Sunday, December 20, 2015

On Belonging, Or The Lack Of

It's been a month since I posted about leaving New York. A lot of people have reached out to me who read that post, and have told me that it touched them in some way and that they could relate. I even made some people cry with what I wrote! Which kind of stuns me.

I've been telling the friends I've been meeting up with however that I'm doing much better since that I said that I'm leaving. I've accepted my departure and I believe that its the best thing for me at this time. Still, its been really emotional, lots of stuff in my head. I think that I've had enough time to say my goodbyes to friends and to the city, though -

Though I know I'll miss New York. Despite all my hardships here over the years, I feel an attachment and a connection to this place. NY's been good to me but also really difficult. Yet I've grown a lot here; I've spent my twenties here, a massively formative period.

A friend said tonight that I belong to New York, that I'll end up coming back here. I'm letting those words sink in. I have never felt like I belong anywhere. That is due to multiple migrations and also because of my various identities. However, I did feel for a time that NY was a place for a person like me, a weirdo/misfit/confused/artist/etc/etc. Here is where I could blend in or disappear in the crowd, and that is true to some extent. But to say that I belong to a place - especially by someone from this city, is something else. I've always seen myself as a transplant, a gentrifier, as that's what I am no doubt.

What is home, what is belonging? I have always, always, ALWAYS wanted to fit in, wanted to be a part of something, of a clique, of a group, a community. Always. I can't stress that enough. Always been a misfit in some way, always stood out in some way, in whatever room I'm in. Sometimes still I just want to not be noticed and/or blend into the background, and just be seen as part of the something in the room. This is something about my nature, this clinginess, this want, this need, this desire, to be attached to a circle, and yet its something I've rarely fully achieved. I tend to drift in and out or in between, circling around circles, and there's many circles I've left, and some that I've yet to explore further. There were perhaps some spaces I was fully in on for a time, but those spaces either ended or I left.

Sometimes you just gotta accept things about yourself. And so I've learned that there's no point in trying to change how sensitive I am or in denying my want/need to belong to something. Perhaps this all stems from loneliness, from my birth order, etc. But whatever. These things are a part of me and they shape me, no matter how much I dislike it at times.

Like many, I hate the question of "where are you from?". I hate this not necessarily for being Otherized when this happens, though that is annoying no doubt, but because I have so many answers to that question. It's usually some combination of India/Michigan/UK or I mention just one of those places, but end up explaining my migration story anyway because of further probing. The only time I claimed to be from New York, was ironically when I visited the UK last year. When I was in Edinburgh, I couldn't claim to be from London, even though that's my birthplace and accent, because I don't know London these days and don't have much of an attachment to it anymore. To one policeman (it was a friendly convo) I did tell him London, then he asked me about UK politics and I was very much clueless. And so when people asked me where I was from, I told them where I came from, and that was New York. New York, with an English accent. It felt weird to say it, but it felt more accurate. That's the only time though I claimed this city. Probably would've been better to say that I had arrived from New York.

There's a massive thing about who gets to claim New York, who is a native New Yorker and who isn't. I'm certainly not one, and I never will be. If I live here for 10, 20 years, maybe then I can claim to be a New Yorker, though still not a native. And yet, what makes someone a native New Yorker? Someone born here? Someone who came here as a kid? If their parents moved here, were they thought of as New Yorkers at that time? I feel fortunate that lots of my friends here are from NY. I'm not saying that to make me cool or anything; their perspectives have shaped my experiences and perspectives here greatly and I owe a lot to all of them. A lot.

My time here is winding down very, very quickly. Time is speeding up. It feels surreal that it's just a few days left. I keep wondering about how I'm going to feel in MI, trying to see into the future into my mindset. I'm very apprehensive about going back, for various reasons. Hopefully it won't be that difficult and I'm hoping also that missing NY won't be too painful, though I predict that I'll be getting lots of dreams about my time here.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

you can't make me.

addressed to (they): the alphabet soup of surveillance agencies, the racists, the o'reillys and bill mahrs

you want me to be like you? you want me to take my hijab off, go get drunk, mess around? you want me to assimilate, to conform, to what you think all americans/westerners supposedly do? and that doing all that would make me a so-called good muslim in your eyes? because otherwise i'm scary?

nah. i can call myself straight-edge, HXA, but really, i'm just muslim. i'm gonna keep this hijab on, and stay away from the drink, even though i get tempted, just to piss you off. just to not conform. just because you hate it. despite my actual faith going up and down. bring it. fight or flight. i fight, with my words, my art, because i can, and will.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

On a couple of convos

Yesterday I found myself at two baby events. With my departure from NYC imminent, I decided to go to both even though I'm supposed to be working on grad school applications. I knew these events would be reunions of sorts and so I went, saw people I haven't seen in a long time, and now won't be seeing for a long time, and took some photos.

