By Hunter Hermanson and Emily Santiago-Molina
“The Prince,” written and directed by UCI MFA Alum Kyra Zagorsky, tackles the conflict of race relations in conjunction with the anxiety and fear that performers face. The film recently premiered at the 7th Annual Irvine Film Festival on January 25th, following its success at multiple other film festivals around the country, winning several awards with each screening.
In her directorial debut, Zagorsky has created a stunning film, that is a pleasure to behold and provokes thought. The story tells of a small but harrowing experience of racism by a young actor on a city bus with his niece and nephew, combined with a similar moment from Zagorsky’s own life, having felt the need to say more about her own encounter and finding the way through this cinematic opportunity. The film is a result of her winning a competition hosted by the program “Crazy Eights,” where a film community board chose Zagorsky’s script out of 240 to help her make it into a movie. It furthered her own motivation to start directing, giving herself the power from a place behind the camera to choose what stories should be told.
“The Prince” features an excellent cast who adds a level of sincerity to the familial aspect of the film. The difficulty of the subject matter is further complicated by the age of the actors and their relations. “The Prince” forms solid parallels between the anxiety of performance and the anxiety faced by minorities and marginalized groups, specifically Middle Eastern Americans in the context of the film. “The Prince” also portrays responsibility in the people who are harassed and stereotyped to fight the perceptions placed upon them and represent themselves accurately. This is not to say the film does not take up issue with oppressive stereotyping. It is clear from the framing of shots to the stature of the actors, that the film intends to make the audience uncomfortable, mirroring the jarring and tense nature of confrontations about race in everyday life. The film examines the aftermath of racism as well, showing the impact that an event can have on an individual.
Considering her award-winning short film, Zagorsky strongly believes in using art to make a statement, and taking more responsibility in what she as an artist put out into the world. “You can still be creative and tell wonderful stories, but we do have to be conscious of the types of stories we’re telling and the way we represent culture,” she shares.
Despite its heavy content matter, “The Prince” manages to feel light and uplifting. This may be the only drawback to the film, if it even is a drawback, as it takes a complicated issue and addresses it in the form a short film. For this reason, the film’s end is very neatly packaged and almost expectably cliché. Not to say that all films must have a twist or result in crippling depression. Though Zagorsky could have shown a grittier side of America’s issues around race.
The film’s score and sound design are rhythmic and greatly improve the pacing of the film. All other technical aspects of the film feel tight and extremely well done, the shots have complex compositions and will keep your eyes glued to the screen. Perhaps the biggest win for Zagorsky is the writing and the acting. The two work in conjunction to allow subtle and nuanced performances. The child actor, killer of many potentially good movies, does not take another victim as Ashe Sabongui and Bodhi Sabongui, Zagorsky’s own children, deliver performances on par with actors many years their elders. The acting and writing feel authentic and help the audience form an immediate connection to these characters and their story.
Having the film be personally inspired by her own life, Zagorsky admits her Egyptian husband, Patrick Sabongui, acted as the muse for the character of the young actor, dealing with his career and debating between the stereotypical roles that seem to be included on his journey as an artist. Needing to write something short but bold, she chose to zero in on the way the world sees and treats people like her husband. “It exposes a lot about our culture and fear and what that does to people…”
“The Prince” is a lesson on handling negativity and keeping a positive outlook and staying true to one’s own values, even when that means sacrificing one’s dream. For a short film, “The Prince” has much to say and is well worth the watch, despite any cliches it may harbor.