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.


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


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.

Guest Post: Modernism, Postmodernism and the Sublime

By Phil Cava


The impact of  Greek culture on the world  from the 5th Century BC forward has had long lasting foundational effects on Western Culture. Man’s concept of himself  expanded and evolved through the works of philosopher/scientists, poets, tragedies, historians, sculptors, architects, and others, during this  period.

The Greeks invented a conception of beauty, which still sways us. Classical beauty gave privilege to the purity of form, to proportion and to symmetry over content, and matter  The thoughts of Plato and Aristotle were foundational for Western Culture’s determination of what constitutes Beauty. Against this sway mid-twentieth century artist Barnett Newman in his famous essay “The Sublime is  Now”  (1948)  said that the Greek conception of beauty was conflated with Christianity which led to:

“Man’s natural desire in the arts to express his relation to the Absolute became identified and confused with the absolutisms of perfect creations…with the fetish of quality…so that the European artist has been continually involved in the moral struggle between notions of beauty and the desire for sublimity.



                                           Adam                                                          Eve

Edmund Burke was “first philosopher to argue that the sublime and the beautiful are mutually exclusive” (1) Burke thought of the sublime as a kind of negative pleasure, the delight experienced in the removal of pain or our  attraction to  profoundly disturbing aesthetics  such as Kramer’s portrait,  which no one can look away from.  Or on a more serious note, the figural portraits of Lucian Freud, which repel and attract us simultaneously,  ultimately we, or at least I can’t look away.

Kant picks up on Burke’s concept of sublimity in his 1790 “Critique of Judgement”. Kant has a lot to say, and it is not possible to bypass his contribution to our understanding of the Greek gift.  He separates general knowledge from our sense of beauty and the sublime. Judgements regarding general knowledge are based on determinate concepts, concepts which are bounded by our imagination and whose totality is grasped by our faculty of reason. This is how particulars become assumed under universals, and how a work of art can be a universal particular.   Kant contrasts determinate  judgements  with reflective judgements. In reflective judgements the limitations of our determinate conceptions are challenged. Our imagination opens up mental space wherein new concepts,  judgements, relationships become possible, in the free play of reason with our imagination pleasure arises.

Kant states that our judgement of taste is aesthetic  (45S1):

“In  order to decide whether anything is beautiful or not, we refer the representation, not by the Understanding to the Object for cognition but, by the Imagination (perhaps in conjunction with the Understanding) to the subject, and its feeling of pleasure or pain

For Kant the feeling of pleasure or pain we experience is based on the ability of our imagination, our reasoning and our judgements to correspond with one another or not. Judgements concerning  determinate concepts can be agreeable, pleasurable, but they are limited determinately. Reflective judgements are pleasurable in themselves, in the very action of their conception. Determinate judgements and reflective judgements are bound by our imagination.  They are finite in the sense that they are bound, unlike the Sublime.

Kant differentiates  beauty from the sublime he states (BkIIS23)  “The Beautiful and the Sublime agree in this, that both please in themselves. Further, neither presupposes a judgement of sense nor a judgement logically determined, but a judgement of reflection.”

The sublime is a formless object whose  totality escapes unambiguous interpretation. The imagination fails to synthesize the power of the Sublime determinately or reflectively, but  reason is able to gape at the whole in its freedom from the determination of the senses.  Kant agrees with Burke that the Sublime attracts and repels, and he too calls it a negative pleasure, it is a dynamic concept for Kant. Unlike Burke, he includes a subjectively beautiful  aspect to the  sublime.

Kant tracing of the pleasure/pain we experience in the beautiful seems correct enough, but in the playful congruence of our conceptions with our understanding generating pleasure/pain he accepts the Greeks gift.  The physical source of pain and pleasure is the body.  We learn what it is to feel pleasure and pain and these feelings drive us erotically, where the erotic is thought of as man’s instinctive drive to reproduce, to conceive, it invent. (as in Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium, a “pregnant soul”)

Evidence for man’s instinctual drive to create  seen on the walls of the Ice Age caves in various parts of the world. The fantastic renderings of animals in these caves demonstrates accomplished art dating back 40,000 years.  The distribution of these caves in  disparate places during the same time periods, in France/Spain and Indonesia, suggest that man’s desire to create art  is an integral part of what it means to be a human, as  Newman said:  “For artists are the first men.

The Renaissance conflated the Greek ideal of Beauty with the Christian legend.  “It was no idle quip that moved Michelangelo to call himself a sculptor rather than a painter, for he knew that only in his sculpture could the desire for the  grand statement of Christian sublimity be reached…Michelangelo knew the meaning of Greek humanities of his time involved making Christ, the man into Christ who is god…” (Newman-2)

The Renaissance view of the absolute as perfection, as beauty remained the controlling value system that subsequent generations of artists have had to struggle with.  Not until the 20th Century that artists began to search for new ways to realize their works.   Still most artist’s works remained bound to the representational world either directly or by metaphor.

images (1)


Comparing  Picasso’s Guernica to Jackson Pollock’s 69:

Where Picasso’s Guernica uses the pictorial plane to express the fear and the terror of war, in pictorial representation, Pollock’s 69 suggests an urgency, a sense of conflict with no representation beyond the paint on his canvas.  We can wrap our heads around what Picasso’s is intimating; Pollock’s work is much more ambiguous, it draws us in and we wander and wander, feeling its sense of conflict and urgency, but it denies any determinate point of view. Its formless formal purity is foundational but this purity is not based on the Greek conceptions of the purity of form and matter. Pollock allows matter to be itself on the pictorial plane.

Fransaw Lyotard railed against  the meta-narrative of classical beauty and the absolute that has dominated art values since Plato’s time.  Modern science has taught us that the what we see does not include all that’s there in what we see. Lyotard’s sees modern artists such as Joyce, Kandinsky, Picasso, Dali and others attempting to  put forward  the inexpressible in their works.  A negative space, that defies representation, the sublime.

His theory separates these artist into two groups:  1) those whose works intimate the ineffable indirectly, modern as in Picasso’s Guernica and  2)those whose works are directly aimed at conveying what can’t be conveyed in the classical meta narrative, postmodern works such as Pollock’s 69 (or  look at Rothko’s Chapel which also includes Barnett Newman’s Broken Olelisk.)  

This suggests, in a  non-periodizing way the structure difference between  Modern Art and Postmodernism  lies in a methodic difference in which the aesthetic affect, how we feel upon viewing these works differ and what those feelings suggests to us. Where Modernism’s uses representation in the pictorial plane to  express the Sublime,  Postmodernism uses the pictorial plane itself  as its  expression of the Sublime, Lyotard’s expression of the inexpressible.  



Broken Obelisk



Barnett Newman,
Edmund Burke,
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment 1790, Section 1  (pg 44) and Book 2 Section 23 (pg 97)
Plato’s Symposium 208/209