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Film Festival: <i>Hank and Asha</i>
A true 21st century romance
Mahira Kakkar is Asha

Thoroughly charming and supremely enjoyable, Hank and Asha is a cinematic romance for the modern era: A young man (Andrew Pastides) and a young woman (Mahira Kakkar), living on opposite sides of the world, send each other creative video letters.

And there's your plot.

No Skyping, no instant messaging, no texting. Hank's an aspiring filmmaker in New York City, Asha is a film student studying in Prague; their friendship — and possibly more (we're not telling) — is kindled when she e-mails him a fairly simple video fan letter.

Writer/director James E. Duff and writer/editor Julia Morrison will accompany Hank and Asha to the Savannah Film Festival (it screens Oct. 27 and 31, at 9:30 and 10 a.m. respectively).

It's already won Audience Favorite at Slamdance, Best Cinematography at Woods Hole, Best Feature at Portland. Among others.

Small, intimate and quite wonderful, Hank and Asha is a perfect example of why we will always need indie films: A major studio, with major bucks, would have made a major hash out of it.

How did you guys get the idea for this film?

James E. Duff: Julia and I were teaching at a film school in Prague ... and we were thinking about a time in our lives where, instead of Skyping or Facebook or whatever, you would write letters to people. Imagine that! You take time to write the letter, you put a lot of thought into it, and the person you're sending it to has a lot of anticipation. In a sense, you make that person who you want them to be. So it's a way of making this intimate, very intense connection.

And so we thought of a story where, instead of letters, we would update it to 2013 — what if the scenario was through video? But more of a nostalgic look at it, rather than fast-paced, texting ... actually two people who take time to share themselves with each other, and kind of make themselves vulnerable.

I loved the fact that they were both filmmakers, in a sense, and they went to some lengths to set up the shots for their video letters, making sure each one was different. So as a viewer, I also got to anticipating the next one.

James E. Duff: Well, thank you for saying that, because that was very carefully thought out. At first, hers are much more carefully framed, composed, and his are a little bit rough. But then as the story goes, he puts more thought into it and so forth. At first, she's trying to impress him a little bit, because he could be a mentor.

Her scenes are very warm, they're very red, very colorful. And his are kind of monochromatic. Our cinematographer Bianca Butti is absolutely fabulous. Basically, she was holding the camera the entire time, and the actor would put his or her hand under Bianca's hand (pretending they were switching off the video camera). So it was kind of like a little dance we were doing.

There's a surprising amount of location backgrounds on the video letters. Where did you shoot them?

James E. Duff: We were living in Prague, where Asha lives, so our big expense was to fly Mahira and Bianca out. We shot her for 10 days. We knew what we wanted each letter to be, but the dialogue was not thoroughly scripted. The ideas were there, and the objectives. You know when you write a letter, you're trying to get the other person to feel a certain way, and you put your emotion behind it.

So we'd work with Mahira on that, and she would use her creative imagination. We would do each letter — each scene — probably eight or nine times. Each time a different way, to give us options and to make everything work. And also, we wanted to make it feel really spontaneous and not rehearsed. And so it was up to the actors, and they were just brilliant. Mahira had nothing to play off of. Then when we went to New York, we did show Andrew a couple of her clips, but not very many of them.

Before we decided to make this movie, Julia and I decided to try to do it ourselves, to send video messages to each other. And, talk about embarrassing! They were so bad, and we both looked so self-conscious ... those two actors make it look easy. And it's so not easy, because they're playing off a camera.

What happens now with the film?

James E. Duff: We've been very fortunate. We've played seven festivals, and we've actually won seven awards. Which has been absolutely fantastic. We're making our international premiere at the Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece in November. We were really surprised and honored to get in there, because they take only a couple of American indies.

So we've rented our place in New York out. It's really important to be out there with the film, to promote it. Because as you know, with indie films it's hard to get things watched and accumulate an audience. We're looking at March, April to do the theatrical, and shortly thereafter it'll come out on the digital platforms.