Director Tarique Qayumi’s Black Kite pulls off a rare balancing act: the film is a well-observed character study that is both defined by and serves to help illustrate a setting of complex political and cultural strife. Filmed “guerilla-style” in Kabul, Afghanistan over a period of 14 days, the production of Black Kite was challenging and often risky.
“It’s like an overly ambitious project. There’s like five different storylines going on,” Qayumi said. “Of course it’s a personal small story, but it has an expansive, epic backdrop. It’s kind of a miracle the way it all came together.”
The movie follows Arian (Haji Gul), a young Afghan boy born in the late 1950s. As he grows up over the decades, Arian’s love of kite-flying is outlawed by the various authoritarian regimes that control the country – so years later, when his young daughter expresses a desire to learn how to fly a kite, he risks severe penalty to fulfill her wish.
“After those chaotic 50 years, it all changed. The Afghans were living diaspora for the first time ever and all their dreams, all their dreams are unachievable,” Qayumi said. “The last 50 years, they lost their whole land, a lot of them had died or were living in diaspora around the world. All those people living inside Afghanistan, they all couldn’t achieve their aims, their goals, their dreams.
“John Lennon said, ‘Life happens while you’re making plans.’ But this is that on a huge scale. My parents didn’t imagine they’d end up as refugees in Canada. It’s amazing. All their dreams are dashed. So it’s a symbol for all those Afghans who lost that.”
Born in Kabul, Qayumi grew up in Vancouver and attended the UBC Creative Writing program. From there, he moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA, and went on to direct Targeting (2014) before moving to Afghanistan to become executive producer of the country’s version of Sesame Street. There, he began work on Black Kite.
“We didn’t know if it was going to work out. When we first shot it, there was an intense security situation in Kabul,” Qayumi said.
At the time of shooting, Ashraf Ghani had just been elected and the Taliban had vowed to remove him in retribution for a security arrangement Ghani had committed to with the United States government. Qayumi said the production crew suffered many close calls, including when lead actress Leena Alam nearly died in a bombing.
According to Qayumi, the crew was invited to a show about suicide bombings at the French Cultural Centre, though only Alam attended. During the show, a bomb smuggled in by a young boy went off near the actress. Though she was not hurt, she was shell-shocked – but still insisted on continuing with the shoot the next day.
“(She said) we can’t let these people do this – if we stop then they win! We continued an intense day of shooting. I’ll never forget that,” Qayumi said in an email.
Unable to afford a camera operator, Qayumi was forced to shoot the film himself – something he hadn’t done before. After returning to Vancouver in 2015, his wife and collaborator Tajana Prka edited the first cut and sent it to the Canada Council for the Arts. The council awarded the film the full amount – a huge milestone and moment of validation, Qayumi said, considering he had felt the film hadn’t initially emerged the way he had envisioned.
Soon, Black Kite was accepted into the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), playing at subsequent festivals following that. Though the film took shape slowly with parts being added throughout the post-production process, Qayumi said being accepted into TIFF was a big moment.
“As an artist, I think you never think you have enough time, enough money, enough experience,” he said. “Things come together like a child playing in a sandbox. It’s like, ‘What are you making?’ and you say, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t finished yet.'”
Qayumi said the film’s executive producer, Agata Smoluch Del Sorbo, was instrumental in polishing the film and getting it festival-ready. “She took a big chance with us,” Qayumi said in an email, adding Del Sorbo called their film a “diamond in the rough.”
Black Kite premiered at TIFF in 2018 and is scheduled to play until June 7. Qayumi said the film could help Canadians better understand the conflict and history of Afghanistan.
“There are complexities around the world in different regions, and a lot of times you don’t fully understand them because it’s hard to decipher all the different ethnic and tribal things that are going on. But we have spent a lot of Canadian treasure and lives in that country. For some people, it can be very confusing,” Qayumi said. “But if you come and see Black Kite – it’s 90 minutes – I guarantee it’ll give you perspective.”
“And those aren’t my words. Someone came up to me at TIFF and said that. (They said), ‘We spent so much of our treasure and lives in this country, we had no idea. We saw this film and it gives me perspective. It gives me scope.'”
CUFF 2019: Director Rob Grant on the tension (and dark comedy) of HARPOON
Adrift on the seas on a luxury yacht, three friends find themselves stranded without food or supplies and quickly realize their survival is less than assured. An official selection at International Film Festival Rotterdam 2019, Harpoon will make its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) April 28.
The Mutt spoke with director Rob Grant prior to the film’s screening at CUFF. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
THE MUTT: Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of Harpoon?
