Rising Star Dastan Khalili of Alliance of Light Films On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Entertainment Industry
There is nothing that is out of reach — if you really want it, you will find away.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dastan Khalili, Alliance of Light Films.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Dastan Khalili moved permanently to the United States at age 9. He began his filmmaking career in 1995 after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from the Pomona University Theater Academy. The award-winning director’s first feature Insomnia Manica garnered best feature and best director at the NYC Independent Film Festival (NYCIFF) in 2005, and his documentary Earth Turns To Gold won best documentary feature and best documentary director at NYCIFF 2010. In 2011, he was awarded best environmental documentary director the New York Film Festival for his film Making Of A Dream. Gravitas Ventures has acquired the exclusive North American rights to his latest feature, the action drama titled The Way. Khalili has a wide range of directing experience including features, documentaries, educational films, music videos, and theatre. He is a member of the Director’s Guild of America.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Both of my parents were extremely successful in the architectural space. As a child, I grew up between the United States and Iran. My mother was American, my father Iranian. Then there was the revolution and the war and I moved to the United States permanently. I was always surrounded by creativity and the drive to make original works. My parents inspired me deeply.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was originally meant to be an architect, as I was raised in that space by my parents. However, that particular line of work didn’t take. I was very restless in the halcyon days and needed something to engage all of my faculties. I fell into the theater and fell in love and I knew that space is where I would thrive most. Ultimately, it led to the art of filmmaking which I love. It is my passion.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Being a theater dog, I practically fell in love with acting initially, being on stage and being in front of camera. However, when I got into the entertainment industry, film and television parts were rare and few. One of my many day jobs was working for a product placement company. For many years all I did was read greenlit scripts from all the studios. That combined with a passion for studying literature ignited me. So, I decided I would write a feature film and star in it, giving myself a lead role, as they were not coming down the pipeline. I successfully made my first film Insomnia Manica, won a number of festivals and sold the project, getting worldwide distribution. I knew then that anything was possible and here I am today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes I made was when I lost the day during one of the productions I was in, meaning that I was so exhausted that when I went to sleep and woke up, I thought it was the following day, Friday instead of Thursday, and I was late to the shoot. I rushed into my car and to the location and, lo and behold, nobody was there. Once I realized what it happened and shared it with my producers, everyone laughed. I immediately went home and went back to sleep. I’ll never forget that moment. It taught me that all things come together in time and that productions become a living thing and, in the end, it all comes together.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
With the completion of The Way and getting distribution for the film with Gravitas Ventures, I am currently on the second draft of my next project. I am very excited about doing this new film, as the screenplay came through me in a matter of a couple of months. It’s already a living thing and wanting to express, I look forward to making this movie. I’m very curious about all the people who will emerge working on this project with me.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is a key component in all of my filmmaking. I myself grew up in a very international family. The connection with different cultures, ways of living, systems, societies and ways of thought enlighten us and expand our horizons. It is super important to have this integrated in the film space because it shows both the unity and the complexity of our world and planet. The beauty of this is that we see so many commonalities in all cultures, realms and ways of thought, that it brings us together, and also a great variety, which is the spice of life. It is a true mirror on the world, reflecting how much more alike we all are instead of different.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
I have six!
-Living a full life with many experiences will make your art better and your work deeper.
-Your work and everything you do in your life are combined, they are not separate.
-There is nothing that is out of reach — if you really want it, you will find away.
-Have a great time while you do what you do and don’t lose sight of how much fun it is. — Make your own stuff and don’t wait for anybody to give it to you.
- Let go of what success is supposed to look like, so you will be free to experience it when it comes.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take trips, take your time, enjoy the little things in life, and remember you can make films from anywhere in the world.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I actually run a nonprofit as well named CalEarth — The California Institute of Earth, art and architecture. Our work is to empower individuals to recognize that they can build their own home from natural materials and work in harmony with nature. We have been doing this for almost 30 years and it is now a global phenomenon. I will continue to share this work so that everyone remembers that everything you need is already here. When you see what is in front of you with clarity, you connect to the resources and the beauty that nature and the planet offer — the possibilities are infinite.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
So many people have helped me in so many ways, both living and dead. Truly a life lived with the support of others is a life well lived. As the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. That is so true. Of course, my parents — my father and my mother and the way they lived their lives, what they accomplished and their ultimate and total belief in me. The lesson that nothing is impossible and all things can be achieved was a profound gift. I wish that for everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You are it.” This is what I’ve come to understand through all of my experiences. There’s no need to look outside for something, as everything you seek is already within you. Dive deep, look in, sense and observe. This is my experience and this is how I live my life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
There are many that come to mind, but for this, I love Ridley Scott’s work. I would love to sit down and talk to him about his experiences and glean from his insights. He is a great artist.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dastan.khalili and Instagram @dastankhalili or via my production company Alliance of Light @allianceoflightfilm
Thank you for your time I appreciate it greatly.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!