At both events I ended up having long discussions that are pretty serious for a kid's birthday party, and then for a baby shower. I think with where my head is at these days, I can't escape from how the news affects me or with what I read/see/hear/experience. And isn't it better to have a meaningful discussion than to just sit around and talk about the weather?

At the first event I ended up chatting with a woman I've met before, and previously she vented something to me. So, I read her as being open-minded to some extent, and man was I wrong and thrown off with our conversation yesterday. We somehow got into race relations and she just could not understand why and how Black communities are disenfranchised. I attempted to break things down for her with my limited knowledge, and encouraged her to look further, do some reading, ask around, etc. Try to imagine yourself in someone's else shoes, I said. I was astonished though at her continued blatant racism and ignorance. She even did the whole "I work with Black people, have a couple of Black friends" thing too, etc. She just could not get how crippling America's history of slavery is and how it still affects millions of people today such as through incarceration and institutionalized racism. I don't want to paraphrase her words about Black families here because it was just such awful drivel, and just so damn racist. I wanted to ask her if she was a Republican because that's how bad it was, but stopped myself. I kind of wish I had asked though, heh.

This woman goes to the Islamic Center of NYU, a place that is supposedly more inclusive and open-minded than other Muslim spaces and masjids. The IC is a great place, sure, but its become dominated by desi yuppies in recent years, and that's one reason why I and many don't attend as much anymore (even though I'm desi myself, yuppieness just annoys me too much, for someone who's a working-class artist, amongst other reasons). This woman grew up upstate and is a Pakistani yuppie living in the UES. I thought, she's grown up here, gone to college, lives in New York - how can she still be so clueless, and not exposed to things? But she is. So many like her live in a bubble and I worry because us desi Muslims take up so much damn space, and so many of us are so racist. We'll be two-faced about it and hug our Black brothers and sisters on Eid, but in reality there's much ugliness with our hidden racism, that comes to light at times if you just happen to push a button.

Everyone is racist. Even anti-racists will be a bit racist. I know I'm still at least a bit racist, if not more so. But if you know you're racist, its on you to confront that and work on it. And if you're unaware that you're racist, or you claim not to be, and someone points out to you your racism, then you gotta work on it. I asked this woman if she would express the same opinions she was telling me, to a Black person. She said there would be no reason to go around and express these certain opinions, but yeah, maybe she would, even if it would make them uncomfortable.

I blocked out this conversation but am writing about it now…man, we just all feed into white supremacy so much, all the time.

My second conversation, at the second event, also happened to occur by chance. Something came in my head about Maryum (Mary) being a prophet herself, the mother of Prophet Isa (Jesus). Us Muslims believe that Prophet Isa has no father, at all, including God, and that the birth of Prophet Isa is a miracle that God made happen. I've been wondering more lately why us Muslims don't consider Maryum to be a prophet herself. She is mentioned so many times in the Quran, and there's even a chapter named after her. God made a divine miracle happen through her, we believe. And yet still, only a minority of Muslims consider her to be a prophet. Why? Why do the rest of the scholars say, that the 125,000 prophets God sent to humankind, were all men? How can we just assume and know that's the case? And that Maryum isn't a prophet, because she's a woman? Just because, she's a woman. For some reason this re-entered my head last night and I brought it up with this guy I've known for years, all the way back from 2006, but haven't seen much, but we've chatted every now and then and he's cool.

