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Faces of Tribeca Film: Josh Appignanesi

The director of the identity comedy The Infidel talks features vs. stand-up and why NY audiences need to laugh. See it at Tribeca Cinemas and at home via Tribeca Film On Demand.

The Infidel at Tribeca Cinemas May 5-11. Not in NYC? Watch it On Demand!


Josh Appignanesi Tell us a little about The Infidel.
Josh Appignanesi: The Infidel is a comedy about a Muslim who discovers he's adopted, that his birth name is Solly Shimshillewitz, and that he's born a Jew. What inspired you to tell this story?
JA: It came from an idea by screenwriter David Baddiel, a high concept body-swap idea like the ones we'd grown up with—in Big or Trading Places—but also informed by our backgrounds. I think the comedy led, with the politics coming in the backdoor rather than upfront. What do you want audiences to take away from the story?
JA: I don't think messages work if they're in the form of messages. The medium is the message: comedy. If you're laughing at stereotypes, at prejudices, at things that seemed frightening but now seem merely ridiculous, then that is what I'd like people to take away—a sense that we're ready to defuse our most entrenched fears directly. What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened while making the film?
JA: Everything about this film was crazy. One amusing thing is people kept coming out as having discovered they were Jewish—or indeed something quite else—halfway through their lives. Friends, managers, camerapeople—it's less far-fetched than you'd imagine.
Infidel What’s the biggest thing you learned while making The Infidel? Was it new for you to do a comedy?
JA: I learned a lot about comedy, certainly. I'd made a few comedy shorts, but a feature is different. The approach to performance in a narrative comedy is very different from sketch comedy—and from what's expected from stand-ups normally. It's not about getting a laugh instantly from the on-set audience; you have to subjugate that urge, because what makes people laugh then and there tends to ruin the reality of the narrative. In a feature, it's the reality of the characters’ situation that's funny, rather than something specifically funny that the actor does. You have to tread a careful line maintaining some sense of that reality, even if it's a cartoonier one than in a drama. What's your advice for aspiring filmmakers?
JA: Get a law degree or a plumbing diploma and do something useful and rewarding with your lives instead of selling yourself to show business. It's too late for me—save yourselves. How are New York audiences responding?


JA: We've shown The Infidel to a few New York audiences, and they've embraced the film perhaps even more enthusiastically than in the UK. Perhaps they're just less repressed! But I also think there's a  tradition of comedy that the film taps into—indie, screwball, American farce, Jewish-American humour, call it what you will—so it's gratifying to see that play. And I think New York knows more about the anxiety as well as the comedy that comes from cultures clashing than any other city.
Infidel If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?
JA: Oh, maybe, Fritz Lang? He might be fun.  Makes sense to pick dead ones—I still have a shot with the living. What piece of art (book/film/music/tv show/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?
JA: War And Peace—the Russian 9-hour version by Sergei Bondarchuk. The greatest film ever made, possibly. And a novel called A Heart So White by Javier Marias. Immaculate, chilling. Neither are particularly funny, sorry. What makes The Infidel a Tribeca Film must-see?
JA: I do think The Infidel is a very Tribeca film—it's a real city film, a film about cosmopolitan life, cultures mingling and laughing at each other and getting to know their similarities better that way. And that's something you get a lot of in New York. And perhaps in some small way it relates to Tribeca's attempt to heal New York—sometimes people laughing together is the best way to do that.


See The Infidel at Tribeca Cinemas May 5-11. Not in NYC? Watch it On Demand!




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