Thursday, January 17, 2019

On my father's death.

A few thoughts. Next week I hope to be able to actually journal, once things settle down at least a bit.

Death is a part of life. Some might say, life is death, death is life. But basically, death is a part of life. None of us will escape it, and at some point, you will probably see someone who is no longer living.

Death is both extraordinary, and mundane.

And this cliche is too true: life is too short.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Hanif Kureishi

Extracts from his excellent and intriguing essay, "Introduction: Sex and Secularity":

"To me, writing for film is no different to writing for any other form. It is the telling of stories, only on celluloid. However, you are writing for a director and then for actors. Economy is usually the point; one objective of film-writing is to make it as quick and light as possible. You can't put in whatever you fancy in the hope that a leisured reader might follow you for a while, as you might in a novel. In that sense, films are more like short stories. The restrictions of the form are almost poetic, though most poems are not read aloud in cineplexes. Film is a broad art, which is its virtue."

"I had been aware since the early 1980s, when I visited Pakistan for the first time, that extreme Islam (or "fundamentalism" - Islam as a political ideology) was filling a space where Marxism and capitalism had failed to take hold. To me, this kind of Islam resembled neo-fascism or even Nazism: an equality of oppression for the masses with a necessary enemy - in this case "the west" - helping to keep everything in place. When I was researching The Black Album and My Son the Fanatic, a young fundamentalist I met did compare his "movement" to the IRA, to Hitler and to the Bolsheviks. I guess he had in mind the idea that small groups of highly motivated people could make a powerful political impact.

This pre-Freudian puritanical ideology certainly provided meaning and authority for the helpless and dispossessed. As importantly, it worked too for those in the west who identified with them; for those who felt guilty at having left their "brothers" behind in the third world. How many immigrant families are there who haven't done that?"

"In Karachi there were few books written, films made or theatre productions mounted. If it seemed dull to me, still I had never lived in a country where social collapse and murder were everyday possibilities. At least there was serious talk. My uncle's house, a version of which appears in My Beautiful Laundrette, was a good place to discuss politics and books, and read the papers and watch films. In the 1980s American businessmen used to come by. My uncle claimed they all said they were in "tractors". They worked for the CIA; they were tolerated if not patronised, not unlike the old-style British colonialists the Pakistani men still remembered. No one thought the "tractor men" had any idea what was really going on, because they didn't understand the force of Islam.

But the Karachi middle class had some idea, and they were worried. They were obsessed with their "status". Were they wealthy, powerful leaders of the country, or were they a complacent, parasitic class - oddballs, western but not Pakistani - about to become irrelevant in the coming chaos of disintegration?"

"A child is a cocktail of its parent's desires. Being a child at all involves resolving, or synthesising, at least two different worlds, outlooks and positions."

"Like the racist, the fundamentalist works only with fantasy. For instance, there are those who like to consider the west to be only materialistic and the east only religious. The fundamentalist's idea of the west, like the racist's idea of his victim, is immune to argument or contact with reality."

"... And if we cannot prevent individuals believing whatever they like about others - putting their fantasies into them - we can at least prevent these prejudices becoming institutionalised or an acceptable part of the culture."

"Islamic fundamentalism is a mixture of slogans and resentment; it works well as a system of authority that constrains desire, but it strangles this source of human life too. But of course in the Islamic states, as in the west, there are plenty of dissenters and quibblers, and those hungry for mental and political freedom. These essential debates can only take place within a culture; they are what a culture is, and they demonstrate how culture opposes the domination of either materialism or puritanism. If both racism and fundamentalism are diminishers of life - reducing others to abstractions - the effort of culture must be to keep others alive by describing and celebrating their intricacy, by seeing that this is not only of value but a necessity."

Hanif Kureishi, November 8 2001

On identity

Towards the end of my first year in graduate school, I read a long essay in the Guardian (where else) about a man who had been living secretly in the forest for decades in Maine. He finally got discovered because he had stolen food and other bits and things from nearby campers or visitors, one time too many. There was something that he said that shook me to my core and revolutionized how I approach storytelling and creating characters, as well as in terms of dealing with myself: he said about how with no one around, he had no need to perform any sort of identity. That identity is essentially a performance for others.

