Jason Woliner, PMHS Alum, Speaks on Directing “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”


via Rotten Tomatoes

Alum Jason Woliner has directed a number of successful movies and TV shows. Including the recently released “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Nevan Malwana, Editor-in-Chief, Senior

Students are constantly told to strive for greatness, but it’s easy to shrug it off as just another adage schools engrain into the heads of students. However, this is not necessarily the case, as former PMHS student Jason Woliner has proven. Woliner is the director of the recently released Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, but his impact with the movie may have gone far beyond amusing audiences. In a special interview with The Pel Mel, Woliner discusses some of his memories at Pelham, the influence they had on him, and his time directing the sequel to one of the most beloved comedy films of all time.

Woliner was born in the Bronx but moved to Pelham in his teen years after his father got a job in Pelham. In high school, Woliner became involved in groups and activities that foreshadowed his future in film. Woliner started acting at the age of four, and though he had stopped acting professionally at 12, he continued to perform as a member of the school’s Sock ‘n’ Buskin program, a fond memory for Woliner. Woliner even produced a short film at the high school with a few of his friends.

I made a short horror movie at the high school called ‘The Attic’. Did you know there’s a secret, super-creepy attic above the high school? Me and my friends made a horror movie about a group of students that discover it and I think accidentally kill a custodian who busts them? I honestly don’t remember,” Woliner said, recalling the short film he created.

Although Woliner started his career in the film industry as an actor, he was more attracted to the idea of being a director as his career progressed.

“[I] grew up assuming everyone wanted to be a director. I couldn’t understand that there were people that didn’t want to be a director. Sets are heightened environments and the director seemed like the person everyone was listening to. I guess I had no choice,” Woliner said.

While the second installment of Borat has met with great success, it almost never happened, and Woliner was originally one of the biggest opponents to the idea! In an interview with Insider, Woliner discussed that when Sacha Baron Cohen, the actor who plays the titular character of Borat, reached out to him, Woliner told him that, “‘Borat’ is the funniest movie ever made and that it’s almost certainly a mistake to do a sequel.” Woliner’s concern was that a long-delayed sequel to a comedy would tarnish the reputation of the movie, but two days after being brought in to meet the writing staff of the movie, Woliner took the job.

Directing a movie at any time is a taxing, long, and difficult process. Factor in a global pandemic, high expectations, and a highly politically charged environment, without strong leadership, a movie can fall apart. Woliner described how one of the biggest setbacks the movie faced was a delayed release because of the pandemic.

Woliner said, “For a few months I was pretty bummed because the experience of seeing Borat for the first time was one of the most important movie theatre experiences of my life, and I was excited about helping create another one for audiences,” 

However, perhaps it was for the best that the release of the movie was delayed. Besides making his audiences laugh, Baron Cohen resurrected Borat for a reason. In an interview with the Financial Times, Cohen said, “The sequel is first and foremost a warning about the dangerous slide towards autocracy as we’re incrementally moving away from this wonderful ideal of American democracy.”

The whole premise of the movie revolves around Borat trying to win favor with President Trump’s regime after bringing shame to Kazakhstan following his actions in the first movie. In the process of doing so, however, Borat satirically discovers some of the darker sides of America and finds hidden layers of racism, misogyny, and ignorance which he connects back to President Trump. Audiences are left laughing, but also questioning how a character like Borat could be rethinking his own hilariously, purposely bigoted ideals in a country where bigotry was supposedly eliminated decades ago.

When asked about the underlying political involvement of the movie, Woliner said, “If we had anything to do with people coming out to remove Trump from power, I’m proud.”

Woliner should serve as an example to all Pelham students on the impact they can have on the world, in Woliner’s case not just as a successful director, but also as a potential political influencer. Woliner offered this advice to up and coming Pelicans.

“Make as much stuff as you can. It’s okay if it’s bad. … If you make stuff that’s not great, be honest with what’s not working and make adjustments on the next one. I don’t think anyone quite knows what the future of entertainment looks like. So just try to put out what only you could be putting out there. Don’t worry about trends or the way others have found success – keep making things, rip off people you love at first, be honest with yourself, keep going and you’ll eventually find your voice. If you’re being true to your experience of life and adding something unique to the world, I think there’s a good chance people will take notice. Good luck!”

While this advice was directed towards students interested in directing and the film industry, the fundamental idea of what Woliner is saying stands true for everyone — keep persevering and learning from your mistakes, and eventually, you will strike gold.