Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Interview with artist Salman Aziz (second interview) by Dave Wolff

Interview with artist Salman Aziz by Dave Wolff

I first interviewed you in 2019 when you were promoting your poems, short stories and your independent film “Lost in the Black Hole”. What have you been doing since then?
Ah! I really can't believe that I will be here once again getting interviewed by you! Seriously, I just can't explain how excited I am to be part of this meeting! Literally, I am grateful for that. Because the last time, this is the only magazine where I openly and explicitly talked about my work and life that I hardly spoke to others!
Since 2019, I did lots of things. Lots of magical moments happened during that time. And, at the same time, I had gone through some worse times.
The end of 2019 turned out as a lucky charm for me. Because after that, I gained a little worldwide recognition which I was seeking for the last decades!
My film Lost in the Black Hole, got a nomination under the Tareq Shahriar Best Independent Shorts Award (the most reputed award for Bangladeshi Young & Aspiring Filmmakers) from the 15th International Short & Independent Film Festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals in Europe, Asia, and the American continent. It felt like one of my sweet dreams that came true!
In 2020, I made an alternative version of the film with lots of VFX and symbols to make it more and more enigmatic and bold. And, yes! From 2020 to 2021, it also won awards from reputed international film festivals!
Alongside this small success, 2020 was a horrible year for my mental breakdown. I truly went through lots of suffering from my physical and mental health. Somehow, I was able to cope with it.
After taking an overlong break from writing, I returned with my 2nd book in 2021, Bold and Bitter Statements: Volume 1, where I narrated my philosophical views about life, the human mind, nature, and the world. And, its 2nd volume came out in 2022. Now I am onto music and planning to do films. And, many books are lined up to come out.
So overall I am kinda busy with my work and life!

Did you expect “Lost in the Black Hole” to be nominated for the Tareq Shahriar Best Independent Shorts Award when you released it? How did that nomination turn out for the film?
Once Lady Gaga said, “There can be a hundred people in the room, and 99 don't believe in you, but one does.” This excerpt is also applicable to me.
I never imagined that I could get the nomination! I submitted my film to more than a hundred film festivals in to hope that they will like it. But one after another rejections, I already put in my mind that I and my creation won't ever be accepted and appreciated by the people. Then this wonderful thing happened. I got an email that my film is nominated. I still couldn't believe it and sent them an email for ensuring. And boom, finally karma turned into real!
In the 15th ISIFF, more than five thousand films were submitted for the festival but only a hundred were selected. And from them, only six films were chosen for nominations in each different category. I couldn't believe my film would be there! I made my film with a mobile camera whereas other filmmakers used film cameras to shoot their films. Their films were highly professionally edited whereas I edited my film all alone. They had professional actors for the film whereas I acted in my own film. After this what can I expect? For me getting this nomination from the most reputed international film festival is a huge big thing!

In what ways is the alternate version of “Lost in the Black Hole” with its additional VFX different from the original? Why did you decide to make this new version of the film and how did audiences respond to it? At which film festivals did it win awards?
There is an old proverb, "Artists are never satisfied with their creations." Each time they want to modify more and more to make those perfect. In 2019 when I finished my film, the visuals were very raw and mysterious. But in 2020, I thought I must creatively make it more enigmatic. In this case, Madonna's Bedtime Story M/V influenced me to put VFX. I found the symbols can clearly refer to many things so that the viewers can interact with the artist's expression of mind. Before putting those symbols in my film, I studied a lot to gather information about them and also learned how to use VFX in Adobe Premiere. It was a very challenging task for me because for the first time I did that! When I got good feedback from the reviewers, it felt like all my pains show the colors of joy. And mostly I was over the seventh sky when the Lebanese people loved my film and voted to get the Audience Award.
Already I claimed that this type of film was never made in my country. For ensuring my mind, I applied to the cultural ministry to verify that is it true or not. And my doubts were gone when the ministry office's copyright section declared and certified it as authentic by creation and the first short film in the symbolic mysterious experimental category.
After participating in the bi-yearly festival the ISIFF, I mostly submitted my film to monthly film festivals, because I didn't have much patience to wait for a year to get the notification. I know the list is little but here I'm gonna share where I got selected, nominated, and awarded.

