13 November 2015

Award-winning Visiting tutor Saeed talks about his new feature ‘Tell Spring Not to Come This Year’ & his advice for students wanting a career in documentary

By Cassio | Categorised in News, VIP Guest Speakers, Industry Interviews, Filmmaking Tips

Filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky (a recent tutor at Met Film School) is celebrating the release of his feature documentary Tell Spring Not To Come This Year – a strikingly visceral and highly compelling film which follows the Afghan National Army on the frontline in the Helmand after the British troops were withdrawn, revealing what war is really like for Afghan soldiers. Saeed, a documentary filmmaker who specialises in humanist conflict films, along with co-director, British forces officer Mike McEvoy, spent 9 months alongside the ANA filming some incredible footage whilst at war with the Taliiban.  Whilst an eye-opening and unique look at the events from the Afghans point of view, the film is a cinematic gem; with an incredible score and cinematography which makes this a must-see.

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We spoke to Saeed about how he launched his career, what he looks for in a documentary and his advice for students looking to make their break within documentary production.  Here’s what he had to say:

Film was an escape for me

Growing up in the middle east, I wasn’t able to view that much media, but there were film review shows which I devoured from a young age. The whole world of creating film was fascinating to me.  Early on I became obsessed with fiction; it had the ability to transport me into another place- it was an escape for me, that other world of cinema.  As I got older, and moved to the USA for University, I became more politically active and soon immersed myself in the fight for human rights.  I became awakened to the power of filmed content and I still think that film can have a practical effect on the audience.  It was at this time in my life that I started to see that cinema was my way of communicating.

Documentary is Expression

Making films that I was passionate about and angry about was a way of expressing my anger over certain situations across the world.  Film is a medium of expression as well as a tool for change.  I don’t think that the best films are tools; documentaries shouldn’t be essays or research papers.  If you want to educate someone on a subject, then a research paper would be best.  Cinema, on the other hand, is a beautiful way of combining image, sound and music to deliver a compelling story.  It’s a way of getting an audience to empathise with a world that they are not part of.  There is a magic in cinema that makes people forget their own lives and become absorbed in another.

Technique is important

For me, technique is very important but that is a personal thing.  The aesthetic of screened content is what seduced me in the first place. I’ve been making films since I was 12 years old and that background has made me very meticulous in how I capture image and sound; in a way that is I hope very beautiful but also not distracting.  I don’t want to make films that are all about the aesthetic, but at the same time, if I see something that moves me or overwhelms me emotionally, I want to relay that to the audience with the tools of cinema.  There is an element of manipulation to get the audience to respond in the way that you want them to.  It’s about crafting the scene carefully.  I also love strong images, especially in very messy, ugly situations, an antithesis to the usual portrayal of war.

Tell Spring not to come this year

I had been trying to make a film about the war in Afghanistan since I made my first film in 2004, because I’m interested in the side of a story that people haven’t seen.  I think about the mainstream narrative and then ask myself, “What hasn’t been told?  What story is still out there?”  This film aimed to challenge mainstream media representations of the war in Afghanistan and of the Afghan military and address a huge gap in news coverage: the perspective of the Afghan soldiers themselves. It follows the men of one unit as they live, fight, laugh and die together. It is a subtle and humanist look at a subject that is extensively covered in the media, but little understood. Afghanistan will inevitably fall out of the news headlines once foreign troops leave, but the film aims to keep it firmly on the media agenda by presenting the stories of the people who will live with the war long after NATO is gone.

Be prepared to look naive and ask lots of questions

I think that the most important tool when making documentaries is a sense of curiosity, but you also have to have the ability to suppress your ego. We’re told that it’s a cut-throat industry and that you have to push ahead and learn to sell yourself, and in many ways that is right.  But for Documentary filmmakers, you can find yourself in the wrong place with that level of thinking, as your film becomes nothing more than an exercise in the self.

Be Patient, above all else

Documentary filmmaking requires a huge amount of patience and the filmmaker should also be prepared to find out as much as they can about what’s going on within their subject.  You’re going to be the one in the room asking lots of questions, and imposing yourself on other people’s lives.  This isn’t the way that a lot of filmmakers want to make films- they don’t want to sit in a room for 8 hours saying nothing, just so they can get that one moment that will be used.  A film that really goes beyond the surface, that not only entertains the audience but finds something fundamentally surprising or moving about a subject, is a film worth making.  You dedicate a lot of yourself and your time to a project and patience is the secret skill that I think is absolutely vital.

Watch the trailer below and find out more about the film here.


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