Him and his wife strongly disagreed with me. I made the case that Maryum isn't just any random person, she's one of the most revered people in Islam. Yet they went at lengths to claim that she's not a prophet. And I just kept asking, why? Some fathers of prophets are considered to be prophets themselves, why not Maryum, the mother of a prophet, actually, of a messenger? Why not this woman who's mentioned in the Quran so much? Why do we do so much work to claim that she's not a Prophet? Just because she's a woman? :-(

I'm reminded now of how some years ago, I had this co-worker who's Catholic, but like me also had interesting questions about her religion as well as of mine. I told her what I thought of Mary. And that yeah, there are all these men, all these male Prophets, and just one of her, a woman. I told her I flip it though and think of it as, she's the one woman, and all these men, are equal to just one of her. That shows her awesome power and importance. Maybe that's blasphemous of me to think of it in that way, some might argue. But then, why is she mentioned in the Quran so much, and so honoured?

Anyway, my conversation last night went off into a tangent about something else concerning Muslims, and me and Z had a more in-depth and personal conversation about that matter. Let's just say, I argued that Islam is a lot more grey, against the notion that this and that is so black and white. We didn't necessarily come to a consensus but through sharing, I think we gained a much better understanding, or at least he did, as we re-examined and questioned history.

Now, back to listening to New Order and continuing these MFA applications...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

So long, New York. Its been real. Too real.

7 years here. I came to New York on January 13th, 2009, two and a half years after spending a summer interning here in summer '06. After I graduated college in 2008, I went to India after 12 years, to see family I had no connection with and to build a connection with the place I had thought about so much. I tried to see if I could live and work in India, but it was just too intimidating, as a 22 year-old woman fresh out of college, trying to navigate and consider a new life in India, and the financial crash that happened that Autumn also made me reconsider my options. Instead of making my first trip to Bombay, I finished my India trek a few weeks early and headed back to the States. Days later, Bombay was attacked.

At that time my parents were on hajj, so I spent some time alone in their house in Michigan, and pondered my next move. The one person and friend I had in New York, told me to just come to NY. My parents returned, and a couple weeks later I left with a suitcase in hand, and an address with a sofa to crash on.

I ended up interning for two cycles then getting hired at the same place. I had no plan or timeline for what I was doing in New York, and after a while I didn't want to leave, I wanted to make it work. After a couple years I finally felt more settled in as I successfully made some friends. I didn't really get consistent work though until May 2011, two and a half years after I arrived. I had that job until last year, and I decided to leave and travel for two months, in order to get better and clear my head. I came back a year ago, attempting to re-settle. That hasn't really happened.

There's been many times when things were very wonky and not working out, and I thought about leaving, but I stayed, because I chose to. In New York I've had my heart broken again and again, I've found faith, lost that faith, made friends and lost friends, lost my mind, become a better person, and an awful person, and finally made a film along the way.

I came here to make films, but sadly that's in large part eluded me, save for one short narrative film I spent a year and a half making. I've done some experimental stuff, but narratives have always been my goal. Why haven't I made more films in my time here? For a while I was just trying to make ends meet, and when that's the case, its hard to find time to be creative. Once my job situation stabilized though, I started work on my film, and just did it, and it was great. After that though I felt lost, and then my mind in late 2013/early 2014 lost itself. Getting a mental illness is not something I saw coming, and it certainly didn't help my filmmaking dream. Since getting better though the itch to make films has slowly come back, thankfully.

As for New York, a couple months ago I decided I've had enough. There's nothing keeping me here, I realized. No job, no relationship, no film - there's no reason for me to stay here. And I no longer felt motivated or inspired by the city. I wondered if this feeling of wanting to leave would pass, like it had before. It didn't, instead this time it grew, and then I knew it was real. I started planning on leaving sometime in spring/summer 2016, once I knew where I'd hopefully be going next.

Push comes to shove though. When it rains it pours. All those cliches, all so true. Domino effect. One thing falling after another. That's what's happened, and I'm forced to leave a lot sooner. Blame money and racist roommates. I'm now looking at leaving by January 1st. Presumably I'll spend New Year's driving through states, NY in the rearview mirror, CDs, books and clothes in the backseat and trunk.

Leaving like this isn't what I had in mind. I had made a strong commitment to New York. I thought for a long time, that I'd be here for a long time. I thought about raising kids here. But after more thinking in recent months I thought, this isn't really the place to save up and buy a place. This place is no longer for artists. We know who its for now. Its not for us. Not for me. Not right now, anyway.

