Jack C. Newell and Arti Ishak collaborate on the making of HALF

Chicago-based actor, director and writer Arti Ishak is embarking on a very personal journey with her new short film project titled HALF.

The themes in HALF navigate around race, ethnicity, culture, and religion within a multi-cultural and interracial relationship.

HALF is being produced by Chicago filmmaker Jack C. Newell, coming off his recent successes with the Independent TV Pilot, Bettendorf Talks, starring David Pasquesi and T.J. Jagodowski that premiered at this year’s SXSW and SeriesFest Season 10 and his documentary last year, How (not) to Build a School in Haiti that continues an extended festival and community screening run.

Arti and Jack spent the last year developing the HALF script and raising funds through grants and crowdfunding. They are planning to film in Chicago in early July.

Reel Chicago was able to catch up with writer / director Arti Ishak to hear more about how they put this challenging project together.

Can you tell us a little about the film?  
HALF is a slice-of-life short comedy that follows Sri, who is always the wrong “half” for any situation they are in. Not Asian enough, not Arab enough, never American or Muslim enough until they meet Erren, a Black American Muslim working through his own identity who sees Sri as a whole for the first time. HALF explores the comedy of navigating multiple identities in a world that constantly forces you to check one box. 

What inspired you to write the story? 
HALF is inspired by the absence of bi-racial and interracial representation in media that feature two people of the global majority. The central conversation between Erren and Sri is inspired by a conversation my fiance and I had when we first started dating. We both come from strong cultural backgrounds and live at the intersection of multiple identities, so we bonded deeply over all the ways we experienced either our own or other people’s dissonance about who we were vs who they thought we should be. However there are also obvious differences between our lived experiences, and navigating how to blend family and culture when there are so many strong cultures at play was a conversation I’ve never seen represented in media before but often experienced in my own life as a multi-racial Queer Muslim. So I wanted to change that.

Tell us about the cast and crew that are involved in the film.
We’re so excited and fortunate to have the legendary Chris Rejano as the cinematographer, the multi-talented Linh Tran as the editor, and local theatre favorite Eric Gerard as Erren, all of whom are dedicated Chicago artists.

How did you and Jack end up working together on this film?  
I met Jack when I was working at Second City on the ETC stage in 2022, but previously knew of him as a director whom everyone loved working with and who was committed to the Chicago arts scene. That was really important to me because I love Chicago and want to invest in this community, I’m not here to get some good credits and bounce to LA. About a year later I invited Jack to come see the play I directed for my debut Hatefuck at First Floor Theatre, and shortly after sent Jack the script for HALF and asked if he would be willing to coach me through a filmmaking process. Thankfully he said yes and helped me get the script and production to where it is today.

How long will it take to film, and how long will the completed film be?
We plan to film in two days and the completed film will be around 7-minutes.

Where will you be filming?
We plan on filming in Humbolt Park to highlight the beauty of Black and brown neighborhoods in Chicago.

How did you obtain funding for the film? 
HALF was awarded Islamic Scholarship Fund‘s Narrative Short Film grant in 2024 which helped partially fund our project. We are currently crowdfunding through the end of May in partnership with 3Arts, a non-profit organization that is committed to championing local artists and supporting the creative process. As a 3Arts Artist project, anyone who donates to HALF can receive a tax-deductible donation for their contribution knowing they are supporting local indie-film making.

For those who would like to help support HALF by contributing to their crowdfunding campaign via 3Arts – VISIT HERE

Do you have a plan to take HALF on the festival circuit?
Absolutely. We hope to screen at festivals that speak to the core identities featured in this film so that Sri’s story can reach as many people as possible who have been aching to see themselves on screen.

Will you have a screening in Chicago? 
Of course! Because this is such a Chicago-focused film, we will absolutely plan to screen in the city sometime in 2025. 

Do you have any other projects in the works after this?
While I don’t currently have any film projects lined up yet as we move further into production with HALF I already feel the impulse and inspiration to write my next film bubbling up, so I am purposefully holding space to rest and allow creativity to flow. On the theatre end, I am directing the upcoming play we, the invisibles by Susan Soon He Stanton at The Theatre School at DePaul where I also teach in the Comedy Arts Department.