Akash Sherman is a name that might not ring a bell quite yet, but it’s one that will resound in years to come. At the ripe age of 23, the young director has accomplished more than most, and his steadfast love of the art of filmmaking has resulted in the production of two feature films, a feature documentary, two award-winning short films, as well as an impressive array of commercial and virtual reality content.
The man is a dreamer.
Sherman’s passion for storytelling began at a young age staring up into stars of the night sky from the streets of Edmonton and wondering just what the neverending expanse that surrounds humanity held. This innate curiosity and wonder weaves its way into all of the characters and forms the atmosphere of the scenes that he creates. At age 16, he made his first short film: For Them, For You. The film earned the director multiple awards at the Future of Cinema Film Festival in Interlochen, Michigan, and was a pivotal moment in what Sherman can now confidently call his passion and career.
The stories that he quietly crafts in his mind have brought him to film festivals around the world such as the prestigious Marche du Film in Cannes, France, and pushed him to follow his dream to Toronto, where his work has caught the eye of some respected names in the film industry which culminated in the release of his latest work, Clara.
Clara made its international debut at the Toronto International Film Festival and recently won “Best Dramatic Feature” at the 2018 Edmonton International Film Festival. The film is a sci-fi drama about an obsessive astronomer who is searching for signs of life in the cosmos. Despite his personal life unravelling around him, he meets an eccentric artist who also has the same deep-seated wonder about space and desire to find more. Together, they start collaborating and hope to make a discovery that will upheave the everything we thought we’ve known about the depths of the universe.
Clara stars some distinguished actors such as Patrick J. Adams, who is best known for playing Mike Ross, a brilliant college dropout turned unlicensed lawyer in the series Suits and Troian Bellisario who is known for her breakthrough role as Spencer Hastings in Pretty Little Liars.
“My producer told me to put together a list of actors that I would like to see in the main roles, so I did that and at the top of my list for the main character of Isaac was Patrick J. Adams. I had been a fans of Suits for a while and I knew he was a Toronto local, so I thought he would be perfect for this role,” Sherman says.
“Funny enough, my producer, Ari Lantos, actually went to high school with Patrick. He was able to call him up and be like, ‘Hey? I know we haven’t seen each other for like 10 or 15 years…’ Anyways, they had this previous connection and Patrick loved the story. He also had some great ideas on the characters and for the script itself, which really helped me because I love for my stories to evolve from what they started as. It was really amazing to do that with an actor in collaboration.”
“I wrote a new draft based on Patrick’s notes and he was basically on board at that point. He then sent it to his then fiancée, Troian, who also gave me notes as a friendly writer. After hearing her thoughts on the character of Clara and getting to know Troian as a person, I asked her, ‘What are you doing next spring?’ She had finished Pretty Little Liars and just finished marrying Patrick, and so it was settled. We started shooting Clara all together. It was a perfect fit.”
Sherman’s productions blur the lines between sci-fi and dramatic film and bring a fresh new face to storytelling that viewers can’t help but be captivated by. The idea of the great beyond and the quest for understanding are recurring themes in his films. The Rocket List was about a group of friends who set out the fulfill their bucket lists before an asteroid is bound for a cataclysmic collision with Earth, and Clara is about finding Earth 2.0.
“I naturally tend to be drawn to genres like sci-fi or fantasy, because those are genres where original ideas can really blossom … where you can kinda create things that have never been seen before and that really appeals to me. At the same time, at this early into the game I don’t want to lock myself into any sort of brand or style, but definitely think that I do what comes naturally to me.“
This desire to create new worlds for his audience is heavily influenced by being raised on fantasy films such as Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. “You know, movies that create a universe that you just love to live in.”
Despite his love of fiction, many aspects of Clara are based on real-world science. Sherman employed renowned Canadian astrophysicists John Moores and Doug Welch as the film’s chief scientific advisors, and this expertise is apparent in the production of the movie.
“The more you believe in your own voice, the more that someone else is going to hear it.”
— Akash Sherman
When asked if he believes humanity will find life on other planets in the near-future, Sherman replied, “Yes I do, and I think it is going to happen within the next 10 years, and Clara gets into that. It is very much based on NASA’s upcoming missions, the TESS mission and the James Webb telescope.
“Essentially, these new instruments are going to revolutionize the way we look for habitable planets and signs of life in the cosmos so if there is something out there, we are going to find it soon. I do not think there is going to be any contact or visitation but I do believe that if there is something out there, we are going to have the ability to discover to it within the decade.”
Sherman’s love for his hometown of Edmonton runs deep and he likes to pay homage to his roots here, especially after having found success on the international stage. He also takes care to remember the people that have supported him and his vision over the years.
He often does this by including local artists such as Miranda Stewart and Scenic Route To Alaska in his soundtracks, or by bringing childhood friends on board to collaborate with on current projects.
“My favourite thing about Edmonton is the people, and all my films have very strong themes of connection, The Rocket List was about friendship, Clara is about love… not necessarily about romantic love, but the bond that we form as human beings. The people from Edmonton are always inspiring my stories. I dedicated (Clara) to my grandfather who passed away recently. That kind of homegrown love finds itself in all of the stories I write,” says Sherman.
“In terms of the actual filmmaking side of things, growing up in Edmonton there wasn’t much, other than the amazing Edmonton International Film Festival at a young filmmaker’s disposal. I had to learn to wear many hats: story writing, directing, visual effects, as well as film promotion. Getting my start in Edmonton with limited resources, in my opinion, has greatly influenced the way I write films — I tend to write more intimate films with high concept rather than ones with dramatic and extravagant effects.”
It’s no doubt that the inspiration and support that he receives from this city sits deeply with the director, and he wants the next generation of filmmakers and youth to realize that they too can find the same success and fulfillment that he has found.
“I don’t want to say leave Edmonton, but step outside of your comfort zone and go have those adventures. Right now I am at Act II in my journey, Act I involved me growing up in Edmonton and Act I ended in me leaving to do what I love. I think that if there is going to be any personal growth, you need to find whatever excites you and then follow that passion to wherever it takes you.”
“Obviously there is a lot of hesitation in following your dreams because it will never feel safe or secure, but the biggest advice that I can give young people who are starting out is that you really just have to step outside of your comfort zone and just create things. It’s okay if you fail, it’s okay if it doesn’t turn out as well as you wanted it to, but you just have to keep on improving and keep trying. The more you believe in your own voice, the more that someone else is going to hear it.”
Photography by Milo Knauer and supplied.