And in the last few months I've been acting out in all sorts of ways, doing stupid and questionable things (though I like my blue hair), and probably none of it is healthy, and I know its just signs that I haven't been doing well. Everything's been building up.

Moving out of NY feels like a break-up to a toxic relationship. Like a break-up, I want to get rid of as much stuff as possible; I don't want to have things that will remind me of my time here. I'm only taking back with me what really matters.

I'm also trying though to rearrange my mind, and embrace this abrupt change and transition. In the timeline of the universe, there really is no difference between spending 1-3 months in MI, compared to a few more. It just, does not matter, at all. Much, much less, than a blink of an eye. Gotta keep things in perspective.

And I don't see the point in staying here for a few more months, earning money just to spend it on expenses here. I was gonna leave anyway. Might as well just leave now. I'm very lucky that I have somewhere to go to, and parents that will take me in, alhumdulillah.

I've been told to stop putting myself down so much, and just appreciate the fact that I've spent 7 years here; that I didn't leave right away after a year or so, I stuck it out; that I tried to make things work, things did click and work for a while, then everything eroded, including myself; and its no longer worth it to keep trying here when I've already decided to head out soon anyway. 

I'm hoping with the few short weeks I have left here, to say my goodbyes to friends and the city, wind things down. I started taking photos again recently, and in black and white. Perhaps this was subconsciously because I knew it was my last year here. And now it turns out, this is it! There's one photo series I'd like to do here before leaving iA.

Some recent photos:
islamic center of nyu. spent and didn't spend many hours here

thompson and houston

while in queue for #allmymovies. didn't get in.

I'd like to spend my time in MI doing lots of things. I've become very lazy here, especially in this last year. I'm looking at MI as an opportunity to finally spend some time on working on myself, taking care of myself. I suck at that. Since I moved out for college at 18, I also haven't spent much time with my parents. This will give me a chance to spend a good amount of time with them, in their old age. iA it'll be beneficial and healing for us, I hope. And I know how lonely they have been, for so long.

I'll also be attempting to figure out and build on what I wanna do next and where. And to incubate myself, artistically, spiritually, intellectually. My twenties in New York put me through a washing machine; there's been good times but damn its been hard, I just kept getting thrown around and stepped on. I want to continue the journey my mind has been on though, to continue to challenge myself with interesting ideas and questions. Its because of that very difficult process that I've become much more of a feminist for example, and more public about the kind of person I am. I was finally nudging my way into groups in NY I've longed to be a part of and now that has to end sadly, but my thought processes don't have to at least.

Some things I'd like to do while in MI in addition to building what's next. I think writing them down publicly will help me focus and be more accountable to myself:
- eat better, sleep better, exercise. cook with the parents, become as good as them
- i recently started reading books again. continue that.
- continue taking more photos. sort through and upload the backlog of the last 2-3 years
- write and develop what i hope is my next film
- go back to making collages and messing around with spray paint
- work
- repair my relationship with islam. visit the sufi farm (parents will hate that, oh well)
- repair my relationship with myself
- visit college friends in chicago. maybe visit toronto. go to DEMF after many years.
- maybe chill with artists/filmmakers in ann arbor and detroit

Its a lot, but I'll be there for a while at least, depending on how things pan out. In general I'm just hoping to take care of myself and become a better person, and spend time with my parents. And take a break from life.

My Saturn's Return started churning a couple years ago, its still going, only picking up speed and getting more intense. Change can be frightening. Wish me luck please!

Laters, NY. It's been real. Too real. Please be nice to those remaining.

(someone once said that music is what feelings sound like. hence, here we go)

ok, last one, for some humour: 

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Excerpts from Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Page 8
"It's no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days. Points became games become sets become tournaments, and it's all so tightly connected that any point can become the turning point. It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest. Or darkest. It's our choice."

Page 154
"How lovely it is to dream while you are awake. Dream while you're awake, Andre. Anybody can dream while they're asleep, but you need to dream all the time, and say your dreams out loud, and believe in them."

Page 213
"I'm on Becker's side of the draw. If everything goes according to Brad's plan, I'll face Becker in the semis. Then, Pete. I think: If only, when we're born, we could look over our draw in life, project our path to the final."

