Goodbye Solo

Co-start Joe West

Co-star Red West

Writer/director/producer Ramin Bahrani talks about the real-life cab driver, elderly man, and location that inspired “Goodbye Solo,” and the night-shift cab rides that helped him prepare for making the film.

Independent Lens: “Goodbye Solo” airs on WOSU TV on 10/22 at 1:00am.

On the lonely roads of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, two men forge an improbable friendship that will change both of their lives forever.

Solo (Souléymane Sy Savané) is a Senegalese cab driver working to provide a better life for his young family. William (Red West) is a tough, Southern good old boy with a lifetime of regrets. One man’s American dream is just beginning, while the other’s is quickly winding down. But despite their differences, both men soon realize they need each other more than either is willing to admit. Through this unlikely but unforgettable friendship, GOODBYE SOLO deftly explores the passing of a generation, as well as the rapidly changing face of America.

Winner of the Venice Film Festival’s prestigious FIPRESCI International Critics Prize and named one of the best movies of 2009 by The New York Times, GOODBYE SOLO is the latest film from internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop, Man Push Cart).

Independent Lens: Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

RB: They were nice enough to ask, and it’s a great opportunity to reach a wide, intelligent, and mature audience via such a respected, important, and long-standing American institution as public television.

IL: What impact do you hope GOODBYE SOLO will have?

Ramin Bahrani: I hope first and foremost that the audience will be engaged and that they will enjoy and be emotionally moved by the story and characters. Perhaps it may also cause one to think about the nature of friendship, of selfless love, and of the ceaseless battle between life and death, hope and despair.

IL: What led you to make this film?

RB: A real mountain called Blowing Rock, and two encounters with strangers in my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina:

A real Senegalese cab driver who is as charming, friendly, and curious as Solo in the film, and with whom I spent six months riding alongside doing the night shift in the cab.

An elderly man standing by the side of the road, totally alone, outside of an “assisted living” home that I would pass every day for months.

Blowing Rock provided me with an ending. It is a real life location along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the North Carolina Mountains that I have been visiting since childhood with my family. In October (when we filmed) it is known for its other-worldly beauty as the leaves change into an explosion of colors that burst and flash out of an enveloping and mysterious fog. Blowing Rock is also known to have a wind so powerful that it can blow a person back up into the heavens.

IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making GOODBYE SOLO?

RB: Every film is a set of neverending challenges.

IL: How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

RB: The two leading actors in the film are both professional, and it was my good fortune they accepted the invitation to be in this film as they are both exceptionally talented.

The rest of the actors are non-professionally trained and locals to Winston-Salem and each of them is a unique gem, especially Diane Franco, the young girl playing Alex, Solo’s step-daughter. None of them knew anything more about the film than the scenes they played in. They trusted me as I trusted them.

IL: Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

RB: William and Solo’s final scene is something very special. Red West, the actor who plays the role of William, has done something phenomenal and magical. West has managed to transfer his inner soul and all our own inner anxieties about the fragility of life, the hopelessness of death, and the power and transient nature of friendship into his face and eyes with only the most subtle of moves, and not even the hint of a verbal utterance. This is what a great actor can do when given respect in cinema.

IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

RB: Thankfully, the response has been very good. The film premiered in the Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the International Critic’s Prize for best film, and then it screened at Toronto Film Festival. It was released theatrically in the U.S. starting in March 2009 in more than 100 markets.

The cast has also seen the film and enjoyed it very much. It was a distinct pleasure for the non-professionally trained actors to finally know the full story of the film.

– Scott