Filmmaker Spotlight: Manish Dayal

Filmmaker Spotlight: Manish Dayal

The X1 Asian American Film & TV destination will feature “Fifteen Years Later,” directed by Manish Dayal. You can find the film in the Lunar New Year collection this February. We had the chance to ask Manish about his filmmaking journey, and how his experiences as an Indian-American in a post-9/11 America influenced his film.

Image Credit: “Fifteen Years Later” Film

Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month!

Manish Dayal: “Fifteen Years Later” is a story based on real events. Sam and Jason are two young men who absorbed the psychological effects of post-9/11 America in ways they don’t fully understand. Their tragedies ultimately align during a police traffic stop fifteen years later on the heels of the 2016 presidential election.

Fifteen Years Later” explores the lived realities of those impacted by bias and violence in a post-9/11 era. Racially motivated crime against people of South Asian, Sikh, Arab and Muslim descent has grown to disturbing numbers – a resurgence emboldened by the Trump presidency. Events like the one portrayed in “Fifteen Years Later” are not isolated. They affect lives and deteriorate communities every day and we made this film to convey and confront an issue that is largely ignored and unreported.

How did you get into filmmaking?

MD: To me, film is the ultimate storytelling tool. It's a big passion of mine. It's a medium that can illustrate new ideas and places in an instant. That was super exciting to me as a kid. I started filming everything I could on my dad's camcorder.

Making this film was not just a longstanding goal, but an urgent call to action. I believe our job as artists is to guide our communities and our loved ones to understand what's happening in our world. I wanted to craft a story from start to finish. This one, in particular spoke to me in a very personal way. The story is based on real events and talks about bias and violence in post-9/11 America.

We don't often see Asians in leading roles and stories about immigrants lack real insight because they're narrated by non-immigrants. Filmmaking can help us transcend old ideas and influence media so we change the way the world sees us. That's why stories and characters are so profound to me - we imagine the world by seeing each other's experiences. How we see our own culture is perhaps a result of what we watch. So it's filmmaking is our chance to change outdated portrays - to tell our own stories that move our culture forward. In the real world, we are not just simply hovering in the background. So we must do it because any vision of our world and our heroes seen through a narrow lens can misshape younger generations' vision of themselves.

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

MD: For many of us 9/11 changed everything. Many of us had to surrender to random stops and searches. Everyone was losing hold of their identity, their connection to what made them American. It was a dangerous time with real consequences. I am Indian and I am American. There is a moment in the film when Jason asks Samir, "where are you from?" We get this question all the time - one we're almost trained for. There are two ways to answer - the way that preserves your dignity, and the way that gives them what they want. I'm from here. Our Asian heritage spans wide and it cannot be defined so simply. So that's how it influences the work. The purpose to create so many interpretations of what Asian heritage means so there isn't just only one way to imagine it…since that is what the real world actually looks like.

Image Credit: Manish Dayal

What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?

MD: I am inspired by it. There is a shift happening too and now is our chance to escape limited and often inaccurate portrayals minted in the stone age. We all know that diversity is not peppering the side lines with people of color to give the appearance of equality. Diversity about the life of our characters and what they're doing to influence the story. And that is what we're here to do. As Asians we need to bust through years of conditioning and be in control of our own image. To tell stories that spotlight and represent us. When we were growing up, people of color often didn't see characters who looked like us in films and TV, = and neither did our families, even though a big part of narrative engagement is imagining yourself in the protagonist's shoes. We still have a long way to go. If the state of Asian American cinema is going to change in Hollywood, we need more minority heroes and their perspectives. I believe it'll keep coming especially as we see more Asian writers, actors, creators, directors, etc.

What’s next for you?

MD: Currently I’m shooting “The Resident” on FOX.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.