Page 265
"After dinner Mandela stands and gives a stirring talk. His theme: we must all care for one another - this is our task in life. But also we must care for ourselves, which means we must be careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements. We must manage our lives carefully, in order to avoid becoming victims. I feel as if he's speaking directly to me, as if he's aware that I've been careless with my talent and my health."

Page 294
"I'm in the round of sixteen at the French Open for the first time since 1995. My reward is Carlos Moyá, the defending champion.

Not to worry, Brad says. Even though Moyá's the champ, and real good on the dirt, you can take away his time. You can bull-rush him, stand inside the baseline, hit the ball early and apply pressure. Go after his backhand, but if you have to bring it to his forehand, do it with purpose, with heat. Don't just go there - drive it hard up Main Street. Make him feel you.

In the first set, it's me feeling Moyá. I lose the set fast. In the second set I fall down two breaks. I'm not playing my game. I'm not doing anything Brad said to do. I look up to my box and Brad screams: Come on! Let's go!

Back to basics. I make Moyá run. And run. I establish a sadistic rhythm, chanting to myself: Run, Moyá, run. I make him run laps. I make him run the Boston Marathon. I win the second set, and the crowd is cheering. In the third set I run Moyá more than I've run the last three opponents combined, and suddenly, all at once, he's cooked. He wants no part of this. He didn't sign on for anything like this."

I loved this book. I think it'll became one of my faves, and its probably the one of the best autobiographies I've read so far.

There were moments I really enjoyed and that made me laugh. Primarily Agassi's crush on Steffi Graf and his courtship of her, and how he and his team would talk about her day and night and help him strategize. It was great fun to read.

It's also clear that Andre has very loyal people around him. And that Andre is so very, very human. One of the best athletes in the world in his time yes, but very human.

I can get very inspired by athletes, primarily by tennis players. When I watch them play, I understand that they got to where they are through pure hard work and dedication. Day in, day out, year after year after year, they keep at it. They have to condition their body and mind constantly. They inspire to get my head straight and put the work in that I need to do for my own craft.

What I like most about Agassi, and also about my fave player, Andy Murray, is that both have been through so many mental struggles, and they survived, and thrived even. Their struggles affect their game. But they were able to fight through and succeed. Murray is at a similar place to where Agassi was before he started winning slams again. I hope Andy, like Andre, is also able to pull through and claim trophies again.

If you're a tennis fan, read Open.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Effie Brown, Project Greenlight, NYFF Live panel "New Hollywood?"

With the sort of filmmaker I am (woman, poc, etc, etc) I follow the discussions and debates on the lack of diversity in the American film industry. In the last month or so things have really kicked up with the #damonsplaining diversity on Project Greenlight, and his more recent tone-deaf and hypocritical statements in saying that gay actors shouldn't out themselves. Matt Damon, I used to be a fan, but no more. And I'm not the only one.

While I'm no longer a Damon fan, Goddamn I am a newly-minted Effie Brown fan. I am so, so happy she is holding things down on Project Greenlight. Her presence as the ONLY poc in the room in those meetings, and usually also the only woman, shows in stark light the racism and sexism that's at play everyday in the industry. Every damn day. Project Greenlight has become so engrossing this season precisely because we're getting to see the real rubbish that happens behind the scenes. In how people don't respect Effie and try to circumvent her, do her job for her, that she knows how to do and is doing, in claiming that she has a temper, etc etc. Its rubbish, but Effie knows what's up, and she'll do her job and she'll also be the one who makes sure not everyone on set is white.

The contestant winner Jason Mann is just awful. Extremely entitled, clueless, who won't compromise on anything and who will play dirty to get what he wants, such as complaining to Matt and Ben about his producer and not getting to shoot on film. In episode 4, they are one week away from shooting, and they have no locations, and no cast. I haven't made a feature yet but even I know, that's a recipe for disaster. When I'm making a film, I wanna be as prepped as I can be, and that includes knowing my locations inside out, and getting my cast ready. You can't just throw in your actors at the last minute. Actors make your film. Without actors, you have no damn film. Put your cast together and spend time with them, making sure they know their characters. To me, when you're directing, you're directing the camera, and the actors. Directing the camera means working on everything that's in the frame, but you also gotta direct your actors, coz if they fall apart, so does the film.