Immediately upon reading that essay I vowed to greatly push myself to move past looking at the identity markers of my characters, for them to be as fully-dimensional as possible. It’s been a hard but worthy effort, and it will be probably something that I’ll always continue to strive on.

Our devices and the websites and apps we use say a lot about us. They say too much about us. With my next project I’m aiming to more fully tackle-on my numerous issues with technology and how it affects us all. I’m quite fond of this saying, and I often say it to people: “In solving problems, technology creates new ones”. I myself have been off of Facebook for over 2 years, and my life has greatly improved as a result. I’ve only revisited a couple of times since so that I could post casting calls for my past recent films, but they had very little effect, so I won’t be doing even that anymore.

I’ve been told its ironic that my thesis project is a (limited) web series, despite my serious misgivings about technology, yet that is exactly why I’m doing a web series. There will be arguments and insanity over social media that happens in the series, and I actually want the series itself to spark intense online debate and discussion. Sounds very meta, but I want the web series to actually reflect this bullshit that happens in “real life”, when people fight on platforms like Facebook, especially over things like religion. I myself am guilty of this, and its probably part of the reason why I left that monster.

My oldest brother, let’s call him big F, asked me to do a him a favour and get him a copy of The Economist’s current double-issue. There’s a remarkable essay in here titled “Making you you”, and it’s gotten my brain at 35,000 feet churning. Here are a few quotes and passages that I highlighted.

“Valentin Groebner, a historian, uses the story of Il Grasso to illustrate his study of how people were identified in early modern Europe. It reveals two fundamental principles of personal identity. The first is that any individual’s identity is contingent on the recognition of others. The second is that anything like a modern life is rendered all but impossible when that recognition is not forthcoming, or is suborned.

Put those things together and you see why the provision and policing of identity is one of the foundations of the modern state and the lives lived in it. A person’s sense of who. They are dependent on many things, and is not necessarily either stable or singular. People can identify in many ways, and often do so simultaneously. Your correspondent will happily reveal that he is an immigrant (never an expat) but also a pukka Londoner and none dare say him nay. Political and social culture – at least in the liberal West – have matured to a degree where an increasing number of countries allow him to choose his pronouns and assert his gender unilaterally. But a claim that his name is Leo Mirani, that he was born in 1983 and that he is a legal alien resident in Britain holds little weight without documentary evidence in areas regulated by the state: finance, housing, employment, marriage”.

“The World Bank reckons that at least a billion people cannot produce a birth certificate, often because the states involved do not care to issue them. Being undocumented means being cut off from the modern economy – or working in the shadows and risking exploitation. Identity is a vitally important service for citizens if they are to fully participate in the economy and society”.

- This reminds me of a recent film I saw, Capernaum.

“No one knows for certain how much Aadhaar-associated data have been shared with whom, but in January 2018 Rachna Khaira, a reporter at the Tribune, a newspaper, bought a database with details on 1bn Indians for 500 rupees ($7). India’s states each have their own copies, and layers of sub-contractors have access to them. A system designed to prevent fraud has given rise to a whole new economy of fraudulent activity – such as the sale of fingerprints”.

“…Facebook, de facto identity provider of the non-Chinese parts of the internet. It is not just that nearly 2.3bn people use the service at least once a month, all identified by what seems to be a real name, all not only providing portraits of themselves but also helpfully linking themselves to their friends and interests (not to mention identifying pictures of each other). Almost every website, app and service now requires log-in details. Many people find it convenient to use the same social-network identity for many of these log-ins, and Facebook, as the biggest social network, has 60% of this 'social log-in' market”.

“Like Aadhaar, Facebook is a juggernaut dimly understood even by its own creators. Its complexity makes it difficult to foresee problems and its size makes it impossible to control. Facebook has so far proved reluctant to self-regulate to any serious extent. Despite two years of negative publicity, and fresh scandals about data misuse emerging nearly every week, it is stuck reacting to them pretty much piecemeal. Some argue that users can simply vote with their feet, but there are no signs of that yet. It is not so much that it is hard – though it is for many. It is that most people don’t really seem to care”.