Official Selections:
Best Experimental Short Film, International Short & Independent Film Festival, 2019.
Best Cinematography, Mozi Motion Film Festival, 2019.
Best Experimental Short Film, Austin After Dark Film Festival, 2019.
Best Experimental Short Film, Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival, 2019.
Best Short Film, Lift-Off Global Network Sessions 2021.
Best Experimental Short Film, Hallucinea Film Festival, 2021.
Best Experimental Short Film, Direct Monthly Online Film Festival, 2021.

Tareq Shahriar Best Independent Short, 15th ISIFF, 2019.
Best Horror Short Film, Berlin Flash Film Festival, 2021.
Best Mystery Film, Indie online film award (Season 3), 2021.
Best Halloween Originality, Brazil International Monthly Independent Film Festival, 2021.
Best Experimental Short Film and Audience Award, Monthly Indie Shorts, 2021.

Although I got this little success and hold a title, still I think I didn't get much recognition that I deserve especially from my country. And every time it hurts me a lot when it comes into my mind. Maybe I am not a big well-known star that's why I got a handful of media coverage!

Altogether it appears to be an impressive list, if you add the selections, nominations and awards together. For a new filmmaker from an industry that’s not as well known, you seem to be getting a good start making a name for yourself. Have other filmmakers or festival organizers taken notice of your awards since you received them?
I am thankful for these sweet words you used to compliment me. It means a lot to me!
Ah, I don't think the list is quite impressive to me! The day when I will get any award or nomination from the Oscars or Golden Globes, then I will take myself as an achiever! Though “Bloody Dark Dream” is my very first film, as a film festival participant “Lost in the Black Hole” is my first film in that way.
To be honest, if the film is made by a well-known maker like Nuhash Humayun, definitely the person will get all kinds of well-treatment from the entertainment world than me! Because this industry is run by fame, power, and money! It doesn't mean I am feeling envious or grumbling too much!
But yes, what I truly deserve, I didn't get that much! The reason is I am just an indie artist, not from a big production house or owning any label! Everywhere still, never-ending cronyism and nepotism are happening. Nowadays a handful of people respect true art and artists!
But I am truly grateful to them, who understood and felt my mind and appreciated my very hard work! When I think about that, it gives me the energy to do more work and go forward. A little appreciation really matters to artists like us! Because small support and love may boost the mind of the artist to create something rare!
After getting the winning tag, I got enormous invitations from film festivals to attend. My email and Instagram hold the evidence of those words! I think it is a blessing from God that I got this recognition as a filmmaker and artist worldwide! Very often the festival organizers contact me to submit my film to their festivals, even many of them privately offer me various percentages of discounts for submission fees. The respect now I am getting from them, I never got in my entire life. According to my thought, to give birth to something aesthetic, all artists, authors, and filmmakers should break the wall of rivalry among themselves and work side by side!

The industry has changed in the last decade. Hollywood is running out of ideas and adopting cancel culture to push many of their movies, independent film is on the rise and social media generates more review profiles. While Hollywood still runs on money, it’s not quite as prominent anymore. Are there indications you’ve seen that the indie industry in your country is growing?
It’s a good sign that the wind of change is blowing everywhere! Though the wind blows like a storm somewhere or maybe like a gentle breeze. The thing is happening because of boredom to see the same kind of stories in the films. Now people are interested to see quality-oriented films, not acted by multi-stars. And I think most indie filmmakers make such kinds of movies. They mostly cast talented actors who can carry the characters really well! They make films that carry special messages to everyone that are related to society and even people can relate their everyday life to the films. In indie films, the budget is low or limited, that's why social media plays a vital role to promote the film. It is also a great medium to contact artists and makers. And in this digital era, everything becomes easier because of social media! Though it has negative sides also!
In my country, the majority of people prefer commercial films for entertainment. They have created a group where they only follow a specific star or superstar. But nowadays things are changing due to the taste of the new generation. Indie films are now taking a place in the heart for their good stories. Though they hardly meet with commercial success or get much theater for screening than commercial films! In short, the change is a slow process but it is gradually happening!

Do you know of any indie film companies showcasing self-produced movies on social media sites such as Youtube? What’s your view of some of them?
Yeah! I know some but I don't wanna mention them. Though they are indie film companies, they have made a cluster where they prefer only the known people around them just like commercial companies. And that's all I can talk about them! These days they are releasing their works on OTT platforms besides Youtube or Vimeo so that they could earn! Now I have to cross my fingers, tape my mouth and work on my own!