So what does Jason do a week away from shooting? Ask again if he can shoot on film instead of digital. Forget making a shotlist, or even choosing a location for a shotlist, forget having a cast - nope, this brat wants to shoot on film. As if shooting on film, is going to make everything magical.

I'm not the only who dislikes Jason. Here's the AV Club:
"It’s a fascinating dilemma. Is The Leisure Class really going to look so much better on film that it’s going to be worth it for Jason to risk not getting the shots he needs? Shooting on video saves time anyway, so with two extra days to shoot he’d be much more likely to have the time to set up the shots he wants, light them to his specifications, and so on. In other words, there’s more to the “look” of a movie than simply the format it’s shot in. By choosing film, Jason isn’t necessarily making the choice that will result in a better-looking movie.

Unsurprisingly, though, he does choose film. Also unsurprisingly, Effie thinks he’s made the wrong choice, saying “he’s not interested in serving the film if he’s giving up more days.” That remains to be seen, but only if Jason actually chooses a location to shoot in. Again he sidesteps Effie, as well as location scout Alison, and goes out to look at a house found by the production designer, Cecil. It would have been interesting to see how this played out if Jason actually liked the house, but he doesn’t, so it just sort of fizzles out. Still, Jason is not doing a great job of creating an atmosphere of trust with his crew so far. Finally, he has to pick somewhere to shoot, so he settles on the Douglas Fairbanks house they could have chosen weeks earlier.

This gets to the heart of why, even for those of us inclined to side with the director over the suits, Jason is so hard to root for. It’s not just that he’s unproven and we basically have to take his talent on faith, but that he comes off as so ungrateful for all the concessions he has gotten, even saying at one point, “We’re already so compromised.” Think of one of the rare times Jason didn’t get his way, back on day one when he wanted to fire Pete Jones. Now he finds Pete so indispensable, he balks when Pete has to leave the project as scheduled because his contract is up. If he was wrong about Pete, maybe he’s wrong about other things, too, and maybe he should be a little more open to listening to the people who are more experienced. That’s not compromising your artistic integrity, it’s giving yourself a better chance to succeed. With the cameras about ready to roll, we’ll soon see if Jason’s stubbornness can survive an unforgiving feature film production schedule."

Because of Effie Brown I went today to the NYFF 53, NYFF Live "New Hollywood?" panel at the Lincoln Center. The presenter said this panel came about because of the recent eruption that #damonsplaining caused. There have been endless articles and panels about the lack of racial and gender diversity in the film industry, so I wondered, what am I going to get out of this one? But I went coz of Effie. I sat in the middle of the second row, because I wanted to be visible, and I got smiles from Effie Brown and Susan Lewis. :-D

I thought this blog post was just going to be notes I posted from the panel, but I'll just point out a few things that were said:
- The panelists said something I had been thinking, which is that the TV landscape today is much more inclusive than the film world. There are far more women/poc/queer characters on TV, both network and online, than in film, and behind the camera TV is more inclusive as well, think of the showrunners. I'm using the word inclusive rather than diverse, because "diverse" is played out and exasperating for many people. TV still has a ways to go of course but its much further along than film. One of the panelists remarked that film might become more like theatre, a rarefied art form for white people. Sigh.
- Social media is actually a gamechanger. Studios and major figures can't get away with their crap as much anymore, because they get called out on it. Recent examples are of course, the Damonsplaining, as well as  Aloha, and the James Bond author calling Idris Elba too "street" for the role.
- The international market might become a bigger play. Studios might try to get more foreign locations/actors/stories - on the flipside though its been long said that studios think only films with white male leads get tickets sold abroad. However, Fast and Furious 7 made over a billion $.
- A white guy who's made a little film will get hired to make a massive feature. It happens all the time. All the time. A woman? Practically never. Even a woman with a great track record. White guys get chances, the rest of us, don't.

Further comments on the panel are posted here by the Guardian. 

I'd like to zoom out though. Yeah, there aren't enough women in film here. The racism and sexism in the American film industry mirrors what we see in society at large. But I know there's more than one film industry. In the Arab world and in South Asia, there are many women writing and directing films, calling the shots. There's still not enough, but the numbers are better than here.

