UNRULY Meets is an ongoing series where we chat to local creatives about their work; their journeys; and their greatest influences and struggles. The aim of this series is to uncover the not-so-pretty truths about working in the industry and hopefully provide some insight into what its really like working in the creative space.
As a young creative, who would you say is your biggest influence and inspiration?
I am most inspired collectively by every female who is, and has been, paving the way for others, in whatever department or field they are working.
As far as an individual inspiration goes, it’s difficult to bring it down to one but if I had to it would probably be Abbas Kiarostami. His films have helped me understand what story-telling is in it’s purest form. Everything changed when I watched Taste of Cherry
What inspired you to create Skin Diver?
In terms of the act, I very simply wanted to make my first short film. I was tired of the stories merely existing in a metaphysical plane, I had a lot of creative energy building up and it started to lead to that healthy kind of tension and frustration between where you are and where you’d like to be. As far as the intention of making Skin Diver, I was inspired to try and see what happens. The beauty of doing something for the first time is that you’ve got nothing to judge it by, so everything is a new experience that you try to learn from. I found myself being able to be push my limits in a really fruitful way.
The story became less about me creating it and more of a collective creation the deeper we got into the process. From the beginning, I was inspired to create something that could connect to others, so that when another girl or boy are in the position that I was in emotionally, they could have something to find solace or meaning in. Whether or not that will translate in the film (rather arbitrarily) is not up to me anymore. I am very detached from the outcome, as much as I value the responses of the audience.
You are only studying film at UCT after you’ve created your first film, do you think this disadvantaged you at all?
Not at all, I don’t believe you need to be studying something at a formal institution to start doing it, at least not necessarily. If there’s anything that you shouldn’t do, it’s wait for someone or an institution to make you feel like you are more or less capable of doing something. Especially making films.
Of course studying and practising the craft is invaluable and necessary in order to become excellent, but I look at studying at a formal institution as a facilitator to being able to make more informed and relevant films, not as the key to the kingdom.
Many don’t know that you actually sold some of your clothes/personal items to create a budget for your first film, Skin Diver, what were some of the biggest challenges that you faced in pre-production?
It was important to create as much budget as possible, in order to focus on the vision instead of the money. And I wanted to do that as independently as possible. That is definitely one of the biggest struggles for everyone staring out, producing a big enough budget and learning how to find funding when your films become greater in scale.
There were times when I considered for a moment that we weren’t going to be able to shoot because of not having permits to locations or not being able to get the insurance to even apply for the licenses. Those technical/legal aspects taught me so much about the producers role.
Then other parts were just waking up everyday and knowing that you’ve got to ride the whole ship because no one else has the map or knows the mechanics of it. Another challenge was that time I had 48 hours to transform my friends bedroom into a set and make sure we had everything we needed for the first day of shooting. A lot of sleep was lost hahaha, but all the stress and hustle was worth it in the end, as cliché as that sounds
What, for you, is the most difficult part of creating a film?
Every step has it’s own set of challenges and trials, but coming out the other side you can find a lot of contentment and joy.
There are difficulties involved in bringing a team together, one that doesn’t make you question their abilities and love for the work. It’s difficult (but not impossible) to find people who are striving for a similar degree of excellence, because that comes with a lot of sacrifices and different intensions that are rare to come by.
I would say finding the people who fit together best as a team is one of the most difficult aspects. Surrounding yourself with a group of trusted friends who you can work with, bounce your ideas off, trust their opinions, create together…that’s the dream and it takes time.
The creative industry in Cape Town is quickly growing and improving, however, what do you think is holding it back from reaching its full potential?
I think the fact that (generally) international companies still take massive advantage of the South African industries is stunting the industry’s growth, to some extent. It feels like we still don’t know our worth and continue to sell ourselves short. It seems to be the ethical struggle of our continent. We are yearning to grow and want to seize opportunities, but simultaneously we know that we are worth so much more and that our worth and richness is often undervalued. I think that has left a bad taste in the mouth of the Cape Townian industry for too long.