Did you happen to meet any indie filmmakers at any of the film festivals you attended? People you might correspond and perhaps collaborate with?
People are scared to work with me! Hahaha, I was kidding! Actually, collaboration becomes easy when both parties have similar points of view! But in my case, even though I got collaboration offers, I turned those down because my artistic way is far different than others! If I get any opportunity to work with an enthusiastic artist who has a deep affection for the art world like me, I will definitely team up for creating the best!
While attending the 15th ISIFF in 2019, I met a young ambitious filmmaker! But our conversation was limited to “hello, how do you do?” Yeah, we talked a little about our films but found he was unheard of dark art and symbolism ever! His filmmaking way and genre are different from mine! He makes films on happy stories with verbal dialogue.
In the time of the global pandemic, the rest of the festivals took place virtually. It was a relaxing situation for me because even if I got the invitation due to visa costs and other stuff, I couldn't bear those! But it doesn't mean in future I won't go if I get a call from the festival.
During the occasion, I met a few filmmakers online who are fascinated to work with me, if I will be available in their countries! They loved my work and devotion to the art. Even I got an amazing proposal to act in their films as an actor! I was just wowed! It was a big surprise for me! But for now, let it keep for the future!

Name a few of the filmmakers you have befriended online recently, and name any of the movies you’ve had a chance to watch by them?
I am a kinda introverted person! I mix with them with whom I feel comfortable and free. I have plenty of filmmakers, artists, models, and actor friends on my Facebook and Instagram, but I hardly talk to them. Mostly they watch my artistic activities and sometimes they applaud.
But yes, I have good communication with Indian filmmaker Amit Chauhan on Facebook. He is such a nice person with good behavior. He made many short films, TV commercials, and music videos from his own production house. From his short films, I got a personal invitation to watch one of the films, titled Identity (2020) online. Another short film I watched was Stay Alive still available on YouTube. People can watch this amazing film on mental health.
Once I approached him if he is planning to make any short films with a bold character, then consider me for that bold role! He also agreed to take me if he makes any bold films in the future.
A handful of people know about my acting taste and what type of character I would love to play. I always dream to play the most challenging, boldest, and toughest character in films. It may sound awkward to people but yes, I am gonna share some of my preferable roles.
I would love to play a role of a prostitute who is a victim of human trafficking like Sold (2014), Taken (2008), and Trade (2007). Another role I want to play is a victim of child abuse or something like that. I found these are the most intensively painful roles to play. I also want to do films on mental health where I can play the role of a psycho or depressed person or some sorta role according to the plots. If I ever get to act in horror films, I won't say "No"! Horror and mystery films are my most loveable films. But I don't like romantic films and neither have any interest to do such films.
For the filmmakers, I am always open to every kind of role, but I have some major terms and conditions. I won't do any lip-kissing or intimate scenes (sex scenes) ever. These two are my top priority on the agreement list. I have no problems doing any frontal or back nude scenes but must be relevant to the story parts.
I know my interest is different from others. But if the story is heart-touching and carries special messages, I won't refuse the film even though the budget is low or limited. I would love to work for free if the makers have great intentions in the art world!

What feedback have your movies received online? How about reviews or interviews in other zines?
The feedback was kinda mixed! My film is not yet on any public platforms, but I personally showed it to some of my friends and others who expressed their interest to watch it. According to them, it is really a mysterious film and complexly made! After explaining the context, then they admired my perspective and knowledge. Similar responses came from the film critics also! They called me a critical and deep thinker which I found cool and took that as appreciation.
Film reviewer and coordinator from Austin After Dark Film Fest, Michael Williams shared his thought, “It did indeed feel very ‘dream-like’.”
Whereas Asian Movie Pulse reviewed it as, “Filled with impressive visual aesthetics and fine avant-garde surrealism but way too confusing in the process, ‘Lost in the Black Hole’ works mainly as a piece of artistic composition than anything else.”
Film analyzer N. Khouri (Ph.D.) explained, “Lost in the Black Hole was anything but a ‘cliché’, the work of writer/director ‘Salman Aziz’ proved to be of a higher standard and worth watching over and over again.”
Though the genre of my film is different, so the opinion may vary from person to person! The thoughts come out as how a person feels and takes it!
The list of my media appearances is not that much great! But wherever I appeared, all the time I tried to represent my country well! Because as an author and artist from my motherland, it is my duty to introduce our talents all over the world!
Here are some printed and digital platforms where I took part in interviews.
1. The IndieView (as an author)
2. MIS Magazine (as a filmmaker and actor)
3. BIMIFF Magazine (as an artist and filmmaker)
4. The Writers and Readers Magazine (as an author)
5. Write 2 Be Magazine (as an author)
I mostly interviewed as an author! Here people mainly learned about my writing voyage but less about my artistic life. I hold both identities and I want people to recognize me by those!