And the problem of not enough women behind the camera starts at a young age. Over this past summer I was an instructor at a summer youth filmmaking camp in Tribeca, consisting of middle-schoolers. The program I was involved in, had each kid write and direct their own film in one month. There were about 20 kids, split into 3 groups, I had seven kids in my group. Out of those 20 kids, there were 4 girls. 4, out of 20. These kids, were given an incredible opportunity at such a young age, to write and direct their own short film, with good equipment. To be artists, to be visionaries, writers, directors, filmmakers. And yet there's 4 girls and 16 boys. Why? Were other young girls discouraged from participating? And if so, why?

This gender discrepancy I saw in front of me, mirrors the industry at large, and it showed to me, how this gender bias starts at a young age, with all of us complicit.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Filmmaker Says

Quotes from The Filmmaker Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom
- unfortunately there were probably about 3 women in this book, and maybe two people of colour...

"Learning to make films is very easy. Learning what to make films about is very hard."
George Lucas

"Life is a tragedy, when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot."
Charlie Chaplin

"Making a movie was like vomiting. I really did not look forward to it, but after I did it, I felt better."
Warren Beatty

"The most painful thing is to think you will come to see the film and then forget it. It is also painful to hink that you see the film, remember it for a little while, and then forget it. So I try to keep you from forgetting. I try to present a human being that you are unable to forget."
Akira Kurosawa

"I don't mind the dance that you have to do in order to get something made - the hoops you have to jump through, the fake smiles you have to adopt. You just have to. No one is entitled to anything. You have to earn it."
Sam Mendes

"Most films reflect the world, and the world is violent and in a lot of trouble. It's not the other way around. The films don't make a peaceful world violent - the violent world made the films."
David Lynch

Girl In A Band

Excerpts from Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

Page 85
"These days, when I'm in New York, I wonder, What's this place all about, really? The answer is consumption and moneymaking. Wall Street drives the whole country, with the fashion industry as the icing. Everything people call fabulous or amazing lasts for about ten minutes before the culture moves on to the next thing. Creative ideas and personal ambition are no longer mutually exclusive. A friend recently described the work of an artist we both know as "corporate," and it wasn't a compliment. The Museum of Modern Art is like a giant midtown gift store."

Page 127
"I also felt limited as a singer. When the band first started, I went for a vocal approach that was rhythmic and spoken, but sometimes unleashed, because of all the different guitar tunings we used. When you listen to old R&B records, the women on them sang in a really fierce, kick-ass way. In general, though, women aren't really allowed to be kick-ass. It's like the famous distinction between art and craft: Art, and wildness, and pushing against the edges, is a male thing. Craft, and control, and polish, is for women. Culturally we don't allow women to be as free as they would like, because that is frightening. We either shun those women or deem them crazy. Female singers who push too much, and too hard, don't tend to last very long. They're jags, bolts, comets: Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday. But being that woman who pushes the boundaries means you also bring in less desirable aspects of yourself. At the end of the day, women are expected to hold up the world, not annihilate it. That's why Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill is so great. The term girl power was coined by the Riot Grrl movement that Kathleen spearheaded in the 1990s. Girl power: a phrase that would later be co-opted by the Spice Girls, a group put together by men, each Spice Girl branded with a different personality, polished and stylized to be made marketable as a faux female type. Coco was one of the few girls on the playground who had never heard of them, and that's its own form of girl power; saying no to female marketing!"

Page 132
"On a more personal level, "Shaking Hell" mirrors my struggle with my own identity and the anger I felt at who I was. Every woman knows what I'm talking about when I say girls grow up with a desire to please, to cede their power to other people. At the same time everyone knows about the sometimes aggressive and manipulative ways men often exert power in the world, and how by using the word empowered to describe women, men are simply maintaining their own power and control. Years after I'd left L.A., I could still hear my crazy brother's voice in my ear, whispering, I'm going to tell all your friends that you cried.

Back then, and even now, I wonder, Am I "empowered"? If you have to hide your hypersensitivity, are you really a "strong woman"? Sometimes another voice enters my head, shooing these thoughts aside. This one tells me that the only really good performance is one where you make yourself vulnerable while pushing beyond your familiar comfort zone. I liken it to having an intense, hyper-real dream, where you step off a cliff but don't fall to your death." 

