Interview with director Nisrin Aziz

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

I used to be a copywriter back in the day. The first ad-script I wrote, when I went to set during its filming, I was completely blown away by this whole new world and way of telling stories. After that, I no longer wanted to sit in a spot and just write concepts for brands. I found a new form of expression, and in effect found that I had so many more stories inside me than just brand material. I quit my job immediately and hopped over to learning how to make films on the job.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Not at all. Filmmaking is as instinctive a tool in storytelling as is photography, painting or collage making. I never had any support – educational, financial or professional for that matter. I learned that to be better at any form of art, practice is key and working with people who encourage you and whose spirits match yours goes a long way. Film school give you access to like minded artists, and a shared obsession for the craft could help you learn faster, but not necessarily is it a sure win to a successful career. Success could come from engagement in our world today. But just make great films and success will follow.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

With filmmaking, the thrill is in the chase. Kicking it off or keeping at it is up to you and you alone. The stronger your obsession to tell visual stories, the easier for you to carry on. And the wonderful thing is that no one can claim to have conquered the craft so it is a constant learning process – for as long as you’d like. The most difficult thing would in fact be to protect your aesthetic. That pure and throbbing beast in your heart. You can get started as a filmmaker with just your cellphone these days. But what themes to talk about? This is the hardest thing to grow and protect inside yourselves.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

It took me the longest time to learn what I want to talk about. Conquering that aha-moment, that gnawing feeling in the back of my head urging me to create art, that haunting confusion of whether I even have a voice – this has been my greatest hurdle. But when it stuck, it struck like a gush of emotion, pouring, loud, infectious. And I persevere every day to protect it with everything I’ve got. This film is a leaf from the pages I am presently writing in. It has been made with a lot of emotion and love. The realization of a voice that is very intimate to me has had a massive impact on Seedling. And I can see how immediate it’s effect is on the film. It comes from a very pure place in my heart.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

I birthed this idea during total lock down. At that time, ALL filmmaking had stopped – world-over. There was no precedent to rely on for guidance. We had no idea how we’d shoot this. But it had to be done. There is no way to describe what we experienced as a crew. The synergy, spirit and ease with which this group of people came together in a time of quarantine and such duress across the globe, is something from a dream. I wanted to find a performer who could encapsulate my emotions perfectly – but we also needed someone who also has access to greenery unlike us and could self-shoot – because it is impossible to physically shoot a concept like this in the concrete match-box that I live I here in Mumbai City. I reached out to a dear friend who is an incredible performance artist based out of Amsterdam (Kannakee Bhuyan) who you can see as the very spirit of the film. Then to find someone that can help with the camera. The cinematographer who shot Seedling has in fact never shot a film before. It is his first ever experience with moving picture. Then came the safety aspect of stepping out of the house during the craziest Covid months. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t take any risks at all. Luckily, we found our shoot locations right outside where Kannakee lived. And finally, to overcome filming via video call! Oh – what an experience! We did all our rehearsals, location scouts and framing for each and every shot remotely, using the video calls between us – me, here in my tiny apartment in Mumbai and Kannakee & Midas all the way in Amsterdam. It was an incredible experience that can only be done when there is complete synergy between the members of the crew. Post production was easier to handle as I cut the film myself and worked remotely with our colorist and with Postcards – this incredibly amazing Beirut based dream pop band that made the song Walls that you hear in the film. I realize that filmmaking is no longer bound to a physical and has broken the barriers of space. With access to creative people across the globe via social media and video calls, I am able to tell a story just as powerful as before. This opens up a whole new dimension to create content that speaks a more unifying and universal language in this shrunken world of ours today.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

None, whatsoever. We made this like a dream.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

Our film has been made entirely on the back of collaborations across the globe. The producer (Adil Aziz) and I live in Mumbai, India; the actor, cinematographer and production designer are from Amsterdam, Netherlands; the band Postcards are based out of Beirut, Lebanon; and the colorist is from Kolkata, India. These are relationships of like-minded people that I have built over the years, some very new connections that were formed via Instagram and recommendations.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

You are a different kind of a filmmaker if your obsessions are to understand what audiences want. If instead your obsessions are internal or drawn from a sense of self, you make a different style of film. There is no wrong kind of filmmaker. So, worry about any topic is fine, as long as you delve deep to understand the subject to the best of your ability. In my case, I think I’m more obsessed with my own understanding of the world. So, I usually create and then rely on the opinions of the people to figure out what the audience thinks.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

This is my first attempt at submission to a film festival as a director. My feature film of which I was an Associate Director, was premiered at IFFLA 2019, and it was a wonderful experience screening the film and talking about it with the audiences – it really opened my mind to the possibility of discussion and discourse to study an audience. I’m still learning to navigate through festivals in order to make the most of it. Hit me up on Instagram if you have advice for me, haha!

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

In my experience, there are no rules, honestly, except for diligence. If you create art mindfully, it will be beautiful, and your intention will show and shine.