At what point did you decide to resume writing? Were any of your personal experiences channeled into “Bold and Bitter Statements: Volume 1” besides your philosophical life views?
After publishing my book "6th September" in 2017, I was kinda lost and I couldn't find anything to write! Maybe it happened due to writer's block and my mental breakdown. I always wanted to create something unique rather than usual things! And still, I do!
Bold and Bitter Statements was my long-time planned and wanted to publish it in my final days. Then I realized, "what if I die today then who is gonna publish it? It will stay forever in the basket!" The book was supposed to hold only my verses about life, nature, and the human mind. But after that thought, I decided to chunk into volumes and publish it in my living days.
Another thing that came into mind to make it more distinctive is that I should include images as metaphors to make my point of view more understandable. Actually, using metaphors and symbols in all my works is my eminent style. In this case, the admirable artist Taylor Swift's artistic creations influenced me greatly! And this way, Bold and Bitter Statements was born in 2021 for people with great knowledge.
While writing the book, I made it in such a way that people can correlate them or anyone or anything with my analytical thoughts. People should know that I only write from reality! Mostly my rational thoughts come when I have gone through those circumstances. And the rest of the things I perceive from others' actions. Very few know that I didn't grow up in a healthy and happy family. From childhood, I'd passed the worst phases of my life. Maybe that's the reason to become mature at my immature age. Because actuality made me think deeply! And these verities are the prime cause of my depression at an early age which turns into Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
In this book, my statements may be comparatively short for people, but the meanings are very vast! Each time they read; they will get different interpretations from different perspectives. Sometimes this explanation can be forthright and sometimes secretive. To perceive the knowledge behind it, people must think deeply about each of my verses.

In what ways did you relate to Taylor Swift and her work to the extent where she became a major influence on your writing? How are you use of metaphors and hers similar?
I have no words to talk about Taylor Swift! Seriously, she is damn cool!
Taylor is a complete package of all the talents. From singer to songwriter, performer, director, and doctorate degree holder, she has everything! And her journey made a great history, from American sweetheart to venomous snake to rainbow butterfly, she can be anything she wants! I admire her as an artist, but it doesn't mean I am a blind follower of her or Swifty or Taylor nation!
Actually, I didn't know about her till 2013. My cousins often used to mock me for being skinny due to my eating disorder. And all the time they compared me with Taylor's earlier health. It hurt and led me to hate her. After gradually knowing her, I began to like her for some music. When her “Bad Blood”, “Style”, and “Wildest Dreams” came out, her unique music-writing skills and clever presentation of music videos influence me to work on authentic projects. Especially her cryptic messages delivered through metaphors in her music and video are the major inspirations for me to use figurative expressions and figure of speech. And after seeing her music videos from the Reputation album, my interest developed much more in her. Though we don't have that much similarities, we both have our own individual styles to exhibit our works. Mostly her works are sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, and sometimes bitter but in my case, most of my works are the darkest and boldest. That's all I can say!

