Supper Club Cinema's Gabrielle Leith interviews filmmaker Haya Waseem

Posted by Gabrielle Leith, February 22, 2017
filmmaker Haya Waseem

Supper Club Cinema, launched in 2015, is an intimate experience of sharing a four-course meal and four-short films. Each meal is prepared by a local chef and paired with a slate of short films. Gabrielle Leith, the founder and curator of SCC brings you a selection of international and local films, thematically put together to create an intimate and cozy dining atmosphere and an artistic discussion. If food is the quickest way to one’s heart, then this is the perfect opportunity to share a meal and let the short films pull on your heart strings.

In advance of the screening, Gabrielle Leith (SCC founder) sat down with Haya Waseem, one of the filmmakers whose work will be shown at the upcoming SCC, to talk about her experience as a Toronto-based filmmaker and share some insight on her short film, Shahzad. Check out the interview below!

A still from the short film Shahzad

How has your own background informed the subject of the film and the way it was shot?

Yes, I find all my writing sparks from my background and experiences in one way or another. I remember coming across a very striking image once of a man with a goatee and bright blue eye shadow, looking right into the lens. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the image yet, but it always stuck with me. Later, I began reflecting upon my experience moving around when I was younger. How I was always so caught up in adapting to the change around me that I never quite paid attention to how people around me might have been experiencing change. At that point suddenly, those two thoughts clicked in my mind and the base for Shahzad emerged.

In terms of the shooting, Christopher Lew, the cinematographer and I, had lengthy conversations about the themes in the film; the distant relationship between father and son, the tunnel-vision like focus of a child and the freedom to express and open up as he builds friendships, all informed our stylistic decisions. We developed a format where the camera reflected those themes, creating a very still and distant frame for father and son scenes, maintaining a 4:3 aspect ratio to reflect the tunnel-vision point of view for Shahzad and the camera loosening up as Shahzad begins to open up.

A still from the short film Shahzad

What was it like directing a child as the lead actor in one of your first films?

I had heard that it’s challenging to direct young actors, but I find I’m always drawn to young characters in my films. Young actors are playful and they have wonderful imaginations so I really enjoy working with them. Yatharth Bhatt, who plays Shahzad in the film, was an absolute pleasure to work with. He had this great curiosity that children do, but he also had a stillness to him that fit Shahzad’s character perfectly. He understood the scenes and carried the film so well. Filip Geljo and Richard Davis, who play Shahzad’s friends in the film, were also great actors and the three of them formed a wonderful friendship that really uplifted the film.

With issues of immigration so forefront in the news on a global level – what role do you think films like Shahzad play in the cultural landscape and discussion? What role does art generally play in times like these?

It’s a very interesting question and one I’m not sure I have the perfect answer to yet, but these are my thoughts thus far. Immigration is very much at the forefront in the news on a global level and that’s for sure, but I find the angles shifting and changing with time. When I wrote and directed this short film, my intention was to tell an internal story, not to raise awareness about any issues, but to simply tell a story about two people not just in a change of environment, but two people who themselves are changing. I found people’s response to the film interesting because almost everyone commented on the positive nature of the film, about how Shahzad doesn't get bullied or that his journey is seemingly easy. I began to realize that there’s an expectation that most films about immigrants would share the hardships they face, but my experience as an immigrant was quite different. I was fortunate to move to quite an accepting environment here in Canada and my changes were more related to internal matters such as reassessing my morals and values and finding the balance between my culture and this new place that was home now. So, I shared a story that rang true to me and my experiences and I think it’s important to speak out about positivity and hope as well. Especially given the current affairs.
As I write a feature for Shahzad, I have moments where I feel a weight on my shoulders at times to speak out about immigration in a way that raises awareness about the hardships that the news is reflecting, but my heart wants to share internal stories. Stories about two people, again, who are changing and are trying to navigate how to best express themselves. I don’t see Shahzad as a story about immigration. It’s a story about a father and son. It’s an internal story, and in the end, I’d say it’s very hopeful. So what I am trying to say is, I think it’s important to share stories from all angles, share stories about the struggles, but also the triumphs, about the discriminations but also the friendships, and ultimately the realization that stories are layered, and nuanced and unique. I think art has a great role to play in times like these, and it’s aim should be balance and diversity and an opportunity for voices of all backgrounds and experiences to be heard because I think there’s many, many sides to any story and while the news brings current events to the forefront, art brings all it’s layers, emotions and experiences to light in hopes of painting a broader picture.

What do you hope people take away from seeing your film?

I think simply that, people change, circumstances change, and it’s sometimes confusing and upsetting and exciting all at once but that together you move forwards. I hope that people enjoy experiencing an internal story, a universal story in many ways, and reflect upon it the way they choose! I’m sharing a very small side of a very big picture and no matter how people react, I think getting a chance to share the story with the audience is noteworthy enough.

How do you think screening a film in a setting like Supper Club Cinema will frame an audience’s experience of seeing your short for the first time?

I think sharing a meal with a group of people is the most intimate community experience. It connects everyone and creates an enjoyable environment, because who doesn't enjoy great food! To be able to watch films, especially like Shahzad which features food as a key element throughout the movie, I think it creates a very unique way to experience the film as a group and to reflect and speak about it. I think for me, I am excited to see how people connect to the film and respond to it in this set-up because when you’re enjoying your meal, you’re open in a way that’s special. Isn’t there an old saying of food being the key to the heart? So if that’s true, everyone’s hearts should be open to Shahzad when they watch it, and that’s where our preferred audience sits! So I think this setting would certainly enhance and open up the experience of watching the short.

How do you think a city like Toronto shapes a filmmaker's experience compared to other cities?

I found there to be an equal opportunity for every voice to matter and be heard here. I didn’t necessarily feel that way when I was in Switzerland growing up because I was aware I wasn’t Swiss. When I moved to Canada, I didn’t even realize when I felt Canadian because I think it was subconsciously instantaneous. When I was ready to share a story, I felt welcomed. Again, I think that’s important to share because I hear and I understand that it’s difficult for many, but I also want to share that it was very welcoming for me, and I certainly think Toronto has a hugely accepting environment when it comes to diversity of stories and experiences. It’s encouraged and valued and it’s through noticing the diversity around me in the city that I felt accepted, welcomed and heard.

Join us on March 5th at the Drake Underground for our very first Supper Club Cinema night. This edition features a collection of international shorts made by all female filmmakers, with food by Drake Hotel Chef de Cuisine Alexandra Feswick. Click here for tickets!

Posted in: Art

Tags: alexandra feswick  art  film  supper club cinema