Arshad Khan is a Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker, whose recent autobiographical documentary ABU (Father) screened at the London Film Festival. He is also known for his short films Doggoned and Threadbare. His work examines the Pakistani immigrant experience in Canada, and around the world.
Interview by Sneh Rupra
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in film, and how did you go about making it a reality?
My family loved cinema and growing up in Pakistan we were exposed to all kinds of cinema from all over the world. We had just one television channel so even though it was strictly regulated and censored, it was still good exposure. I always had interest in the performing arts but after 9/11 I realized that in the west there is a real lack of representation of complex South Asian characters which to me was the reason we were easily dehumanized and targeted as “the other”. That was my impetus to become a filmmaker.
What was the film that sparked your interest in the industry?
I don’t know if there was one particular film that sparked my interest. A series of highly critically acclaimed and socially relevant films came out such as Monsoon Wedding and The Road to Guantanamo and I felt that these films were more accurately representing the crisis of our time and more films of that sort needed to be made.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have faced on a project?
Now that the project is complete and audiences are loving it across the board, we are getting a lot of distribution interest. Getting the film to cinemas and getting it seen is lately the biggest hurdle I seem to be facing.
What is your favorite thing about directing a film?
I love the editing process where you can be so creative with everything you have got and then just do a jigsaw puzzle of putting it together so it all all makes sense while keeping the attention of the viewer.
What is your favorite genre of film to make, is this different from your favorite genre to watch?
I love watching documentaries, especially political and enlightening ones- but I like making fantasy fictional films or films with a supernatural element.
What are the pros and cons of being writer, producer, and director on a film, like your recent project Abu?
A film is a team effort. No one can make a film by themselves. Despite the credits it must be understood that a lot of people helped me on my way. And documentaries are made in the editing room. So that certainly is a credit that needs more recognition. And my editor Etienne Gagnon is a genius.
What are some of the challenges involved in making a film like Abu, which tells a very personal story?
Making a film about yourself is not the best idea. Family and friends are bound to be offended or question their representation in the film. Also, these are shared family memories I am using and that too can be very difficult. And also, bringing up painful memories is hard. And examining them and dissecting them over and over again is excruciating.
Who are your inspirations?
I truly love the works of Stephen Frears, Ken Loach and Michael Winterbottom. I find British directors have a way of telling stories that really appeal to my aesthetic and audio-visual sensibility. Also, their writing is extraordinary and these filmmakers are able to portray complex characters from all backgrounds and ethnicities and manage to humanize them.
What is your favourite film and why?
A Turkish film called HAMMAM or STEAM: The Turkish Bath. The reason is very simple- it is a film that portrays the complexity of human sexuality beyond easy labels.
If someone wants to pursue a career as a filmmaker, how would you recommend they go about it?
I think film school is incredibly useful. Also, work on other people’s films in every imaginable department. That is how you learn.
What would your top tip be for aspiring…
Read and keep writing and work with people you trust.
Start with a properly funded short before moving on to a feature.
No one in your team is disposable or replaceable. Everyone is necessary.
Is there any other advice you would like to give to help the next generation of filmmakers?
If you do not care about something with all your soul, don’t make a film about it.