My Journey Into Documentary Filmmaking

It is not that I am talented in so many different fields from philosophy to law, politics to astronomy neither am I genius, far from it. Actually, I would say that I am probably one of the most stupidest people I know. I have absolutely no idea how to be social for a start, probably because I have a nobullshit policy. That is not some flamboyant dismissal due to an arrogant indifference to others, but a very simple, unassuming honesty. Men find me attractive, for instance, but how come I don’t know about it? Because they never say to me ‘I really like you’ or ‘I would love to take you out for coffee’ and instead I get men batting their eyelashes and giving me long, affectionate stares. What am I supposed to do with that? Do they behave that way because they are nervous and fear rejection, or are they nervous because their conscience is aware that they are being deceitful, the same kind of nervous someone feels before stealing?

I have long been intrigued by this inauthentic mental state that enables one to become immersed in their own imagination, creating this physical duplicate of themselves where consciousness becomes symbiotically absorbed into an illusion. It is like watching a movie or reading a fiction novel but dreamily imagining that emotional responses to this fictional reality is characteristic of something actually real. Someone who believes in their own lies. I never trust such men because they simply use women to imagine something exciting, an object where he can have one or two weeks of secretive lovemaking to escape the terrible boredom of his own life and by creating this fictional world, this duplicate existence, his consciousness becomes absorbed into the fiction that enables him to forget reality. It is only when actual reality sobers his perceptions that suddenly he tries to escape any responsibility, create excuses and justifications, even lie or slander. It would be no different for me to interact with a drunkard. They do not want to be responsible for their own actions and over and over again, repeat themselves in this cycle rather than change the source that is causing them to behave that way in the first place, whatever is going on in reality that they are trying to escape from.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

People seem to understand one another using this indirect language and are comforted by meandering communication to prevent self-defence mechanisms from being provoked. People are fictional. In the movie V for Vendetta, Evie said: “Artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.” I have been quarantined from this imagined landscape and so all I see are zombies playing strange games with one another.

This leads to my flare for the theatrical – burning bridges, causing trouble, that sort of thing – because I am that artist who enjoys provoking the ego in order to expose the truth, a quiet part of me that creates the exhibition because the irrational reactions that others have in an attempt to cover the truth up verifies my position on the subject. I find myself trying to figure out what language I can speak to such people who are evidently sleepwalking, how I can ‘wake them up’ from their existential lethargy.

So, it is not that I am talented. The real problem lies in the mental energy that people exert thinking about bullshit, giving all their cognitive space to this secondary layer of reality, this unwritten and yet largely understood social identity. The constant continuity given to pointless thoughts like what other people are wearing, how they look, how they appear to others, material goods, even to the importance of how many likes one can get on Instagram or Facebook, all that takes up most of their mental energy and time, all of which are mindboggingly pointless to me.

I understand fiction. Storytelling has given me the opportunity to find that point between these two worlds, creativity breaking the barriers through this dichotomy between the real and unreal, the imagined and the actual. I have access to a way of expressing the truth using film as a medium without forcing people to decide or make them think what I want them to think, unlike Hollywood or especially contemporary Asian cinema that has a hidden political agenda within the plot to subtly coerce an opinion. Documentary film is simply as it is.

 

My History in Film

My first ever degree that I was accepted into was the Bachelor of Film and Television at Swinburne University. I did Studio Arts as a subject during high school and was permitted to do film, making a number of short videos predominantly of a comedic nature. To name one, Lowered Expectations, a mockumentary about a Muslim man hoping to find an obedient wife but who accidentally exposes his desire for blonde women with big breasts. This was before the September 11 attacks at a school filled with wogs or kids from an ethnic background and we instantly became a hit. No one took offence back then when Semiha borrowed her dads Muslim gear and a girl with a fake moustache played a Muslim man. Copies of the mockumentary were distributed on VHS and parents would identify us at the local shops and remark at how funny we were. It continued, a horror mockumentary called The Reebok Killer that involved Lisa’s pigeon-toe feet sprawling around school killing people, and another about a soul-searching Kung Fu expedition Triple Dragon involving violence, witches and dangerous flips off the school roof. The funniest bit was the fight scene between me and my best friend Sureyya, where I provoked her in agitation to attack me by screaming “come on!” repeatedly while ripping my clothes off as she awkwardly stared at me, until with one punch I was down. I was the funniest person in school and everyone wanted to be cast in my videos, to hang out with us spending most of our days mucking around and getting kicked out of class. I had the best time because we had a video camera.

