Most film documentaries have a short shelf life, but not QUEEN MIMI. L.A.-based director Yaniv Rokah tells the story – both past and present – of 91-year-old Mimi Haist, who, due to an unfaithful husband, became homeless in her fifties.
After decades of living on the dangerous streets, she finally found a “home” in a Santa Monica laundromat. While living there, she earned her keep, growing a very loyal following of “fluff and fold” clients. Unlikely friends include Hollywood A-listers Renee Zellweger and Zach Galifianakis (seen in the film). Shocking plot twists are only the beginning of Mimi’s incredible but true story (nothing more will be revealed here -- see the film to discover the rest. Seriously, do yourself a favor.).
QUEEN MIMI was released in 2015, and is still making its way to theaters and film festivals around the world. Along the way, it won Best Documentary at both the Manhattan and the Hot Springs Film Festivals, and won a top prize at the Vail Film Festival. It also earned the Human Spirit Award at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival.
Yaniv, who also narrates the doc and follows Mimi for five years, owes the long-running success of the film to Mimi and her story. He calls her “a poet of life,” blessed with the gift of showing people how to find their better selves. She serves as a reminder of how we all strive to be better.
He also notes that the film’s structure and story arc add compelling dimensions that keep it from sinking into melodrama. Yaniv is always amazed to see how it succeeds at screenings around the world. People in all cultures are intrigued and surprised by the film, often crying out loud or laughing in unison.
The biggest entrepreneurial lesson Yaniv learned from making his first film: get a lawyer. It will save you a lot of money when it's time to negotiate and sign contracts.
Because it was a low-budget project, it took a very long time to create and complete. Yaniv started recording the story on his iPhone, but eventually traded up to a professional camera.
Another hurdle: getting Mimi to talk about her past. She's a firm believer in living life without regrets and not dwelling on "yesterday." As a result, it took her a while to build trust and to share her life with Yaniv. As the film was being made, growing interest and support from the community added an extra layer to the story and lifted it to the next level.
What Yaniv would do differently if he produces another documentary (and he plans to): he would work with a team from the very beginning. Filmmaking is all about collaborating; you simply can't do it alone. You're not saving money by not hiring professionals; in fact you're probably costing yourself more in the long run. Yaniv says that if you can create a team that you can trust, then all you have to do is let your passion guide you and focus on telling the story. The rest will follow.
QUEEN MIMI is available on iTunes starting on July 13.