Sonoma State University graduate Alex Bretow is a driving force behind ’The Night’
“It never ends” is the tagline for the new Iranian American horror film “The Night.” It also applies to how the producer Alex Bretow felt about every obstacle that got in the way of the movie, from festival shutdowns to travel bans, recasting and losing an investor.
Bretow, 29, is a Sonoma State University alumnus who founded film production company Mammoth Pictures in 2015 with fellow producer and partner Kourosh Ahari. Ahari made his feature directorial debut with “The Night” and wrote the screenplay with Milad Jarmooz.
“The Night” is a coproduction of the United States and Iran. According to Bretow, it’s the first American-produced film to have a wide theatrical release in Iran since the revolution in 1979.
The film is about an Iranian couple in the United States, Babak and Neda Naderi, played by Shahab Hosseini (“The Salesman”) and Niousha Noor (“Here and Now”). With their child, they decide to stay at a hotel for a night and must deal with secrets they’ve kept from one another and with the evil forces at the haunted hotel.
“I’ve been straying away from speaking too much on what it’s about,” Bretow said. “One of the things I’ve come to love about cinema and art is it can mean many different things to people.”
Bretow said to him the film is about how people live their lives and how that can impact the life they ultimately lead. Babak and Neda must face their demons head-on, both real and imagined, in a story where both characters speak Persian and English.
“Minari,” another U.S. film released this year, has a similar language structure with characters speaking Korean and English. Bretow said a difference between the two films is that “The Night” doesn’t focus its story on the struggle immigrants face in America.
“We don’t see a lot of ‘normal’ stories,” Bretow said. “Normal people living in the U.S. that speak a different language, from a different background. Telling those stories, or making those movies, normalizes that for people.”
On the critic and audience review site Rotten Tomatoes, “The Night” has gotten high marks — it’s “Certified Fresh” with a 79% approval rating currently. Bretow said the response since premiering at Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Jan. 20, 2020, has been the most rewarding part.
“One review on RogerEbert.com said it succeeded in capturing the feel of Kubrickian horror in a way that ‘Doctor Sleep,’ the official sequel to ‘The Shining,’ did not achieve,” Bretow said.
Bretow spent three years working on it with Ahari. Along with being a key decision maker, Bretow was a driving force behind “The Night,” helping find the screenwriter, distribution and release date.
The film was released theatrically and by video-on-demand on Jan. 29, 2021, from IFC Midnight and can be rented or bought on digital services like Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video and Vudu. Bretow said there are also plans to release the film on physical media, such as Blu-ray and DVD.
Bretow will never forget when he first met Ahari, at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. He and SSU alumna Mary-Madison Baldo were invited to Cannes that year and had short films screened at the 2015 and 2016 festivals after garnering awards at SSU’s Campus MovieFest.
Bretow, an Oakland native, saw Ahari’s short film and learned he was from the Bay Area. They hit it off, and Ahari asked Bretow to make a short film together.
“While I was still at Sonoma, I would drive down to San Jose, and I worked on this movie with him,” Bretow said. “That was the beginning of our professional relationship and friendship that would blossom into brotherhood.”
Their first movie together was “The Secret of 40,” a horror film that used panoramic technology called Barco Escape, directed by Ahari in 2016. Ahari would later direct another short, the drama “Generations,” in 2018. Bretow said actor Tom Hanks loved the film and became involved as an investor.
The Cannes festival marked a transition for Bretow, from the short films he created as an SSU student to the beginning of larger projects. But through it, he kept his can-do outlook.
“The ... attitude of hard work, finding solutions to problems and just getting the job done that I developed at Sonoma (State University) is the same attitude and working style I brought to working on ‘The Night,’” Bretow said. “I think I expected as projects got bigger that I would somehow have to transform into a different person, and while I have certainly grown and improved a lot since my early days at Sonoma, a lot of what I've ended up doing has turned out to reflect those early days.”
Bretow has been writing scripts in his spare time and wants to direct a feature film someday. For now, he plans to continue producing and building Mammoth Pictures.
“To create a filmmaker-driven, filmmaker-led, filmmaker-centric studio (is the goal) — consistently putting out meaningful films that matter, make a difference and leave audiences thinking.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Alex Bretow as the executive producer of “The Night.”