ROB GRANT: I had a great relationship with my producers (Knuckleball director Michael Peterson and Kurtis Harder) from a film called Fake Blood. I pitched Mr. Peterson on this idea that was a mix between Polanski’s Knife on the Water but by way of Seinfeld characters on the boat. I grew up in Vancouver, and the original idea was, “Well, I spent a lot of time on a boat, we could go take a boat out to the ocean and try to isolate ourselves out there.” Once a budget came into play and the idea grew, suddenly we were shooting the interiors of the boat in a set in the middle of freezing winter in Calgary, and shooting the exteriors on a boat in tropical Belize down south.
TM: Was it difficult for you to balance those comedic elements and still find a way to ratchet up the tension?
RG: It was very difficult, and there were a lot of discussions about that. When you have to give the elevator pitch, you have to say: “This is the genre and this is what it means.” But I subscribe to the logic that in life you can feel in one moment that you’re in a love story and the next minute in a horror movie, and that’s the way real life actually works. But it seems a little more rigid in movies. We were aware of potentially disrupting viewers’ experiences of watching the movie. (We thought) a movie could, or should, be multiple things at once. We’re willing to accept that there’s going to be some audience members that are going to reject that as a movie experience, but we wanted to try it.
TM: Can you tell me more about those influences you mentioned? I’m curious about how you mixed something like Seinfeld with more traditional thriller elements.
RG: Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was definitely in there, as well as Polanski’s Knife in the Water. But I had to still find the dark humour in it, and Seinfeld came up specifically because as much as we all find the Seinfeld characters enduring, they’re very much in it for themselves. They’re worried about their own outcomes. So I tried to use a lot of that. As much as these people like to say they’re looking out for each other, the second it becomes a survival story they’re all kind of in it for themselves. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia was another one, not only for mixing drama and humour, but definitely because the narration was less focused. It sets up what’s going to happen without speaking to much on the nose about what you’re about to see.
TM: I understand there’s some great gore and effects in Harpoon. What was your approach to that, and what effect do you think that has?
RG: I’ve explored the effects of violence in cinema with Fake Blood, and this was an extension of that. The entire movie, these people speak very casually and aloof about the things that potentially will need to be done without actually considering what that entails until suddenly when it happens. I felt like it would be a good idea to make sure that was extremely violent and horrible, not only because we’ve been teasing up to this moment, but I do believe there’s a certain element that people do not consider the actual realities of having to do something like that. So it’s very shocking, very brutal, it’s like, “ha ha ha this was all funny to discuss” and now that it’s happened it sucks the wind out of you. That was a very intentional decision.
TM: What do you think Harpoon does in a unique way when compared to other similar films? What do you hope the audience walks away with?
RG: I hope when people leave the cinema that it wasn’t the movie they were expecting, that it was a little bit of a different take. I do think it’ll challenge them depending what their expectations are. I just hope they’re expecting something interesting in the genre, and that they’re along for the ride.
Harpoon makes its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 28. For tickets, click here.
Click here to read our roundup of 9 Canadian films playing at CUFF 2019.
CUFF 2019: The story behind Uwe Boll, the so-called “worst filmmaker” ever
Director of the critically-maligned video game adaptations Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead and BloodRayne, Uwe Boll has long held a unfavourable reputation in the film industry not only due to the perceived quality of his films, but also due to his antagonistic response to his online “haters.”
But a new documentary, F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story, seeks to better understand the firebrand filmmaker, diving into Boll’s past through a series of interviews with colleagues, critics and Boll himself.
The Mutt spoke with F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story Vancouver-based director Sean Patrick Shaul prior to the film’s Alberta premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival April 27. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.
THE MUTT: How did you first become acquainted with Uwe Boll?
SEAN PATRICK SHAUL: I first met Uwe Boll on the set of Assault on Wall Street. I worked as a crew member with him. Seeing him work was so fascinating. The way he directed was like no one I had ever seen before. He was such an interesting guy. That was almost 10 years ago and I ended up working on a TV show that was shooting in his restaurant. That was how I came across the idea for the documentary. The idea was to look at someone who is widely known as the world’s worst director. It was more asking, “Why was he considered that? How did he get that title, and whether or not he was.”
TM: As his persona on the internet developed, did that mesh with what you knew of him? Did you feel he was being portrayed in a way that was inaccurate?
SPS: I had seen some of his movies and I understood the reputation he had. He also fuelled that himself through the internet, engaging with all of these trolls and these critics. He takes it head on, which is fun to watch. But I had no idea what he would say when I pitched the documentary to him. Within five minutes, I realized we had a lot in common. He was excited about the documentary, excited to have that side told of it.
TM: How does Boll feel about being referred to as the “world’s worst director”?