“’The internet was built without identity management…Most of us in the industry are aware of the problem. We’ve been talking about it for at least a decade. There are standards, but there is no coordinated effort’ to manage digital identity".

“State ID documents often say who you were as much as who you are; self-sovereign ones could be bang up-to-date”.

“Most people say they are concerned about the use of their personal data, but are perfectly happy to give it up with very little incentive, something academics call the “privacy paradox”. It is a paradox that keeps Facebook in business.
It is fruitless to blame people for this irritating inconsistency. It is the way people are".

“Acquiring proof of identity without proof of identity is not easy. The undocumented must make trips to the Department of Vital Records (for a birth certificate), the Social Security Administration (to regain relevant numbers) and then to the Motor Vehicle Administration (for state ID). It is a time-consuming process".

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Single Man

I am procrastinating a bit...but that's ok. I actually got a lot done today. However now is the time when for several months my head should be thinking about the characters I am working on.  When you write, whatever you're writing should be the first and last thing you think about each day. That process is now beginning for me again.

Backtrack a few weeks, when I was working on another script, I decided to read Tom Ford's scripts and watch his films. I just LOVE that a fashion designer is such a talented filmmaker. Granted, his films are adapted from books, but still. He emerged "fully-formed" as a filmmaker, as they say.

Screenshots from the A Single Man script below, written by Tom Ford and David Scearce, based on the novel by Christoper Isherwood, 2009. There's something about these pages, this script, and this film. (35mm anamorphic - wahey!) I did also read the book, but actually didn't enjoy it as much.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

On gambling

Last night I watched an Indian film with my parents called Simran. It's basically about a woman who becomes addicted to gambling - and must pay the price for it (there's actually a lot of humour).

In more truthful moments of when people ask me about what I do, I tell them that filmmaking is a constant hustle. That it is a gamble. That everything I am doing and am hoping to do, as a writer-director, is a gamble. I have no idea if any of my films will gain an audience. All of the work, all of the hours, indeed all of the years - it's been so many years now, many of which were spent in the urban wilderness - all of it can amount to absolutely nothing. I always say, to myself and to others, that I just hope it - "it" being the amount of work, suffering, and sacrifices - is all worth it someday.

That indeed, does sound like a gamble. Essentially, I've been gambling since I was 16, since I decided to be a filmmaker rather than a DJ. Filmmaking, or to be more honest, the attempt to be a filmmaker, can be highly addicting, just like gambling. I've been gambling with my life for half of my life now, and everyday I have to tell myself to keep going, to keep trying, that hopefully one day it will all be worth day. Right?

A relative in India passed away a few hours ago. Yet another sibling of a parent of mine. She had a very pretty and unique name. Sadly the last time I saw her was unsurprisingly 10 years ago, as that is what happens when your family is a diaspora, when everyone lives in different countries, in different states: #migrantlife. It's sad, and frustrating, the distances, both literal and metaphorical, between us all.

If I were to have somehow seen her more recently, and even if she weren't afflicted by Alzheimer's, were she to ask me what I do with my life, what I have done, I wouldn't know what to tell her. Filmmaking? Gambling. Gambling as filmmaking-the-attempt-at-filmmaking. That's what the honest answer would have been.

It's hard to get a film made yet I've longed believed that it's even harder to get a film seen. I want my work to be SEEN. Were my work to be SEEN, that would make me feel that all of the sacrifices have been worth it. That it's been worth it for me to have disrupted for myself this generational structure that spans back thousands of years that consists of being married with kids; that I have something to show for this sheer disruption and lack of familiar and familial structure in the timeline of my own personal life.

I specifically chose to not follow the path of everyone else who shares any part of my blood; I gambled. I realize now that if I had really wanted to, yeah I could've been married for years by now and had a kid or two, just like everyone else. But long ago, I decided to toss that structure aside. Because I'd rather be a writer-director instead (first).

Oh I so hope that it will all have been worth it. Thus I will keep working, as I am addicted, I'm addicted to this gambling, to the most difficult medium that exists.