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Turab Shah (MA Cinematography) on Lodestar-winning ‘Other Cinemas’

By Elise Czyzowska

14 October 2022

Alongside co-founder Arwa Aburawa, MA Cinematography graduate Turab Shah set up Other Cinemas, a project ‘dedicated to sharing films in ways and spaces which aren’t alienating to Black and non-white communities’.

With this ethos and mission, Other Cinemas hosts community screenings, discussions, and even a film school aimed at Black and non-white filmmakers in Brent. 2022 has been a particularly busy year for the team, receiving a 2022 Lodestar Award from Film London (celebrating talent who are tipped to guide future works in the industry), and making their first fiction film, I Carry It With Me Everywhere, as part of the 2022 Brent Biennial.

Informed by interviews with first generation migrants, I Carry It With Me Everywhere was part of the Biennial’s ‘In the House of Love‘ strand, exploring the many meanings of ‘homemaking’. In today’s blog, we spoke to Turab Shah about the making of this film, as well as the inspiration behind Other Cinemas…

Can you tell us a little about Other Cinemas, and the intention behind the project?

Other Cinemas was set up as a reaction to the failures we’d seen in the film exhibition and programming world. We love independent film and we know there isn’t a shortage of films being made which are aimed at diverse audiences, but there is very little film exhibition that actually connects these films to diverse audiences.

A lot of the big festivals and events take place in traditional arts and film institutions where most non-white people still feel very uncomfortable. So we wanted to do our little bit in rectifying that by creating a space where our communities feel centred, both in the programming and the actual venue.

Accessibility is also key to our work, and everything we’ve programmed has been free as a result. We know how expensive independent films can be to view, yet the communities that often benefit most from these works are those who are priced out. We feel that there should be provision for free access to arts and culture, and we’ve worked hard to make that possible.

Of the film screenings you’ve done so far, do you have a favourite?

Ironically, one of my favourite screenings took place during the first lockdown. We screened Talking About Trees (directed by Suhaib Gasmelbari) as part of an online festival that explored a cinema of the ‘other’, and it was a beautiful encapsulation of why it is important to bring people together. The documentary follows four veteran filmmakers who founded the Sudanese Film Club in 1989 on their fraught journey of reviving an old outdoor cinema. So much of their work and ethos resonated with us and the work we are trying to do with Other Cinemas.

Our first in-person screening after lockdown was also very special. We showed Touki Bouki by Djibril Diop Mambéty to a group of friends and supporters of Other Cinemas. It was another reminder of why we do what we do, and the power of bringing people together.

Watch the trailer for Talking About Trees

You and Arwa have just made your first film, I Carry It With Me Everywhere. What was your experience filming this project?

The motivation behind this film was to honour our parents and other first generation migrants who experienced the rupture of departing their motherlands for a place that was often hostile and unwelcoming. The heartbreak of that loss is one that is rarely spoken between us and our parent’s generation and the film was a way of saying we see and feel the sacrifices you made.

The experience of making the film was really rewarding. Due to budgetary restrictions, Arwa and I took on the producing, writing, casting, directing, shooting, and editing – this was a lot to take on, considering it was our first fiction film, but it also meant we learnt so much. Thankfully, we also managed to put together a wonderful cast and crew. Everyone resonated with the themes of the film in their own way, and that brought with it an added commitment to the process.

It was also so great to have the support of the Brent Biennial team – especially our curator, Eliel Jones, who just understood and supported our vision right from the start.

You mentioned that MetFilm School opened the world of fiction filmmaking for you. How did this impact your approach to I Carry It With Me Everywhere?

Before my time at MetFilm School I’d never been on a fiction set. I had very little idea of how fiction films were made. The films I worked on as part of my MA Cinematography helped to demystify the process.

My own background as a documentary director meant I was naturally inclined towards observing how the various departments operated. The collaborative nature of the School also gave me the opportunity to work with and learn from directors, so it ended up being this dual learning experience for me, between both cinematography and directing. This experience meant I felt comfortable in deciding to make a fiction film for the Brent Biennial 2022 commission.

Still from ‘I Carry It With Me Everywhere’ by Turab Shah and Arwa Aburawa

More generally, are there any key takeaways you can share from your MA Cinematography course?

My biggest takeaway from the MA Cinematography course was the importance of teamwork and camaraderie. My background in documentary meant that I was very used to working in small crews, sometimes even on my own. The jump to fiction sets with much bigger crews was really eye opening.

I also learned the importance of lighting, and how to use it as a storytelling tool. More than anything, it’s lighting that makes a film look ‘cinematic’. I was therefore really glad that the course was predominantly focused on lighting.

Other Cinemas also run a film school – what has it been like returning to film school from a ‘staff’ perspective?

The film school came about organically, and in many ways it’s an extension of our exhibition work. We were asked to facilitate a one-off workshop for young people in the area, but I’ve always been cynical about the value of these kinds of short-term programmes. They create a lot of energy and curiosity, but often leave the participants with nowhere to go.

We decided to host a one-off workshop, and at the end, we asked the students if they’d like to continue, which they were all very enthusiastic about. In the end, we spent 18 months with our first cohort, and are currently with the second group.

The staff perspective makes you appreciate how much work goes into organising an extended programme. It’s also made me really value the connections we’ve made over the years – having that goodwill has made it relatively easy to bring in filmmakers who have really bought into the aims and ethos of the school.

Behind-the-scenes of I Carry It With Me Everywhere with Turab Shah and crew

Finally, having already won several awards with Other Cinemas, how would you like to keep growing your community over the next few years?

We try not to think too long-term and concentrate more on the present. It’s difficult enough to find the resources to do what we are doing now, and to keep the school free. We’d love to one day make the film school full-time, and to create a space where aspiring non-white filmmakers can thrive and learn to have the confidence to tell their own stories, without catering towards the white gaze.

  • Turab Shah studied MA Cinematography at MetFilm School London. This course is also available in Berlin and Leeds.
  • Turab and Arwa Aburawa are the founders of Other Cinemas – you can learn more about the project here.