Director Zen Pace’s debut narrative short FRAUD starring Dana Aliya Levinson (STARZ’s American Gods) and Babak Tafti (Showtime’s Super Pumped), subverts the crime thriller genre by centering marginalized characters grappling with identity, love, and immigrant experiences. Levinson also wrote this timely tale. The Tribeca Film Festival is FRAUD’s World Premiere and the film is screening in competition.
A trans rocker girl getting by with petty credit card theft is forced to question who she wants to be when her latest target surprises her with an unforeseen proposition.
Dana and Zen are a queer creative duo who met in an AA meeting and became sober together. They found a healing space in each other’s creativity and through this bond they formed an artistic partnership.
Dana Aliya Levinson (they/she) is an actor (AMERICAN GODS, THE GOOD FIGHT, ADAM), and television writer. She was a Dramatists Guild Fellow and her theatrical work has been performed from California to Paris. Her pilot script, FRAUD, which this short is based on, was named one of the top eight unmade LGBTQ+ pilot scripts of 2022 by The GLAAD List in association with The Black List.
Nonbinary Director Zen Zadih Pace’s work has been featured in top film festivals such as the Palm Springs; HollyShorts; and Rhode Island Film Festivals. Their work has appeared in PAPER, Huffington Post, Film Shortage, and more. Zen was labeled ‘Fresh Talent’ by the Shiny Awards for their short doc A LOVE BEYOND about a man with down syndrome finding home after losing his parents to the pandemic.
FRAUD was produced by K. Dawn Dumas, Erikx Disantis, Amanda Mesaikos, Katie Rosin and Gretchen Wylder. The stunning cinematography was created by Oren Soffer who is currently co-DP alongside DUNE cinematographer Greig Fraser on TRUE LOVE, directed by Gareth Edwards.
How do you describe yourself and how do you identify?
DANA ALIYA LEVINSON: I identify as a non-binary trans femme person, and I use both she and they pronouns. I always say, use both, mix it up, have fun!
How did you come up with the idea of FRAUD and how do you feel that your pilot script, FRAUD was named one of the top eight unmade LGBTQ+ pilot scripts of 2022 by The GLAAD List in association with The Black List?
DAL: FRAUD was inspired by an actual day I had. I had been working at a bar saving up money to move out of my parent’s house and get my adult life started. One day, my dad asked if he could take that money because he couldn’t pay payroll at a dental office he owns. I didn’t feel I could say no, as the way both of my parents have supported me in my artistic career is beyond, but it was devastating at the time nonetheless.
That day, a customer came in, and her credit card wouldn’t swipe. I’ve always had a good memory for numbers, so when I did manual entry of her number, I had the fleeting thought, ‘I could just steal her credit card right now and pay myself back.’ I didn’t! But my next thought was ‘who’s that character?’ And so Shira Rose Loewenstein was born. Over time, her story grew in my mind, and she became an alter-ego of sorts. So finally, I decided to commit her to paper and screen.
How did you met Zen Pace, the director and how would you describe your relationship?
DAL: Zen and I met in an AA meeting when we both had less than a year sober! We quickly became close friends and supported each other through those early days. It’s wild to look back on them now with nostalgia several years later.
Zen is more than a friend, Zen is my chosen family. They have the kindest most intuitive spirit. They’re an epically talented person. And they’re one of those people that somehow, I can’t imagine my life before we were friends. I’m grateful to have someone like that to collaborate with, to support on their own projects that are separate from me, and to receive that in return.
Is there enough trans representation and inclusivity nowadays in your field?
DAL: Definitely not! It’s funny, people talk about how we’re in this ‘trans moment’ and how there are so many more trans characters in film and television. This is true. But when one looks at career sustaining roles; series regulars, leads in major feature films, and the like, the amount of representation is almost non-existent. I always say, there are not nearly enough trans roles to sustain the careers of the trans actors who deserve them.
To me, the solution is two-fold. First, we just need more trans content. Second, Hollywood needs to internalize the fact that while there are trans-specific roles, there is almost no case in which a role is cis-specific. That’s why I like to say ‘non trans-specific roles’ rather than ‘cis roles’. Because I don’t think the latter really exist. We can audition and be cast in anything. It just takes a little bit of imagination.
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced and what is your biggest achievement?
DAL: Honestly, I feel like sobriety is the answer to both of these questions! It was a huge obstacle for me. Like many, substance use was deeply informed by past trauma and not knowing how to cope with it. So dropping an incredibly unhealthy coping mechanism, and learning entirely new life skills, and really committing to that, has literally changed the entire trajectory of my life.
I can say with confidence I would not be sitting here today with a film at Tribeca Film Festival without sobriety. It’s made me a more capable person. It’s also made me a more empathetic and caring person, which in turn gives more dimension to my art.
What are your future plans?
DAL: Zen and I are currently working on a feature called “Jude”. It takes place mostly in a single house over Yom Kippur, and is a surrealist psychological thriller about trauma, grief, and the lies we tell ourselves to survive. I’m really excited about it, so we’ll be looking for producers and financing soon.
I also have some other projects that I can’t talk about yet, but when I can, trust me you’ll all know about it!
https://www.fraudthefilm.comThe film’s Instagram is @fraudthefilm
Dana Aliya Levinson Instagram @danaaliyalevinson
Zen Pace’s Instagram @zenpace
Babak Tafti Instagram @babaktafti