The Mandala Maker: A thought provoking film reviewed by Alex A. Kecskes

Reproduced by permission of and Sam Borowski

by Alex A. Kecskes

A treat for the senses and an exemplary bit of short filmmaking; one can’t help but be mesmerized by The Mandala Maker. Directed by gifted auteur Sam Borowski, the film draws you in and continually rewards you with gifted storytelling and emotion-packed scenes. It’s little wonder Mandala has won several Accolade awards including an Award of Excellence for leading actor Courtney Hogan as well as Awards of Merit for short film and direction. Poignant and powerful, the film includes a superb performance by Hogan who plays a struggling artist dealing with guilt and depression over a tragically dark secret. The Mandala Maker underscores many of today’s societal problems as it follows Naomi’s journey through self-enlightenment. A journey facilitated through her exploration of Tibetan mandala paintings, circular designs that psychologists like Carl Jung admit possess healing powers.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Sam Borowski, who directed and co-wrote the script with Gregory Nissen. Sam candidly and openly revealed details and aspects of the film as well as filmmaking in general. I led with a question so many aspiring filmmakers are eager to ask.

Q: Why did you get into filmmaking?

A: To tell stories. I love the effect a great story can have on a person. My good friend Ben Chapman, who played the original Creature From the Black Lagoon, used to talk about the Golden Age of Hollywood, and how you could go into a movie theater and get lost in a movie and feel better. I also believe that movies can instill positive change in the world.

Q: What drove you to make this film?

A: The film represents the spiritual journey I’ve been following the past couple of years. I melded this journey with the concept of art-as-therapy espoused by my friend and co-writer, Gregory Nissen. The second part of the film represents someone very special to me.

Q: Your film deals with repressed feelings of a past trauma. Why did you choose sexual abuse as a topic?

A: I’ve personally seen how violence, not just sexual abuse, but different forms of violence, can affect a person’s life. I knew that a violent attack had to be part of the trauma that Naomi sought to heal. I felt that this was something many people, especially women, could relate to. I can’t tell you how many women have confided in me after seeing this film, recounting their most horrific and heinous abuses. Knowing that my film touched them enough for them to confide in me is worth more than any award. That’s my goal, to touch peoples’ lives like that.

Q: Why did you choose a mandala as a cathartic form of self-healing?

A: While I brought most of the personal details and the back story to this script, my co-writer, Gregory Nissen, suggested making a film about a girl who uses mandalas to get over a tough period in her life. Through research, I learned more about this wonderful therapeutic art form. I discovered that many psychologists find value in mandalas, in particular, the legendary Carl Jung.

Q: Was the film based on a person you knew who had suffered abuse of this kind?

A: The movie is loosely based on Robin Phipps, my associate producer, who also performed two songs in the film. While Robin’s story is not Naomi’s, there are many similarities, and she became the inspiration behind Naomi’s character.

Q: What lessons have you learned in making this film?

A: That a film is as good as the people you choose to work with. And that goes for actors, producers, director, everyone. It’s a concert, a symphony. Also, you can’t sweat the small stuff, and you have to learn it’s all small stuff until it has a dollar sign.

Q: Courtney’s performance was particularly engrossing. How did you go about casting the film? Did you have specific actors in mind?

A: I knew I wanted Daniel Roebuck, whose role as The Other Person is particularly crucial to the film. Dan is an extremely talented actor and we have collaborated many times before. And while I envisioned Robin in the key role, an injury kept her out and I turned to Courtney who came in literally at the 25th hour. She learned her part overnight and handled it wonderfully. We were blessed to have a wonderful cast, starting with Courtney, Danny and, of course, Tony-Winner Terrence Mann. Other fine performances came from Robert Pralgo (Mayor Charles Lockwood on The Vampire Diaries), Yangsom Brauen (Aeon Flux, Pandorum), Eric Stein (Big Brother 8 ) and Frank D’Amato’s who played Naomi’s boss.

Q: How difficult was it to obtain financing? Was this based on the strength of your previous work or on the script?

A: Both. You know the old saying: ‘You can make a bad film from a great script, but you can’t make a great film from a bad script.’ I was able to parlay my previous work and a quality script, which won a Best Short Screenplay Award at the 2009 SINY Film Festival, into a fair budget for this film. Now I’m directing a major feature comedy in Hollywood this March.

Q: How will winning Accolade Awards help you with your film and your career?

A: The Accolade Competition is patently different from others. Thomas Baker and his team really care about helping filmmakers get distribution. The fact that they also give out a Humanitarian Award and take a philanthropic approach to this competition, as well as shedding light on new artistic and creative talent, just strengthens what that statue stands for. Being cited for three Accolades, two Awards of Merit for Short Film and Direction and an Award of Excellence for Lead Actor (Courtney Hogan), is one of the key highlights during our Academy-Award qualifying run with The Mandala Maker. I believe others in the industry share my belief in just how prestigious that statue is and what it represents.

Q: Where is The Mandala Maker being shown now?

A: We’re doing several one-night screenings at movie theaters, art houses and other venues. We’ll also be playing in festivals, several prominent New York City museums, and setting up several weeklong runs in movie theaters throughout New York City and Los Angeles. If anyone wants to screen The Mandala Maker at their local theater or venue, they can contact me at or drop me a line on my imdb page at

Q: How do you promote your films? In particular, The Mandala Maker?

A: When you promote a film, you have to truly believe in it and get behind it. If you’re not passionate about the subject matter, about your story, and your film, why would other people be? There’s a great opportunity with short films to be theatrically released, even if the release is somewhat more creative and clever than with a feature film. For instance, we’re screening Mandala in private rooms at several prominent restaurants to a large, artistic paying crowd. People say I promoted Mandala ‘with rock-the-rafters enthusiasm.’ But, really, you have to promote all your films with that kind of enthusiasm. Even if you are making a film for commercial reasons, you still have to believe in the source material.

Q: What’s next for you? Any new projects?

A: I’ll be shooting principal photography on my new film, Night Club, in Hollywood in March. The film’s about a group of kids who take a job working the night shift in an old folks home to put themselves through USC. To amuse themselves, and some of the older folks, they decide to run their own nightclub at the home. They get a little help from one of the home’s residents, who unbeknownst to them, ran the hottest nightclub in Los Angeles. After that, I may acquire the rights to a Supernatural Book franchise, which some regard as the next Twilight. I also have a cerebral, superhero action franchise in development, Nigel Read. And I’ll be doing a feature, Rita of Cascia: The Impossible Dream, about the life of St. Rita of Cascia.

For more information, contact:

Sam Borowski
The Naoj Company
918 N. Wood Avenue
Linden, NJ 07036
908-587-0090, ext. 119

Has anyone seen this film? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


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