My main project was a folio on Luis Bunuel and that introduced the movie The Obscure Object of Desire to me, which is predominately about the sexual frustration of a middle aged man. What Bunuel did, however, is challenge the symmetrical idea I had of film and his surrealism expressed through human emotions like desperation and the grotesque made me think about the diversity and opportunity I had to express myself.

Sadly, I could not undertake the degree because I could not afford the costs. For someone living independently the $2000 per semester price-tag was excessive. I could barely make ends meet, working at Hudson’s Coffee and KFC at $6-8 per hour, sometimes both on the same day where I would make coffee from 5am-1pm with a short break as I make my way to sell fried chicken from 2pm-10pm. The pleasures of having nothing, but by the time I turned eighteen I had managed to save $800 to buy my first car, a brown, beaten-up 1983 model Toyota Cressida. What a car! It was the best thing that happened to me and my friends, enabling us to travel around Melbourne and watch movies most weekends from mindless action films at Hoyts to my favourite classic at the Astor. I spent most of my late teens and early twenties in a cinema rather than a nightclub, with Yul Brynner rather than a boyfriend.

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My favourite actor of all time Yul Brynner. Give me John Wayne, Orson Welles and Steve McQueen over anyone! 

I decided to pursue studies in politics and international relations instead and moved into other areas of thought including human rights law, literature and philosophy. Things started to change with my friends as I was the only one studying and our interests, well, we just became different people. It was emotionally difficult for me as I became more and more aware of how different I was and that made me feel more and more isolated. So I decided to enrol myself into a small media and film group at Latrobe University at the time and made short films as a way to interact with like minded students. It was a strange time for me. I was away from everything that I was familiar with and I could not really connect with the other students and so I expressed myself in those films in ways I did not entirely understand, trying to regulate the emotional stress of all the changes that were occurring in my life at the time. You could see the confusion through the short films that I did or the screenplays that I wrote.

It was until I took a subject in my final year with Richard Freadman called Writing Autobiography that gave me a chance to recognise that I had buried deep within me something I did not completely understand. It was clear because I was unable to write autobiography, indeed anything at all about me. I needed to fictionalise my life because whenever I thought about my reality, a feeling of anxiety and neuroticism would manifest. I could escape those feelings through fiction or when I focused on scientific facts and figures. I admitted my predicament to him after nervously reading my short story in his tiny office with other students in the class and he said that I write like a cross between Simone de Beauvoir and Voltaire, which remains the greatest compliment I have ever received. While people often assume that tortured artists are geniuses, the fact is that they are unable to adequately piece together their own story, that their creativity is really their search for an answer, but often in all the wrong ways.

While I found peace in science and where politics and philosophy satisfied my intellectual needs, hidden deep within me remained the creative pangs of a venture I had not been able to undertake. Until only a few years ago when my story within, when all that pain that I had buried finally released and I was forced to face my demons. I had to learn how to write autobiography and slowly I started to speak about my father and my mother, about my siblings and a childhood of constant belittling and harassment, to recognise that esteem, my identity and self-hood until I finally found that peace within myself. To understand how to film a documentary is to piece together a narrative, to form a person on camera and explain an identity, something that cannot be achieved without first being able to tell your own autobiography.

It seems that most of my decisions in life ended up looping in one cycle back to the very beginning, as though all the effort I made learning about so many different interests was to broaden my knowledge and understanding so I could reach this point in my life. It just suddenly made sense, my passion for justice, human rights and peace, my difficulties and overcoming them, writing autobiography, my philosophical obsession with authenticity in our thoughts and who we are, my work with children and education, all the way to what is now my creative pursuit in making honest documentaries and telling real stories.

