that would make sense of the disease – not just for him, but for those like him who watch helplessly as a loved one suffers.

That film will be put to the test at the Skokie Theatre Sunday, Nov. 22 when local filmmaker Kamelya Alexan [pictured] premiers her short film, “One Simple Life.”

The 21-minute film tells the story of Mark, a young man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia who wrestles with the illness while trying to function in society.

The movie is largely based on the real-life story of Marcel, Alexan’s 25-year-old cousin currently undergoing treatment for schizophrenia at a clinic in California. She said her family struggled to understand what was happening to Marcel as he increasingly displayed common schizophrenic symptoms—paranoia, delusions and hallucinations—in the years before his diagnosis.

“Coming from a very small Middle Eastern culture, we don’t really understand mental illness and mental health,” Alexan said. “So people just assumed there was something either behaviorally wrong with him, or something else.”

Alexan and her partner Brian Soszynski, who plays the role of Mark and wrote the film's screenplay, spent close to a year making the movie. They were assisted by a 50-person cast and crew—mostly volunteers—and a paltry budget of $3,000—mostly from Alexan’s work as a production assistant for director Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman sequel, “The Dark Knight.” The film is one of 25 projects she’s worked on while studying film at Chicago’s Columbia College.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” she said of watching Nolan direct. “He knew exactly what style and what look he wanted. He knew exactly how to control the environment.”

Her admiration for Nolan’s assertiveness should come as no surprise given her upbringing. Born in Tehran, Iran, Alexan’s parents fled the violence of their home for America when she was 5 years old. Entranced by movies from an early age, by the time she was 15, the Niles North sophomore wrote her first script, which she pitched to a Hollywood producer while attending an Assyrian cultural convention in Los Angeles.

“My passion started out of boredom, and wanting to prove I could do something that was impossible,” she said. “I come from a culture that’s pretty much extinct, so to have a filmmaker come out and to be a woman—it’s very different. My culture doesn’t really know how to handle it.”

At Columbia, Alexan’s determination drew the attention of her peers, including Soszynski. Although the pair knew each other before Columbia, their relationship didn’t turn professional until Soszynski’s first acting role, a part in a silent film directed by Alexan for a class project.

Born and raised in Chicago, Soszynski spent his youth pursuing various creative outlets—poetry, art, music; he studied acting and directing at Columbia, but he said he prefers to act.

“I like the creative aspects of an actor,” he said.

Soszynski committed himself to learning all he could about schizophrenia before stepping into the role of Mark. He joined Alexan on a trip to visit Marcel’s clinic, where he spoke with physicians and with Marcel about the day-to-day effects of the illness.

“The more I talked with Marcel, the more I wanted to play the part and for people to see what this disease does to people,” Soszynski said.

With the film’s premier already sold out, the Skokie Theatre, 7924 N. Lincoln Ave., will host another screening of “One Simple Life” at 7 p.m. Feb. 28. Tickets can be purchased online at or at

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