Interview with Shezad Dawood, ASFF 2015 Best Artists’ Film Recipient

Towards the Possible Film (2014) by Shezad Dawood, commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and the Delfina Foundation, screened as part of the Artists’ Film strand in the Official Selection at ASFF 2015. Dawood received the award for best Artists’ Film at the festival’s Award Ceremony on 8 November, held at York’s historic National Centre For Early Music. The short film was largely shot on location in Morocco, and operates between the real, the surreal, the past and present. It is a study in parallel universes, and the sparks that fly when worlds collide – specifically, that of a pair of astronauts who land on a dystopian planet inhabited by unwelcoming locals. The film’s idiosyncratic fusion of science fiction and myth in a dreamlike setting embodies an arresting continuation of Dawood’s surreal, conceptual practice. We interview the artist and filmmaker.

A: Towards the Possible Film is visually fascinating and courageously ambitious in its production. How was the experience of filming in such exotic and captivating surroundings?
SD: Exhilarating and tough. Both myself and my D.O.P. got sunstroke. Shooting on a tight budget meant we just weren’t able to take pauses in the schedule to hide out under an umbrella! And getting equipment onto and off the beach was a daily struggle according to shifts in the tides. One day we had to use planks to get a truck down onto the beach, removing the rear planks when the truck had moved onto the forward ones, and running them round to the front, so we could continue a couple of metres further – slow going!

A: The location seems like an integral component of the film, yet you managed to remove it from an earthly context and make it completely alien. How did you select the location?
SD: I’d first visited the location approximately a decade before we shot the film, at the encouragement of Maura, a friend working with an NGO in Morocco. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Morocco in the last 15 years and this is the second film I’ve shot there. Morocco is like a home away from home. But Sidi Ifni where the film is shot is a particularly resonant location. It was occupied by the Spanish, the Ifni wars fought between (fascist) Spain, Morocco and the independent tribes of the Western Sahara only ended in the 60s, and there is still a disputed border with the Western Sahara not far away. Which for me gives it the specific aura I look for in a location, although it made it extra difficult to get permission to shoot there from a political point of view. I’ve also been fascinated by pre-Islamic animist cults in Morocco that centred around caves and grottos, and this landscape, while being unearthly, also had something very primal about it.

A: Your artistic practice is extremely prolific and varied, ranging from sculpture to painting. What is it about making art films that particularly fascinates you?
SD: I’m very interested in all aspects of my practice, of finding ways to see the world anew. In this way the other media I use are a way of story-boarding for my films, and my films are a way of researching for the work I make in the studio. I really couldn’t do one without the other.

A: Can you tell us about your upcoming projects that we can look out for?
SD: I’m working on the next chapter of my novella, and a parallel animation project. Which should hopefully come together for a show at my London gallery Timothy Taylor next October. And there’s a few other irons in the fire, from a contemporary dance project to a possible film in China. You start with a lot of “what ifs” and see what sort of hand the world deals you…

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1. Still from Shezad Dawood’s Towards the Possible Film (2014).