Run N Gun 2021: Vancouver director Panta Mosleh's thriller "Breakthrough" takes a surprising detour

It's one of the finalists in a 48-hour filmmaking competition—and the winner will be announced tonight

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      Vancouver filmmaker and producer Panta Mosleh decided to create a movie in 48 hours for a simple reason: she wanted to add a thriller to her directing reel.

      The Run N Gun 2021 48-hour competition was accepting submissions earlier this year.

      So Mosleh and some of her long-time collaborators, including cinematographer Jay Kamal, decided to go for it.

      They created a short film, "Breakthrough", which opens with a harrowing scene augmented by sinister music, sharp editing, and close-ups that convey the agony of two prisoners.

      Moments later, they are seen lying down, descending on a platform, yelling for their lives at their captors. As this unfolds, a woman in charge casually walks down a staircase observing them.

      "We found an excellent studio in Langley, thanks to our production designer Shawn Major," Mosleh told the Straight by phone on July 9. "As we walked in the location, I saw that staircase and the lift and I fell in love with it."

      The men are thrown into prison cells and locked to the wall. 

      Tonight at 7 p.m., "Breakthrough" will be screened online along with the top 19 other Run N Gun films.

      Mosleh's film is one of the five finalists for best film, along with "Netmare", "Rule of Nine", "Shit Sponge", and "The Better Forever".

      The two top films will advance to a national competition against winners from other provinces.

      Panta Mosleh not only directed "Breakthrough", but she also shared credits as the executive producer and story creator.
      Joyce Photography

      Moshleh had to follow prompts

      "Breakthrough" is not a run-of-the-mill thriller, not by any means. That's because under the rules of the 48-hour competition, each filmmaker had to incorporate certain elements in their production. These prompts were delivered at the start of filming.

      "We didn't know what the script was going to be," Mosleh conceded. "The prompts might have even ruined our premise idea."

      One of them required the use of tape, whether it was a cassette, adhesive tape, police tape, et cetera. That worked for a prisoner drama.

      Another prompt required the writers to include a certain line in the script—"I don't want to sound like a ___ but ____"—which also worked for "Breakthrough".

      But Mosleh described the third prompt as a "curveball". These films also required the theme of the "greater good".

      "We were [saying] 'how is a hostage situation going to work for the greater good?' " Mosleh recalled.

      Fortunately for Mosleh, one of the executive producers, David Aboussafy, is a psychologist with a PhD.

      A quote from a study he had written about came in extremely handy, enabling the filmmakers to cross this hurdle. It also worked with Mosleh's sensibilities as a director.

      "It's a nice little surprise," Mosleh said. "I like to throw in little surprises for people when I direct films... It was lovely how it worked out."

      In addition, these films were not allowed to mention COVID, vaccines, quarantining, or unoriginal jokes about 5G.

      Video: Watch the trailer for "Breakthrough".

      Director values diversity

      Throughout the filming process, she had a counsellor present to ensure that everything on-screen was clinically accurate.

      She's proud of the short film's high production values, which were achieved in just 48 hours, thanks in part to Kamal's cinematography and Major's production design.

      Mosleh also credited the sponsors, including Sim Camera Vancouver, which provided hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of camera gear for free. MBS Equipment Co. donated the use of grip and gear that she said were worth tens of thousands of dollars. She also thanks Caveman Cafe, Circus Technologies Inc., and Canada Wide Communications for their support.

      Mosleh, an LGBT+ Persian Canadian director-writer-actor-producer, ensures there's as much diversity behind the camera as there is on-screen in all of her films. And "Breakthrough" is no exception.

      Some cast members had several responsibilities, including Vancouver actor Mostafa Shaker, who stars as Ali. He was also an executive producer and cocreated the story with Mosleh and Ian Frayne.

      In addition to cowriting the script with Carolyn Woolner, Amira Anderson, a Black actor, plays Taylor, the woman in charge.

      Major, the production designer, was cast as the hostage named Jay.

      Two other actors, Donia Kash and Moheb Jindran, play captors in "Breakthrough".

      "A lot of times, we make short films as a proof of concept to tell a bigger story," Mosleh said. "For example, the short that I have done, 'Pass the Salt', I'm currently working on trying to make it a limited TV series with CBC."

      So is it possible that "Breakthrough" could one day be expanded into a feature or a series?

      "It could be an interesting topic to explore," Mosleh replied. "We're just going to see where we're going to go. Tomorrow, we will know if we're going to be in the nationals or not."