Saeed Taji Farouky • Director
“I would only risk my life to make a film that was unique”
by Thomas Humphrey
- Palestinian-British filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky explains how it was to shoot Tell Spring Not to Come This Year, his latest documentary, with the Afghan Army
Saeed Taji Farouky is clearly somebody determined to push the boundaries of the documentary genre. With Tell Spring Not to Come This Year [+see also:
interview: Saeed Taji Farouky
film profile], Farouky has shown just how committed he is to finding new forms and new truths. By repeatedly filming in warzones, though, he is also fast becoming a reference point for those who want to similarly document the truth where it is sometimes needed most.
Cineuropa: How hard was it filming in a war zone?
Saeed Taji Farouky: You know, in that kind of situation I think it just becomes a question of luck. Whether you are safe or not. I mean Mike has a military background, I don’t. So he sort of briefed me before we went out there, and gave me very basic training. He taught me things like where to walk (so that you have the least chance of stepping on a mine), and he would tell me what to do if this or that happened. So I had a basic understanding of how to handle myself in a warzone, and that did help me.
But really, ultimately, when you have no chance to make decisions of your own, I think it just comes down to luck. I mean, there was people next to us who were hurt very badly. It just becomes a question of being in the right or wrong place, at the right or wrong time.
And how hard was it to raise the funds as a result?
It was very hard. I think generally it’s really hard to fund unorthodox documentaries – let’s say, documentaries that aren’t strictly information or news based. But yeah, that’s particularly true if your documentary is as high risk and unpredictable as this one was.
I mean, there was no way of knowing where our story would go, or what was going to happen to us. Plus, my approach is never really typical or commercial. So for various reasons this was quite a difficult project to get funded.
How did you manage it in the end?
Essentially by partly using of our own money. For mine and Mike’s first trip to Afghanistan, we just paid for that with our own money. Then with the material we then got from this trip, we managed to find a British co-producer. They gave us an injection of cash, and that allowed us to keep on filming until we got more money from NHK (the Japanese national public broadcasting organisation). Finally, we presented a rough cut to Goldcrest in New York, who became our post-production house. They covered the cost of post-production. So now whatever’s left to recoup we mostly make back through television sales, online sales, cinema, etc.
Would you have any advice for people who want to make similar documentaries?
I do a lot of teaching and classes, or masterclasses about documentary filmmaking; but I would never suggest to anyone that they should do the sort of work I do.
I’ve been working in various conflict zones for about ten years, so I have some experience of coping with it. But it’s also just a decision I made personally that it was worth the risk. For me, I would only risk my life to make a film that was unique and that I thought would contribute to the landscape of cinema about war.
What do you want to contribute most?
My priority is always just to tell a good human story. I don’t want to educate people or give them a political message. What I hope is that the average viewer will just watch this film and think, “yeah, okay, I can understand this guy.” I can understand his voice, his fears and his dream for a country. I can understand the pain they’re going through, and the weird decisions that may have lead them to join the army as a result. I just want people to be able to relate. Then maybe I hope for them to think, “Okay, so these are the consequences of my government going to war.”
What about the future? Do you want to keep making documentaries or do you also have fiction projects in mind?
Yeah, I do. I came into cinema through fiction; I haven’t ever directed a fiction feature, but that was always my first love. So yes, I would love to make fiction films, and I do have ideas. I just also have lots of documentary which keep getting in the way. I’m sure I will make a fiction at some point, though. I’m just getting there very slowly.
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