Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Filmmaker Simona Atias has heart

Simona Attias
(Note: this is an expanded version of my October 5, 2011 Suburban Newspaper column)

Growing up in Côte Saint-Luc, Simona Atias always loved to write. It was something which inspired her at Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools, Bialik High School, Dawson College and ultimately  Concordia University. There she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature and Professional Writing.

Deep down, Atias knew that working in film was her true calling. Five years ago, at the age of 24, her life took a frightening turn. A heart condition she had been living with for years required fixing. It was either a risky and complicated surgery or a heart transplant. She chose the former and when she walked out of the hospital feeling better than ever she realized there was no more time for her to waste. Three months after the hospital stay she packed her belongings and headed for UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles).

“It was a risky move given the fact I was not even fully insured,” said Atias. “But I just had to go. There was a reason why that surgery worked. I had this calling to learn about filmmaking and I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by.”

Atias did indeed enroll at UCLA, where she studied film production and screenwriting. While there she started to get phone calls from people who had heard about her talents, offering to pay her to review their scripts. This would ultimately be the catalyst for a company she runs now called Script Simantics.

 Rather than settling in Montreal, Attias  moved to Vancouver where she began making some connections. She snagged a role as first assistant director for a feature film, which ended up on the cutting room floor, but gained valuable experience. It was recommended that she start interning with different productions, something she pursued with enthusiasm. Then last April, her big break came. The producer for a short film called Afternoon Tea was seeking a co-producer and production manager. “I had two weeks warning to put the whole thing together,” she recalls.

Afternoon Tea follows an Indian grandfather, who has no family left and lives alone secluded from society. Unbeknownst to him, his life will change when a seemingly lost boy comes to his home asking to use his phone. He is unaware that this boy is not who he appears to be and holds a secret that will change him forever. The film was shot in only two days, completed and given the ultimate compliment by being accepted to the Toronto International Film Festival where it was shown twice. Atias walked the red carpet. “It got good reviews,” she said. “Most viewers remarked that it was one of the few short films there that had a plot.”

Atias stopped in Montreal to visit friends and family last week before returning to Vancouver where she has a number of short film projects scheduled. However, she gets a little emotional when  alking about the movie she really wants to make  - a kind of self portrait about how she survived her heart scare and the brave young man who helped get her through it.

“When I entered the hospital there was a man named Nicola Sidorenko,  just a bit younger than I, who had gone through a heart transplant procedure,” she says. “We became friends immediately. He came to visit me each day and really helped get me through this terrible period in my life. Last year he died. It turned out that he had been given a faulty heart.  I had already started to write my story for film several years ago. I am still heartbroken over Nic’s passing and I am working on a rewrite to include his story as well.  I will work on raising some funds for this project and making it a reality.”

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