By Greg Paroff
The film Fremont offers stark visual contrasts. Directed by Babak Jalali and co-written by Jalali and Carolina Cavalli, Fremont is a master class in minimalism via structure and dialogue, presented in black and white.
Before starting working on the film as a set production assistant, I hadn’t read the script. I wasn’t offered it, and I didn’t need it. Outside of broad generalities of each day’s filming, it’s not always necessary for a PA to know the story, plot or characters, but it does matter how many folks need to be transported, fed and accommodated.
Except for a brief overview —a former Afghan translator, who obtained political asylum and resettled in Fremont, Calif., works at a fortune-cookie company and sees a therapist — I didn’t know how the film unfolded.
Lensed in Northern California in May and June 2022, Fremont premiered to much fanfare and acclaim — a quick half-year later — at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2023. When I first saw Fremont in March in New York City at the Museum of the Moving Image’s First Look screening, all I knew was that the production had hired some of the kindest, most professional, focused and considerate cast and crew with whom I have ever worked.
I’ve worked in various aspects of show business (film being one) since I was a 3-year-old model for a Midwestern ad agency. My family connections to stage and screen go back to around 1910, when my great-great-grandfather owned and operated cinemas in Chicago and a great-great-uncle was an actor/stage manager on Broadway and in vaudeville. For the past 20-plus years of adulthood, I have pursued acting while supplementing my income working as a PA. I mention my background only to qualify my ability to identify a stellar cast and crew.
There’s an old stage maxim: “Good rehearsal, bad show. Bad rehearsal, good show.” I’ve seen this proved many times. In 1998, I directed an off-off-Broadway show in New York. After the dress-rehearsal drained us of all hope, the opening night was a success. Another example: I worked a few days on the Atlanta set of the film I, Tonya (2017), and the production felt chaotic, unfocused and like a real mess. But the film was a hit, garnering multiple award nominations and an Academy Award for best supporting actress.
So as I arrived at the New Look screening, I was glad to see my old friends from the Fremont set, but I was totally unprepared for the stark beauty of this piece of cinema.
The character Donya (portrayed by first-time actress Anaita Wali Zada) lives a lonely life, isolated emotionally. When she goes to a therapist, she is only seeking sleeping pills so she can finally rest. But Donya finds her new path through an emotional connection with her therapist (portrayed by that idiosyncratic master of cringe comedy Gregg Turkington). Donya’s eventual reversal of character takes the film to a transcendent level.
Fremont deserves the oft-overused term “art.” It’s good work to have set PA responsibilities — laying out lunch tables, driving cast and crew, making coffee, throwing out trash — in service of art. Art requires vision, commitment and taking care of “the day.” The glue that has kept me all these years in show business is the love of the work, the commitment to the audience and that rare opportunity to make art.