Which of Taylor Swift’s videos have you seen, and how were they inspirational to you as a filmmaker? Are there artists in your country you’re finding equally inspirational?
All artists with authentic good work always influence me! They can be from my country or other countries, it doesn't matter! I respect all the artists all over the world who truly dedicated their whole life to creating the greatest aesthetic works!
As I said earlier, Madonna's “Bedtime Story” music video inspired me to use VFX in my short film. But here every time Taylor Swift extremely inspired me!
I and Taylor have a special kind of bond. We both have the same horoscope Sagittarius, and most of all what insulted us, we turned that into art, respect, and the biggest power! In my college days, one of my teachers used to bully me by calling me “Chashma (glasses)” for wearing glasses in my teenage. Even after that, in my university life, my classmates also did that. But now I turned my glasses into my major fashion style.
I saw that Taylor also did that to her! I think all people know about Kanye West and Kim's drama. Due to misunderstanding people started to call her a snake, and she came back like that in her Reputation album. She reflected her side of stories through music videos from that album. And, those music videos were the aid of my emotional bondage.
When she released the “Look What You Made Me Do” video, it touched my mind so greatly that I put the character “The Thorn” in my film. The character shows the energy to take a stand, the strength to fight back, the rage to destroy the demons, and the list goes on and on!
And yes, I must admit that a scene from her video “Ready For It” extremely inspired me to create something like that. It was an eye thing that started in the beginning. She put some sort of effect on her pupil to look like a futuristic robot. But in my film, I put the Milky Way thing on my pupil to create a universe in my eye.
These are not the only things; there are so many things on the list that encouraged me to make this film.
Ah! In my country, very few maybe two or three artists embraced avant-garde or dark art or symbolic art in their creations, and versatile artist and singer Mila is one of them! She is exceptional and I got that when I saw her music video “Naacho” where most artists are scared to take that risk. This is because here audiences are not used to seeing such kinds of things, though nowadays things are changing but very slowly. She effortlessly put avant-garde fashion and dark themes in her video. I think she is the only artist in early 2015 who dared to make that type of video where people don't know what is avant-garde! I am not a fan of her but I love only this music video, that's all!
I guess all may think why I too much talk about dark art and avant-garde! The only reason is, I love those, and all the time I love to put those in my works.

How many videos has Mila produced to this day and where can interested parties view them? How does her avant garde approach to videos make her stand out from others in her field?
Actually, I don't know the exact number. I only saw two of her videos those dragged my attention to her. Nowadays Mila is doing tours and stage performances. All know that she is rocking the music. I think most of her music videos are available on YouTube and Vimeo. People can also check the G-series YouTube channel, a leading music label in Bangladesh to which she has signed.
As long as I know, she did the avant-garde thing in only this "Naacho" music video. And that time she got major backlashed. The song is a kinda remixed version of our old folk song. She tried to do something different but people in here didn't appreciate that much! If she released the music video at this time, it would be a massive hit here and worldwide too.

Would you be interested in doing a video or film collaboration with Mila if you suddenly had the opportunity?
Well, if the project contains symbolism, metaphor, and avant-garde, definitely I would love to collaborate with her. Not only Mila, if any artists with quality stories want me to act in their films, then I will be lucky to work with them!

Do you have any ideas or things you’ve wanted to say for some time that you may base future movies on?
Lots of notions are spinning in my head all time. But my main focus is to portray social issues through my works that are seen by everyone but still ignored and taken as normal things. So, I want to be the voice of those oppressed mute people. Besides this, I want to make some movies on mental health for raising awareness and making people realize how much it is important to take care of their minds. I found that depression is the vile maggots and it came from Satan! Another thing I hope I will do in the future is I might make a film about my life so that people can get to know me. But the film will be silent and full of symbolism and metaphors. When people will able to decode the messages, everything will leave them with water in their eyes.
And of course, if I get a chance to make a movie about this industry, surely, I will do that to showcase the white side and black side of it. That's all I can say right now!

What kind of an impact would you like to have on the indie film industry in your country and abroad? What would you like to look back on at the conclusion of your film career?
The art world is the global village for artists! The form of art can be anything. If the art takes the form of rhythmic organized words, then it becomes writing. If it takes the form of compiled motion pictures, it becomes a movie. Whatever we do in this art world, our root is we all are artists. In the commandment of the art world, it is clearly mentioned that race, skin color, religion, country, gender, everything doesn't matter at all! The only thing matter is in which way the artistic mind expresses the thoughts.
In both indie film industries, I want to see a discrimination-free platform where everyone from different regions can work together. And I will try my best to make everyone in one space so that we can make something remarkable.
Ah! The conclusion of human work happens after death. After this, nobody can do anything to serve the world. But the works make the person memorable year after year.
Once one of my inspiring people Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
At the peak of my vulnerable stage, I would look back at how much I have done for people! Because all my works carry special messages that people can relate to their lives. The biggest achievement will be when people will remember me forever for my works, which could be films or writings! And, when they feel my work is motivating them to do something good, then I will feel that I am successful!

-Dave Wolff

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