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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: Lilian Mehrel’s Film “Water Melts” Debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival

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2013 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Lilian Mehrel’s newest immersive film Water Melts is a blue-hearted romantic comedy about loss and love. Lilian, who was born to a Kurdish-Iranian mother and a German-Hungarian-Jewish father, is from Miami and attended Dartmouth College and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Film.

Lilian, who is a writer and director, created Water Melts with Mary Evangelista, and it was produced by Tingerine Liu and supported by the Tribeca Film Institute & Google's Immersive Lab/YouTube VR.

We asked Lilian about what inspired the film and how she went about making it.

Your film, Water Melts, is a romantic comedy about people who will lose someone they love. What inspired this topic for you? How did you decide to take on sadness with the rom-com genre?

Rom-coms get an unfairly bad rap, but romance plus comedy equals love and laughter; two of the most profound human experiences. In terms of most profound experiences, loss also comes to mind. I wish I didn't know what anticipatory grief—or now grief—for someone I love more than anything feels like—but if I can make others feel seen in their emotional reality, I want to. I believe in all kinds of representation in film—including emotional.

Have you ever been afraid of losing a loved one? Have you had to face that reality? Do you wish people who looked and felt like you were represented more on screen? Do you like blue-hearted rom-coms? Then Water Melts is for you.

When and where did this project begin?

My friend Mary Evangelista, who is also a filmmaker, was going through a similar situation with a loved one whose life was under dire threat. We came together and realized the story we had to create: a story that didn't exist yet. A story about the struggle to enjoy the moment with your loved one when you have been told you will lose them. It's almost impossible to be light under urgent dark clouds, but we knew what it felt like to live for the smallest of golden moments. And how the most absurd comedic moments burst forth from these tightly wound circumstances. And how it's about love.

Our pitch won the support of the Tribeca Film Institute and Google/YouTube VR's Immersive Lab, focused on elements of nature. We were inspired by the transformational quality of water, and overlaid moments of hand-painted animation illustrating watery subtext and mythic hints of a Persephone-like Filipino Goddess of the Sea and the Underworld.

After the August lab and late September shoot, we worked with Emmy-award-winning animator Maya Edelman (Broad City) on the animations, placed them over the live-action (with Koncept VR), did sound design (by Chapter Four), and color (by Company3), music with award-winning composer Ariel Marx, and just finished the final touches before our world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

One of the most challenging parts of any creative or entrepreneurial venture is the long-term thinking and dreaming that's required. How do you stay focused? Do you have any secret tips, favorite podcasts, or motivational playlists you're using to stay organized that the rest of us could use?

My father, who was already a doctor in Europe but had to take the boards all over again in the United States, told me the most productive time in his life was when he was working in molecular biology and skin cancer research as a Fogarty Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, while studying for his medical exams, while sorting out visa issues, while working towards his residency in dermatology at NYU, all while taking care of and playing with his first baby (me) when he would come home from work.

He set the bar so high. So, my secret is to ask myself, "What would my dad do?" The answer is, try your best. Do ten things at once. And somehow, always, spend time with the people you love.

Having a film premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival is a career-defining moment. How do you plan to celebrate?

Thank you so much. My idea of celebrating is to soak in the moments during the festival, with gratitude for the platform to share my stories with others, and with enjoyment to connect with audiences who might be inspired to share their impressions and stories with me.