I also think Cape Town, specifically, could benefit from a general increase in genuine warm and an Ubuntu mentality, where collaborations and connecting with each other is more natural, habitual and encouraged.
As someone who frequents Johannesburg, do you think there is any noticeable difference between the creative youth there compared to here?
The energy is Jozi is everything. You feel it the moment you land, it not called the City of Gold for nothing. The hearts are golden, but that goes for all of South Africa.
I love Jozi and it’s people very much. It feels like home to me because I grew up there and I have a lot of friends-who-are-family there. In terms of the creative scene, Jozi has a distinctive sense of diversity, warmth and vibrancy. Creatives, and people in general, are not afraid to reach out to each other and there is a strong feeling of community. I also feel like “youth culture” in Jozi is less characterised by self-consciousness. In other places, it can feel like being friendly ruins your street-cred or clout. I want to avoid generalising, but it is interesting to me that most people would probably agree or relate to these sentiments, so my question is: what are we doing to change the culture? I am excited to see more warmth and integration come into the Cape-Town culture. We have a lot to celebrate and inspire us, so many stories waiting to be told. If we can work on becoming more supportive of one other, I think that could go a long way.
Although the industry is thankfully changing. Do you think that being a young Persian woman in the creative industry has disadvantaged you at all?
When you’re approaching people as a young female director who is making their first short film, I think I knew not to expect too much from people. I have had a fair amount of frustration during interactions where I have been aware that someone is surprised that I am a female doing X,Y and Z capably. I don’t necessarily know if it would be different if I was a male, perhaps, but I have been lucky to work with males who have never given me any reason to feel those types of gender dynamics. Dynamics which I feel should really be avoided in any endeavour or type of work that is much bigger than the people involved in it. Liam, Holmes and Dan were extremely collaborative and brilliant people to work with and gave me no reason to question my role based on my gender.
From a wider industry perspective, I don’t see a lot of female filmmakers amongst the ranks of their male counterparts. It’s FINALLY starting to change though and I think that is what motivates me a lot: the acknowledgement and appreciation of the need for an equal narrative-creating, and what my friend Ashley calls “edutainment”, world. I am excited to contribute to that shift and movement, however I can. Being surprised to see women excelling in previously male-dominated fields can be exhausting. I don’t think we should need to be preaching about being “female” anything, I am someone who makes films and also happens to be a female. Having said that, I do feel it’s extremely important for the women who come after us to see it, in order to believe it.
This poem Progress by Rupi Kaur sums it up for me:
“Our work should equip
the next generation of women
to outdo us in every field
this is the legacy we’ll leave behind.”
Are there any stand out South African filmmakers/creatives that really inspire you?
Kristin-Lee Moolman and Tony Gum, two fiercely talented women!
Is there any specific South African creative that you have a desire to work with?
Allison Swank, Adriaan Louw and Lebogang Rasethaba, because I like the work they’ve done and I think I could learn a great deal from working with them.
What, as a young creative, is the best advice you could give to a fellow creative?
Keep reflecting on your intentions. Take the time to understand why you are creating. Once your intentions are clear(er) to you, surrender yourself to the life-long process of working hard while being detached from where your work finds itself in the world and amongst people.
Most importantly: exercise patience. “Careers take off just gotta be patient”. That is the most important quality (and not-so-ironically the one that I struggle with the most). Just keep finding and refining your voice and keep making work with the best of your ability. Put yourself in positions that feel uncomfortable, that is how you grow your wings.
My dad once told me this really beautiful Persian allegory that I try to remember during struggles with patience. The story goes along the lines of there being two birds who both get trapped inside of a room. The one bird, although feeling initially anxious about being trapped, overcomes the anxiety and waits patiently. Someone eventually comes into the room, opens the door and the bird flies out. The other bird starts to panic and tries its hardest to get out. It bashes itself against the walls, injuring itself, trying to squeeze through cracks in the windows, cutting itself on the glass and eventually, it dies. The point is, sometimes we can be pushing ourselves so hard when we are impatient, that we end up missing out on opportunities that are meant to develop us in ways that we may only be able to appreciate in retrospect
You can watch the trailer for Skin Diver here