January 17, 2017

Pittsburgh college grads provide a financial leg up for “Armless

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By ROBERT W. WELKOS
PARK CITY, Utah–When director Habib Azar was looking for investors for his indie black comedy “Armless,” he knew it would be a tough sell convincing anyone to finance a film about a man who secretly wants to have his arms chopped off.

So, Azar turned to people he knew as his financiers: 18 former classmates at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

When “Armless” premiered here Friday night at the Yarrow Theater, who showed up? That’s right–a large contingent of his former college buddies from Pittsburgh who were rooting on Azar’s foray into making feature films.

The investors came dressed like cheerleaders at a football game, wearing red jumpsuits with white vests and red ski caps, the movie’s title adorning their outfits.

“These are all my friends,” Azar said. “They were my investors.” The majority of them, he noted, invested $500 to $2,000.

A drama major in college who graduated in 2002, Azar said the best decision he ever made in those years was “hanging out with engineers and computer people.” If he had to depend on theater arts majors for financing, he quipped, the movie would never have been financed.

It’s not that the investors didn’t know Azar had talent. He won a daytime Emmy award for the soap opera “As the World Turns.” But Azar wanted to branch out into feature films.

The film, scripted by Kyle Jarrow, is based on a condition that is actually experienced by real people. It’s called Body Integrity Identity Disorder or BIID. Basically, Azar explained, it’s a lot like anorexia. An anorexic will look in the mirror and think he or she is fat. It’s the same with BIID, only the person doesn’t think he has need of his arms and legs. How many people suffer from this disorder, Azar couldn’t say.

In the film, an insurance executive living in the suburbs finally gathers the courage to travel to the city to find a physician willing to amputate his arms. The man’s wife is convinced he left her to have an affair and so, accompanied by her mother-in-law, is so enraged that she wants to cut off his testicles.

Azar stressed that there is no gore in the film–the closest being a scene where the would-be amputee is locked in a closet in his doctor’s office with a power saw.

The cast, which features some Pittsburgh actors, includes Daniel London, Janel Moloney, Matt Walton, Zoe Lister Jones, Laurie Kennedy and Keith Powell.

The film benefitted from a new category created by Sundance, which is trying this year to move away from the bigger-budgeted films with major stars that threatened to rob the festival of its grassroots beginnings. It was entered in NEXT films that festival organizers say seek to “stretch a low budget to create big art.”

Azar hopes that he gets a distributor to invest in the movie while at Sundance. He said he’s been on an emotional roller coaster ever since he learned that his first feature was selected by Sundance.

“It’s like getting into Harvard,” the director said.

Don’t tell that to your investors.

Stars Daniel London, Janel Moloney, Matt Walton, Zoe Lister Jones, Laurie Kennedy and Keith Powell.

Many of the actors were from Pittsburgh, he said, he shot the film in New York in only 12 days (with one location in New Jersey)

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