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:: Spotlight :: Mystic India - Interview with director Keith Melton

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Keith Melton is an acclaimed filmmaker, particularly notable for his efforts in the large screen format.

He visited Sydney earlier this year to promote his latest IMAX film “MYSTIC INDIA”, which has just started its Melbourne season at the IMAX Theatre in Carlton. It is a massive production and I spoke to Keith about what ingredients comprised the film.

Q. I understand that the process in making Mystic India took about two years…

A. This “epic” is the result of two films we made concurrently. Originally, it was designed as a film that went into a New Delhi theatre as part of a cultural centre. That story just focused on our young boy, Neelkanth, and his journey through India. I thought it was such a good story that we could use it as a thread to tell the story of India, so we expanded it, used the boy’s story and make Mystic India.

Q. The casting for the young boy must have been a huge exercise…

A. It was far more complicated than we had hoped. Finding a 12-year-old who could become a child yogi is not an easy task. We auditioned over 400 boys all over India until we found this particular young boy who had the right presence and the talent to learn as so much in so little a time. He had to learn the philosophy and attitude of Yoga and also acclimatise himself to the Himalayas and learn some English. Above all, he had to learn the archaic language of filmmaking, since he’d never acted before. We took him on a crash course and he showed a great screen presence.

Q. Tell us about the use of 45, 000 extras?

A. BAPS is a social, spiritual group (Hindu) based in India. This film could not have been done without them. The large format film budgets are nothing like a Hollywood budget. It’s pretty tight, and to try and organise a period film with thousands of extras was literally impossible without the help of this organisation. They brought out their constituents who came of their own free will. We were then able to capture scenes featuring up to 20,000 people. It was unbelievable.

Q. This format is a method, or an opportunity, of capturing the people and geography of a massive country in its fullest…

A. Yes, you’re exactly right. This is such as unique medium, where you really feel like a part of the image. This is not your home theatre. It’s like being transported into that country – the special power of the large format screen. It’s a great way to learn about India, probably more so for adults. It will be interesting and surprising at some of the things they learn.

Q. What did it mean to you personally, as somebody who hadn’t been to India before?

A. Personally, India is a country that I’ve always wanted to visit. I knew very little about it so I had my own crash course of learning. It was amazing, far more diverse than I expected in terms of geography and the people. I was so impressed by how all these different cultures live together. In Los Angeles we tend not to see or hear about homeless people or those not well off. They tend to hide from the spotlight. In India there is a huge collision of modern day rich and poor, adjacent to each other. The rich colours and textures add to the fascination.

Q. When did you complete shooting the two films that comprise Mystic India?

A. We finished about eighteen months ago and did both films. Now, it’s playing around the world, in Singapore, France, USA, UK, and others. We had a great premiere in London that Prince Charles and Camilla attended, and it won an award in France.

Q. Is the large screen format your favourite?

A. Yes, it is my favourite. It’s a slightly different language than a traditional 35mm or video shoot, and I am always curious to see what we can do with the technology in that means. I’m still fascinated by what we can do on the large screen.

Q. You had the services of Peter O’Toole in narrating the film. Tell us about working with him?

A. He is such a great storyteller that he really helps transport you into the film. We were very fortunate to be able to get his services.

Q. What are the main points of the film that viewers should look out for?

A. The main theme of the film is unity and diversity. All these cultures can exist together. This is a good theme for people to appreciate – one sixth of the world’s population living in a certain way and it’s important to appreciate it.

Q. What is your next project?

A. I’m going to Cairo and Morocco, scouting for the next large format film. I can’t tell you more than that for now.

'Mystic India' is screening exclusively at IMAX Theatre, Melbourne Museum, Carlton.