Interview with local filmmaker Vijay Rajan

Journey Through Fire

Vijay Rajan is co-owner and Chief Creative Office of Siren Song Productions, a media services company and original film studio based in San Jose.  Having journeyed all the way from Virudhunagar, India to become a graduate of Santa Teresa High School and San Jose State University, he is now also well known throughout our own Cinequest Film Festival as an accomplished director of short films.  He is now in the process of filming a very important full length documentary, Journey Through Fire.  Journey Through Fire is a brutally honest and intimate documentary about a young woman who was raped by her brother and his friends throughout her childhood. It is not about what happened to her; it is about who she is now. This harrowing film promises to be unlike anything you have ever seen before – and hopes to inspire support and understanding for those who have endured the unthinkable.  I spoke with Vijay last week about the making of this documentary and how the community can help.  What came out of that is the following long interview which I just can’t see a reason to edit down.  It’s an important film, and I think Vijay gets his message across in this interview.

1. You have chosen a difficult subject with JOURNEY THROUGH FIRE.  Explain to our readers a little more about this documentary.

Sometimes in life you are given the chance to participate in something life-changing. That was the choice presented to me almost a year ago when I discovered that a good friend of mine had been raped by her brother and his friends for several years during her childhood. I was fascinated by her psychology, by the way she saw the world – how much of that was influenced by what she’d been through? And how was she able to rationalize acts of violence committed against her in adulthood? How was she able to still be compassionate?

These are difficult topics and not something that most people want to face. I never felt as if I had a choice. I turned on a camera – and that was the beginnings of the documentary Journey Through Fire.

To be honest, though, I had no idea how difficult a process this would be, not only emotionally for myself, but interpersonally, conceptually, artistically, and in recognizing the large amount of discomfort and apathy that exists towards such a brutal and harrowing topic.

If a survivor of the unthinkable can face these things, however, why not a filmmaker? Why not an audience? And aren’t the most inspiring movies the most harrowing, anyway?

2. Where did you meet the subject of this film and how did you come up with the concept?

For the sake of her safety, I’m not going to answer the first part of the question. She’s already been very courageous in coming forward and speaking her story and to give the details of how I met her just puts her out there further than we’d like.

But I will say this. When I first met the subject – and others have echoed this sentiment – what they are most floored by is her vitality. She is always laughing, she is bouncy, energetic, enthusiastic, and happy. I honestly was quite attracted to all of those qualities. She’s got this light in her eyes that’s really quite something.

When you think of a survivor of something like this, you think of someone who’s in a sense destroyed by it. Alcoholism, drug dependencies, at the very least depression. Not being able to hold down a job. She is none of these things. For her, what happened to her was a normal childhood. She shrugs it off. And that’s what so insidious about what was done. Its effects aren’t obvious. You have to look deep, dig deep, and then you begin to see the huge psychological effects. This is after all the woman who was walking down the street with me, stopped under a street-lamp, and innocently, heart-breakingly, asked, “Is it molestation if it happens only once?”

But for a filmmaker, that was the challenge, perhaps even the attraction. Can a film see deep inside a person’s mind? Can we really see and understand the depths of a person in a documentary? Look not just into what she’s saying but who she is?

And that’s just her story. What happened to her and how it happened and the effects of it continuing to her life now and the effects it has on those that love her — this is such an intricate story. When I began filming this documentary, I could not have predicted the twists and turns this year has taken. I knew it would be complex, but my God… I feel like it’s been much longer than a year. Living in this world, thinking these thoughts, has been a gauntlet.

Yet the constant through it all has been her. What makes this documentary unique is that I love the subject. I really do. She has been one of my closest friends. And seeing her fortitude and her exuberance, the excitement that she feels when she watches Phantom of the Opera, or gets scared of glass elevators, or talks about Tom Hiddleston as an actor, these “normal” things, these things that are her, they’re the light. I’m smiling as I say this because I just referred to her ridiculously irrational fear of glass elevators as “normal.” But that’s her. That’s my friend.

Journey Through Fire

3. Besides financing, what has been the biggest obstacle/problem in making this film?

Getting people to deal with the subject. It’s discomforting. It’s tragic. It’s depressing. But you have to wade through all of that to get to the light. This is an ultimately inspiring story – if for nothing else than it has inspired a movement, small as it is now, but growing every day. I get responses from people every week speaking about how the teaser trailer (now available at JourneyThroughFire.com) has moved them. Yes, there have been those who have said, “I wouldn’t watch the movie. It’d be too hard.” But I’ve also heard from those who want to commit, who want to champion, who want to stand up. i:Scintilla, the popular independent Chicago-based band that is scoring all of the music – all for free unless we get distribution, by the way – they’re champions. I admire them so much. I’ve had other survivors speak to me, share with me, open up to me.

When you let something sit in the dark, you actually become a part of the perpetuation of it. Getting people to deal with this subject has been difficult, but I feel that if you come through it, you don’t feel demotivated or depressed, you feel inspired. You have to know the people, the survivors and the supporters. There’s no way these people could leave you depressed. Choosing to look has its rewards.

