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Pulling back the curtain on cell phone cinema

Talking to director-producer Vineesha Arora-Sarin about her new debut feature 'Between Mountains.'

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Los Angeles: Director, writer, and producer, Vineesha Arora-Sarin mixed together unusual but effective ingredients combining a family vacation, an epiphany, her iPhone, and adding a generous portion of talent to produce her debut feature "Between Mountains," a visually whimsical but sobering thematic drama about loss, guilt, and mental health.

Arora-Sarin grew up in New York balancing her western upbringing with her cultural Indian roots. She traveled to India post-college to reevaluate her life and reconnect with family and ended up enrolling in a drama class. It was there she was set up on a blind date with her future husband, a young, talented drama student and future Bollywood star, Amit Sarin. In 2003, Arora-Sarin made her acting debut in the film "Supari" just as Sarin began landing television roles. It turned out to be a pivotal year as she later traveled to New York where she met her idol, Al Pacino after his Broadway show. Her meeting with Pacino added clarity and inspired a shift in focus to pursue writing. Upon her return to India, Arora-Sarin began honing her skills in writing, as well as acting. In 2009, she started a production company along with her husband producing short films and media advertising, as well as organising Bollywood events.

In 2018, after lining up projects in Los Angeles, Arora-Sarin and Sarin decided to make the leap from Bollywood to Hollywood. Early in 2020, just as their creative ventures were moving forward, the Covid-19 virus began its deadly march shutting down productions in Bollywood, Hollywood, and around the world.

“My main mantra of life is to keep moving forward, keep creating, keep inspired. My mantra became my savior during this time. I kept an open mind and kept thinking about how do we turn this around into something positive,” Arora-Sarin stated.

With the Covid-19 pandemic raging, their projects side-lined, and with their two children off from school, the couple decided to take a family road trip through the natural beauty and tranquility of national parks from California to Colorado and through Utah. A close family friend and Sarin’s onetime co-star Sushant Singh Rajput had committed suicide earlier that month and his sudden and tragic death was weighing heavy on them. Early one morning while on the trip, Arora-Sarin woke up with an epiphany, an idea about the effects experienced by people from a sudden loss and the mystic power of nature to heal.

She brought out her iPhone and with no script in hand, started to shoot with her basic concept and the surrounding nature serving as her inspirations. With "Between Mountains," Arora-Sarin became the first female director, writer, and producer to make a film entirely on an iPhone.

“I had an iPhone in my pocket and I thought to myself, ‘What’s stopping me?’ That’s the beauty and convenience of cell phone cinema. You just need a little knowledge in terms of how to take your shot and you need a compelling story,” Arora-Sarin said.

"Between Mountains" stars Arora-Sarin’s husband, Amit Sarin, and tells the story of a recently widowed father who reaches his breaking point after also losing his young son to an untimely sudden death. Overcome with sadness he sets out on the road with the intent of ending his life.

His journey takes audiences on a progressive journey of self-discovery, enlightenment, and acceptance. The film features a haunting soundtrack, written and performed by Nashville musician Scott Turek, which helped create the mood of the film.

Arora-Sarin’s advice to aspiring filmmakers: “If you have a burning desire and passion to tell a story, you don’t need to wait. Find a way to tell that story,” she stated.

"Between Mountains" wooed the audience at its world premiere in Los Angeles in August with its raw story and visual beauty. In addition, attendees were later astounded to learn the film was shot entirely on an iPhone. It won Best Narrative Feature with Amit Sarin taking home the Best Actor prize at the AFI Karl Bardosh Cell Phone Cinema Humanitarian Awards which take place during the Cannes Film Festival. In addition, the song, World on Fire featured in the film was released in a separate music video and won the Best Music Video award.

With her innovative work in "Between Mountains," Arora-Sarin is inspiring a new way of thinking and approach to filmmaking. The use of cell phone technology expands possibilities to creative filmmakers for their stories to be told. She is set to start work on her second feature, Deathbed, to be shot on an iPhone, as well. In addition, Arora-Sarin is working on a crime drama web series "End of Karma" and along with her husband, Sarin is producing "Tiger Heart," an anti-poaching feature on tigers.

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