“Growing up Fat and Albanian” is a brilliant comedy written by Elza Zagreda, directed by Dhimitër Ismailaj-Valona and Elza Zagreda, produced by Elza Zagreda (executive producer/ producer), Kelly Kirklyn (producer) and Christina Hurtado-Pierson (consulting producer), Shawn Schaffer (director of photography).
The film features an extraordinary cast and creative team, namely: Elza Zagreda, Isabella Knight, Shpend Xani, Freia T. Titland, Alexandra Moruzzi, Toni Naumovsky, Lumi Subasic, Jody Lynn Smith, Jenn Wehrung, Mimoza Ismailaj, Johnny Skreli, Bekim Qela, Brianna Femia, Stacey Maltin, Xhenet Cepani, etc. The main actors are: Elza Zagreda as ‘Elle,’ Alexandra Moruzzi as ‘Young Elle,’ Isabelle Knight as ‘Aunt Shirley’, Shpend Xani as ‘Rocky’.
Growing up FAT and Albanian is Elza Zagreda’s 1st movie (based on her critically acclaimed 1st solo play) that she wrote, co-directed, starred and produced with her production company aptly named after her dad, Rocky from Da Bronx Productions.
Thus far the film has been accepted to 8 festivals and won 7 awards, including Best film and Best Featurette at the Manhattan Film Festival and NY Indie Awards just to name a few.
With a BA from Fordham University and an MA in Dramatic Writing from NYU, Elza Zagreda is a NY based actress, writer, producer and filmmaker. She’s appeared on Law & Order: SVU, 30 Rock, the Unusuals (on ABC) and Bravo’s Odd Mom Out playing Jill Kargman’s bitchy Russian housekeeper, Monoma. Along with her TV credits, Elza has written, produced and performed 3 solo smash comedies in NYC, LA & Detroit. BUK & DJATH: Growing up FAT and ALBANIAN, DIVORCE! Albanian Style! & Dating, Depression & Dirtbags: A LOVE Story.
Meet the Artist: Interview with Actress, Writer, Producer and Filmmakers Elza Zagreda
Ny Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Elza Zagreda: Currently we are still in festival season promoting our movie that we’re so proud of. Next up, the full length feature.
Ny Elite: What is Growing up FAT and Albanian about?
Elza Zagreda: It’s really a coming of age story about a headstrong young woman. Ella, torn between 2 worlds that she loves– her Albanian family and its ties to traditionalism vs. her desire to be her own person and find true love.
NY Elite: Which actor stands out and why are they perfect for the role?
Elza Zagreda: First of ALL, ALL THE ACTORS stood out– we went through a grueling audition process and preproduction period to make sure we secured the right people to tell the story. Shpend Xani nailed the role of ‘Rocky’, Ella’s stern yet compassionate dad who only wants to see her happy. It was a real challenge because he had to age at least thirty years and make it look convincing. Isabella Knight , our ‘Aunt Shirley’ also had to nail the voice of the Albanian culture and the homage to traditionalism and how it can negatively affect young women– even today. Both actors nailed their roles beautifully.
Ny Elite: As the lead in the film tell us a little about the character you play?
Elza Zagreda: Honestly, this is really an ensemble piece but as one of the leads and since it’s loosely based on my OWN coming of age story … Ella is really caught In the middle. Born and raised in America with its belief in freedom, expression and individuality … she doesn’t want to follow the ‘old ways’ –traditionalism , arranged marriages … but at the same time, she doesn’t want to lose her family if she does. It’s the fear that ALOT of young women in my generation faced… YOUR HEART OR YOUR FAMILY? Choose ONE but choose wisely.
Ny Elite: What makes a film great for you? Certain qualities?
Elza Zagreda: The thing that really makes a movie great for me is that it resonates with audiences and people who watch it. IT MUST speak something to you and connect with you. If a film can’t do that … it has failed. You won’t remember it or even care about it if doesn’t speak, say something to you OR what you’re going through.
NY Elite: As a writer, what’s the most important aspect of building a character?
Elza Zagreda: Having written for both stage and film, I can honestly say the most important elements are truthfulness about the character’s journey and the character’s ability to resonate with the audience. Virginia Woolf once said ‘If you cannot tell the truth about yourself… you cannot tell it about others.’ I strongly believe that in building a strong character you MUST expose that character’s weaknesses, tragedy & heartache. It’s something that’s universal and speaks to everyone. That’s how a character becomes REAL and touches people. And that’s what I want my work to do- move people. And a little humor doesn’t hurt as well.)
Ny Elite: What scripts have you written so far? Any plans for the next movie?
Elza Zagreda: Yes! The full length feature has already been written for Growing up FAT and Albanian. We purposely leave you with a cliffhanger so you’ll have to wait for the full length to see how the story ends. 🙂
Ny Elite: Top 3 Favorite Projects?
Elza Zagreda: Honestly, I really do love ALL the projects I’ve worked on , especially my stage work. It’s incredibly exciting feeding off the energy of a live audience . Nothing compares to it– except maybe sitting in the back of a packed theatre hearing people laugh out loud at your movie. It’s priceless.
NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in other ways?
Elza Zagreda: Expressing myself creatively In other ways I basically stick to what I’m good at . And to me, humor & storytelling are the best ways I can express who I am. And I do ALOT of yoga to keep me sane.:) I did try pole dancing but I failed and got left back in level one. It’s in my last solo show:)
Ny Elite: What are top 3 issues you care about the most and why?
Elza Zagreda: I’m a huge advocate for women– having our voices be heard creatively, politically .. you name it. As a Professor of Women & Gender Studies I feel it’s an obligation that I have to educate people on the VALUE that women bring to the table in EVERY field from the arts, politics & the economy, the homefront.. you name it. I’m unapologetically ambitious. And I’m too old to change now.;)
Ny Elite: What can we expect from you in 2017?
Elza Zagreda: More TV filmwork & the feature 🙂
Ny Elite: Where can fans keep up with your projects?
Elza Zagreda: You can keep up with us ON ALL FORMS of social media:
Instagram – GrowingupFATandAlbanianMovie
Twitter – FAT&AlbanianTheMovie @FATAlbanianThe1
Elza Zagreda – my personal page on FB, Instagram, Twitter , Linked In.