And that goes for me too. I would be lying if I said I jumped out of bed every day energized to work on Journey Through Fire. This is draining material some days, especially when it’s about someone you love, its impact on you, the apathy of the world, and the evil that can exist inside of it. But looking back, I don’t really remember those days. I remember instead the ones where she and I conducted a heartbreaking

interview and then ended the night watching an episode of Game of Thrones laughing at Tyrion Lannister’s dialogue. I remember a professor from my old film school, someone I’ve known and admired for years, telling me on Facebook, of all places, that she too is a survivor and she believes in being open about these things, and then the kind words she said about the movie we were making. I remember Kurt Kuenne, director of the phenomenal Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, signing on to mentor me on the production of this film, because he was so moved by the subject’s spirit. These are people. Extraordinary people. How could the experience of knowing them be negative?

[Read more and find out how to help]

4. You have been involved in several short films. Why the move to full-length feature and documentary? What has been your favorite project and why?

I never told short stories or short films because I wanted to make short films. I just felt that for the movies we made previously, the short film format was the proper one. Given the complexity and the intricacy of this film, though, there’s no question it’s a feature. It couldn’t be accomplished as a short. What has been my favorite project so far? This one. I think for me it will always be “this one.” I hope so, anyway. If I’m not slowly getting better as a filmmaker, reaching out more ambitiously with each one, taking on more each time, then what’s the point? But Journey Through Fire is going to be hard to beat. I’m quite proud of it. I know what it took and what it’s taking for me to make it. I know what it’s taking from my crew, from our supporters, from the community. At some point, everyone has to draw the line, decide whether to react or act. My previous films have been a reaction to society. I think this one might be both a reaction and an action. That’s new. I like it.

5. How does your family feel about your profession and what do you see for yourself in the future?

Ah, Cynthia, your questions always cut to the hidden part of the story. My parents and I have been warring over film for almost a decade now. It has not been an easy road to get them to accept that this is what I am and no matter what, this is what I will do.

But you know what? I think they’re finally coming to terms with it. On Journey Through Fire, I couldn’t have gotten this far without them. This is the first film where they actually know what I’m making. This is unprecedented for me. It’s quite moving, actually. I think my mom might even be proud of it. My family’s undergone our own trials these past few years, with my sister, with the psychological havoc that was wreaked upon her during her marriage. I wonder if that’s why my parents see the value in this.

Either way, some things don’t need to be questioned. I am grateful for them and all that they are doing for me.

As for what do I see for myself in the future, I’ll be a filmmaker then, too. That’s the only thing I know with certainty and it’s really all I need to know.

6. You have just received nonprofit sponsorship by Moving Train. Explain to our readers what that means, how it affects the future of the project, and how they can help.

Another great example of the support we’ve received. Moving Train is a nonprofit organization whose entire mission is to help documentaries they deem worthwhile get funding, distribution, and mentorship. It is run by two documentary filmmakers I have long admired, Don Hardy and Dana Nachman; they made some great films called Witch Hunt and Love Hate Love, both executive produced by Sean Penn. They’re hard at work on another one. Now Moving Train is giving Journey Through Fire nonprofit sponsorship.

Not only does this mean I’ve got two incredible documentary filmmakers mentoring me on the production, it means that all investments and donations we receive through them are tax-deductible. This will really help us with the fund-raising part of this. So anyone out there, if you want to be a part of the Journey Through Fire movement, please support us by donating whatever you can. It’ll really help us not only in finishing production on this film but getting it out there and seen and discussed. You can donate at www.movingtrain.org/sponsored-projects/. Just make sure you write Journey Through Fire in the Special Instructions of your donation.

Journey Through Fire

7. How does the movie end? Where is the message of hope?

Currently, my company – Siren Song Creations – is organizing a major event called Journey Through Fire Together that will be filmed and will be in the film. It’s an arts event that will take place in San Jose, CA. We’re asking artists to create original work that will speak about their support of or survival from tragedies and issues such as this. It’ll be a public event, we’ll bring our documentary subject out to it, we’ll show survivors they’re not alone – all through art. We’ll also be screening selected test clips and scenes from the film to that audience. We want our subject to see the community of support that the documentary has been and will be engendering.

This event is a real chance for us to show that regardless of our own personal backgrounds, the severity of these issues means that we all have to journey through fire together in order to achieve any kind of hope. We have a call to artists out now. If you’re an artist – any kind – and want to be a part of this, please contact us at filmmakers@journeythroughfire.com. Let’s make this happen.

The hope in the film does come from our subject. Healing is not an easy process – and though she will be dealing with the aftermath for the rest of her life, I know that she’s extraordinary and will get anywhere she wants to go. But the ultimate hope shouldn’t come only from her; it comes from the rest of us. Where do we stand? What do we support?

I’m reaching out right now to everyone who may read this. There are so many ways for you to become involved. We are all affected. If you haven’t personally been abused, I guarantee that you know those that have, that you might love someone who has, that you will need to deal with the effects of abuse at some point. If you can, donate to the film. We’ll have an Indiegogo up later this week as well, or donate through Moving Train. If you are an artist, be a part of the event. Or just show up to the event. Join the discussion on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Share the film to your friends. When we complete and start screening, watch the film. There are so many ways to get involved.

That’s the message. That’s the hope.

1 Comment so far

  1. Jim Lerman (unregistered) on August 14th, 2012 @ 8:26 am

    Great article! This movie definitely sounds like something
    important and necessary. Plus the director is local — I met him
    once at Cinequest — and definitely an incredibly open and engaging
    personality. I’ll definetely check out all his stuff!



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