SPS: He thinks it’s very unfair, which I guess I would agree with. Art is subjective, so it’s hard to say whether something is good or bad. But I think he’s also aware of the type of movies he was making. He didn’t think he was making The Godfather. He knew these were video game adaptations movies, so his expectations were low with those. But he has made more personal films (since then), but he already had this black cloud following him around. It stalled his career in that way. I thought that was really interesting – he made 32 movies, but by his fifth movie, people had already written him off.
TM: Why do you think Boll feels the need to respond to his trolls and his critics online?
SPS: I think he’s a very proud guy. He’s aware of his accomplishments and I don’t think he can let a comment like that go. If someone has the motivation to go after him online, he has the equivalent motivation to fire back at them. He hasn’t really calmed down on that too much. I think he’s currently banned from Twitter for going after trolls. It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek for him when he goes after these people. He enjoys it, he likes engaging with them. It became part of his personality. As much as it hurt his career, it also helped his career in a way.
TM: In spending time with Boll, what surprised you about him as you got to know him better?
SPS: Before, I thought he was kind of an asshole, from his online persona, I thought he was just kind of a jerk. Through meeting him, I realized he’s a super sweet guy, he’s a really, really genuinely nice guy. He cares about films, he’s a real film guy. He knows all of the classics, he’s seen all these foreign films – he’s a real cinephile. But there’s something about him not being able to pull that off. All his favourite movies are the classics, but for some reason he can’t make those films himself. He was kind of handcuffed by all these tax loopholes and funding schedules, that he would have to pump these films out in a certain timeframe to get the tax credit. There’s a lot of reasons his earlier films turned out the way they did. They didn’t turn out the way he envisioned.
TM: Given that he knew the documentary wasn’t going to be all positive, why did Boll want to participate?
SPS: I think he just wanted someone who was looking at the larger picture instead of comparing him to a Tommy Wiseau or a Ed Wood. He wanted to explain himself a bit. The articles and the small kinds of podcast interviews don’t really give him enough time to explain himself, or they ask the same five questions. Almost every headline is “world’s worst director” – I think he wanted to look at something deeper. But he wasn’t shying away from that title. I told him early on in production that we’d be definitely looking at that angle and talking about it. He was more than happy to look at it. Most people would want this buried, but he looked at it head on. “I have that title, but let’s look at why.”
F*** You All: The Uwe Boll story plays April 27 at the Calgary Underground Film Festival. For tickets, click here.
Click here to read our roundup of 9 Canadian films playing at CUFF 2019.
Acquainted takes a raw and honest look at modern love
In Acquainted, a new romantic drama from Toronto-based director Natty Zavitz, high school classmates Drew (Giacomo Gianniotti of Grey’s Anatomy) and Emma (Laysla De Oliveria of The Gifted) reunite with each other at a bar and instantly connect, discovering they share some serious chemistry. Problem is, the pair are both in serious, long-term relationships.
The script for the film was partly inspired by the deterioration of Zavitz’s last major relationship, said producer Jonathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), who also plays Allan in the film.
“(Zavitz) sent me the script almost four years ago and I just connected so deeply and was so blown away by his script,” Keltz said. “(I was blown away) by how defined his voice was. I was completely moved by it.”
Inspired by films such as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset trilogy, Acquainted is an honest look at relationships and adulthood, exploring the subject matter with introspection. Keltz said the film examines fidelity and infidelity from a judgement-free place.
“The characters are not villains or victims. It’s a raw and honest look at being in relationships, to have these type of things happen and how to deal with that,” he said. “The relationship with the self and the seeking to find out who you really are is really what’s crucial to the building of a relationship with somebody else.
“It’s about taking the time to do that work that puts you in the best position to be a partner with somebody and to be an adult in this world.”
Many of the cast and crew on Acquainted have worked in Toronto’s film community for years, making the set of the film a reunion of its own.
“In front of the camera and behind the camera, (the film involves all) kinds of amazing artists. It’s really a Canadian film and a Toronto film,” Keltz said. “It’s not trying to either hide that or beat you over the head with that.
“I think that’s done in a very unique way, and in a way that is both Torontonian and Canadian but also universally and commercially viable.”
Keltz said he thought the film would be emotionally affecting to audiences, offering perspective that could help to contextualize modern love and relationship.
“I think this is a really raw and honest and beautiful film about what it means to be in love, to be heartbroken, to be devastated, to be inspired and to try and build a life for yourself and figure out what that means,” Keltz said.
Acquainted is now playing at Cineplex Movies Yonge and Dundas in Toronto, International Village in Vancouver and at Landmark Cinemas nationwide.
Next up on The Mutt: With maturity and depth, An Audience of Chairs reflects on mental illness