 

My Panasonic GH4

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As a hiker, I get the chance to meet some amazing people and luckily met a friend who was a professional in the industry where we discussed our interest in film. It was one of those moments where – without prejudice or assumptions interfering – we just both comfortably connected and talked openly about movies and cinema, about equipment and my decision to learn video and documentary as a creative pursuit on the side of my professional desires. I am already in a job that is perfect for me doing community work with children and I was recently promoted into a senior role. I feel comfortable in my job and so many people in my community know me and respect me. It seemed the right time to renew my creative side that was abandoned so many years ago. I began that process by purchasing a Panasonic GH4 that is capable enough for my amateur beginnings.

My amazing experience as an intern at Tel Aviv University and my visit to Bethlehem enabled me to form a strong partnership with a small school at a refugee camp nearby that teaches children non-violent expression through creativity and the arts, including dance, theatre, and music where talented people from all over the world come and teach the children there. My friend Phil from the United States is coming to teach children painting, and Ray from Australia is directing a play with the children. While I will be teaching women about human rights law, I will also be spending most of my time documenting the play and filming it on my Panasonic GH4, telling the story of several young students who are starring in that play. I have no political agenda, no fiction to add to the story but want to give others the opportunity to witness the real. Authenticity and honesty, love and peacefulness, human rights and justice, everything that I am is being expressed through this documentary.

I am one week away from my journey and I will write more about this in the coming weeks.

4 Comments

    1. I have no idea what you mean by wooden escudos, but I am definately not locking my luggage. I was interrogated for 3 hours last time I did that! Thanks, I am looking forward to spending time in the refugee camp but also with the girls and women who inspire me.

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  1. Just a bit of friendly criticism from someone slightly older, but who can sympathize:

    I see the below as more insightful if you’re in a bar or looking for a married man; a place where a man can be less genuine and with less on the line….where real commitments are hidden. It can take us a while to figure out what we really care about, and it’s often the girl right in front of us, but that takes time after the lust, love then…the boredom. In a couple, you have to be good to that which is in yourself and good to that which is in others we care about (beauty, courage, mental toughness, kindness etc).

    ‘It is a mental state that enables one to escape by creating this physical duplicate of themselves where consciousness becomes symbiotically absorbed into an illusion that dreamily imagines emotional responses to this fictional reality to actually be real.’

    and:

    ‘I needed to fictionalise my life because whenever I thought about my reality, a feeling of anxiety and neuroticism would manifest. I could escape those feelings through fiction or when I focused on scientific facts and figures.’

    For what it’s worth (and it may not be worth much): People higher in anxiety tend to abstract more quickly from situations, especially social situations where they tend to feel more anxiety (I see this all throughout my family and in myself, too). You won’t know unless you give a few guys a chance.

    Pardon the pointedness, but you’ve got a lot to offer.

    Hope all is well.

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    1. It is the toleration of something wrong that I find intolerable because it normalises and accepts what would otherwise be considered pathological behaviour. As someone who works with the most disadvantaged in our society, how is cosmetic injectables in a woman’s lips or breast augmentation normal? It has become so rampant because it is tolerated, making those that tolerate such behaviour accomplices in a way. Imagine if the multi-billion dollar industry spent all that mental energy, time and money on something more productive, we could completely eradicate global poverty and violence.

      I agree that you need to admire that which is good in others, because beauty is courage, kindness, mental toughness etc, but how can people do this if they do not even know or understand what they are? This leads to autobiography, that we need to understand ourselves first and I think our priorities are skewed because most of us follow and conform and as such we become more and more distant from ourselves.

      It is easy to explain this dichotomy through men at bars or who are married because the picture of this division between imagined escapism and reality is painted much more clearly, as is someone who is drunk, but the problem is perceptual, our mental state and that is broadly an issue at large though more complex to explain. All I know is that until we can articulate our own story, we will be trapped in the unreal and that anxiety or abstractness is kind of like limbo or purgatory as you cannot really understand one or the other.

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