Page 133, emphasis mine
"With "Shaking Hell," I was trying to push my inner self out, with an edge that matched who I had become in New York. I bleached my hair unevenly, then dyed it magenta. In retrospect, it's ridiculous that anyone saw me as a fashion icon, since all I was trying to do was dumb down my middle-class look by messing with my hair. Throughout the eighties I was invariably half-sure and half-confident about whatever it was I wore. I was going for a punky look, without really feeling I owned it...Still, I've always believed - still do - that the radical is far more interesting when it looks benign and ordinary on the outside."

Monday, August 10, 2015

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and Kim Gordon

Over two nights I watched the groundbreaking and well-received documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Like countless others I'm a casual fan of Nirvana and own a copy of Nevermind. You grow up hearing about Kurt and what happened to him and what he did to himself. I've never read any of the books or seen any films about him though, until this one.

What's so great about Montage is its use of archival footage. The filmmaker had full authorization from Courtney and Frances and so he got access to everything-Kurt - his journals, drawings, paintings, recordings, home videos, etc etc. I read somewhere that 85% of this film is new, unseen footage. There are few actual talking-head interviews, and even so they're only with his close family and with Kris from Nirvana. Apparently Dave was interviewed but for some reason wasn't included in the final cut. I wonder what he had to say.

The film is disturbing at parts, mostly due to Kurt's own drawings, at least for me. The guy was seriously disturbed from a young age. I've had a fair amount of experience with mental health/illness, and it seems to me Kurt should have received serious therapy since at least his teenage years. The stuff that he was drawing, what he was writing, etc - the guy needed help but couldn't get it, because hey we know that poor people in this country have great access to healthcare, right?! And by the time Nirvana blew up and Kurt had money, he was already a heroin addict...still, if only someone had taken him to see someone. Maybe it would've been too little too late, and also, what's the point of doing all these what-ifs - still for me, from a mental health perspective, it was clear that Kurt needed professional help. Actually, maybe someone did try to get him to a mental health professional, what do we know after all.

Since most of the film consists of Kurt's own artistic outputs, its kind of like seeing things from his perspective, or as close as we can get to that. May he rest in peace inshallah.

Since watching the film I read about Kurt and Frances, and about Nirvana, and came upon videos of Nirvana being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year in 2014. It was at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and was open to the public - if only I had known! Dave, Kris, and Pat performed, and for Kurt's vocals they had 4 women singers. It was a pretty great nod to Kurt's feminism. Joan Jett and St Vincent I feel were good, but they also just kind of imitated Kurt's recorded vocals. Lorde did her own thing but I don't think it really worked.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth though - wow, what a revelation. I LOVE THIS PERFORMANCE. I think its how Kurt would've done it and/or he would've definitely approved. Kim is badass and punk to the core here. I love it. I've been watching it on repeat.

I've included the full video of all 4 performances so that you can compare. Kim's starts around 15 minutes in.

The New Yorker did a piece on Kim and here's a bit about this mindblowing performance:

"The performances with Lorde, St. Vincent, and Jett had an odd, denatured quality that left both song and singer exposed, missing the viscera of the thing and, in effect, the point. For her number, though, Gordon chose “Aneurysm,” not a hit but a B-side, released on the 1992 compilation “Incesticide.” Wearing a black-and-white striped minidress of the sort she favored in the early nineties, Gordon seemed to pull the song from her guts and trap it in her throat, her body switching, bouncing, and lurching to get it free. “Love you so much it makes me sick,” she spat, “Uhhhhhh-huhhhh.” Not a singer, exactly, Gordon was perhaps the only hope for a song like “Aneurysm,” which in the absence of its author requires less a vocalist than a medium for translation.

In the final pages of “Girl in a Band,” Gordon’s sober, ruminative new memoir, she recalls that night. One of her first appearances following her split from her husband and former bandmate, Thurston Moore, for Gordon the performance became “a four-minute-long explosion of grief,” a purge involving both “the furious sadness” of Cobain’s death, twenty years earlier, and the recent end of her nearly thirty-year marriage, her band, and whomever she was inside of both. Afterward, Gordon reports with some pride, Michael Stipe told her that her singing was “the most punk-rock thing to ever happen, or that probably ever will happen, at this event.”

I've been listening to more Nirvana of course since watching Montage, but I'm also gonna read Kim's book and check out her tunes. Rock on Queen Kim! 

- Cross-posted on The Ashraf Obsession