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Film Review & Conversation With Director Shehroze Khan for World Premiere: The Traveller

by in Lifestyle on 30th October, 2018

Shehroze Khan is an award-winning director and writer, known for The Traveller (2018), Tba (2010) and The Letter (2016). In August 2018, he released the official teaser trailers for his new film The Traveller, a  short psychological/sci-fi thriller. The feature film examines themes surrounding, identity, universal truth, mental health,  child abuse,  love, and the distribution of power structures. For anyone who has not heard of the film, the crux of its very masterfully written plot is mainly based in what the audience deem to be a Psychoanalysts office. A man comes under investigation after claiming that he can travel through time. Psychoanalyst Dr. Friedrich played convincingly by Stephen Underwood to figure out whether this ominous man is lying, brainwashed or covering up a hidden truth. The film also forces the audience to question our subjective perceptions of good and evil and how we come to these conclusions based on the limited information presented to us. We are forced to face ugly truths surrounding societal norms and where on the spectrum we may lie in supporting them based on our belief systems. This is particularly highlighted when the main character, played with a dazzling performance by GianBruno Spena, is caught downloading images of children on to his pc to which he claims is for the sake of future generations to benefit from, as a result of him being a time traveller.

It is to be mentioned that the character development, between the young actors with very little scope to explore emotion through language, particularly showcased by Young Traveller played by an incredibly taleted Karan Abrol. They effectively draw the audience in on screen with their remarkable silent emotion. We are lead to feel intense emotions as to what being in Love can look like, and all during very brief periods of time which is an art to be admired by the traveller’s love interest, played by Georgina Seville.

The wider conversation surrounding mental health institutions, by examining power structures through the dialogue between Dr. Karl Friedrich played by Stephan Underwood, and the traveller reveal the multitude of possiblities when a very human experience loaded with creativity, is placed in the hands of a clinical minded professional.

The film is shot in very few frames, which leaves an impactful kaleidoscope of evidence for the audience to absorb  and follow as spectators and investigators all at once, we are left to make sense of and come to conclusions about our perceptions of universal and subjective truths, and acknowledging if they are only deemed so because of what we have inherited from our history, what we are taught from young, our line of kin, from our nations and so on, which Khan inherently weaves into the greater  sci-fi possibility, in returning to the plot line that proves Spena is a time traveller.  Which unexpectedly provides interchangeability of experiences for spectators watching, to be left with and all in 15 minutes. I am intrigued as to what this young filmmaker will achieve in his coming years.

Shehroze x Amaliah

1. Tell us a little about yourself in your own words…

I’m very driven by passion. One of my beliefs is that many of the most serious issues we face today is the fact that human beings are unable to have conversations with each other in a civil way. Particularly in the age of social media, we live in echo chambers surrounded by opinions that we find agreeable and so what excites me greatly about filmmaking is being able to stir up discussion and conversation.

The other thing that fascinates me is the human psyche and our relationships with each other and what drives us to do the things we do. Human stories, human interaction, human relationships – these are things we find very universal in nature, no matter how different we are in race, religion, creed, ideology. But I’m passionate about so many issues that I’d find it too difficult to choose a profession other than one that allows me to express that.

2. The film demonstrates philosophical questions surrounding identity, and perceived truths, and even touches on belief systems which includes religion. Why do you feel this is an important conversation to have regarding universal truth in the time we are living in?

 Truth is the single most important thing in the world to me, but everyone has their own versions of truth. I think we have always fought about truth. It is my truth or the highway. Whether it is conflict over an ideological creed, or scientific progress, or preconceptions and biases we have about each other, our truth forms part of our identity. I’m a Muslim, which is a declaration that I choose to submit to my love and understanding of God, and that is core to my identity. Someone else’s sexuality might be core to their identity, or someone’s political views .

Humans are created differently, and it is healthy to have different ideas, cultures and opinions – it’s what makes us unique and allows us to progress. But it’s such a shame when you see hate being fostered by people who don’t actually understand why they hate. I just feel like we’ve never been more connected in our history as a human race, but yet we’re finding ourselves facing record amounts of mental health issues, exhibiting all kinds of prejudices and I think displaying unbelievable amounts of ignorance in a time of mass access to knowledge.

My film is about someone who has been taught from a young age that they are a time traveller. That is an absurd notion to all of us. Yet, me believing in angels and jinn could be an absurd notion to someone else. I was interested in the fine line between dogma and ideology, how we deal with our beliefs and what can it mean to isolate yourself from anyone who could open your mind to other things.

3. You mentioned your perspective on Islam has changed since college, do you feel this was a leading trigger for you to write the script to begin with?

Absolutely. I went to Juma’a and Eid prayers with my dad growing up, but didn’t have much of a relationship with Islam other than not drinking alcohol or eating pork. Coming to university and being forced to choose for the very first time “should I still go to the Mosque?”, had me really questioning my identity and beliefs for the first time.

I decided that it was absurd to call myself a Muslim if I did not believe in Islam, and I simply did not know Islam, to believe in it. So that’s what I sought out to do, to try and know Islam.

But I know tons of people who are Muslims or Atheists or any other label, without being interested in really exploring that truth and challenging their own beliefs. For me, without any judgement towards anyone else and only commenting on how I feel if I were to view life like that, I would consider it problematic.

4. What emotions are you trying to elicit In the audience through your work?

Whatever the story requires. I love the idea of bringing positivity into the world and so making people feel happy or uplifted or hopeful or optimistic is something very dear to me. However, I think films allow you to transcend so many types of emotions and the truth ain’t always pretty – sometimes we humanise those we disagree with by seeing harsh struggles they face as well. So I think if a story is compelling with layered, complex characters, I would be excited to explore taking the audience through all kinds of emotions.

5. Did you ever feel the genre sci-fi would be an ambitious task for a short film?

I love sci-fi and I love time travel. However, I would classify my film ‘The Traveller’ as a Psychological Thriller. The truth is, although I love time travel, the film is not about time travel. It’s entire premise is dependent on the question of whether he is or is not a time traveller, but that really is the extent to which sci-fi plays a role in the film. Everything else is a psychological cat-and-mouse game between a Psychoanalyst and this Traveller.

Making a feature films is absolutely my dream and passion, and I am developing a number of them right now, trying to secure funding. I would love to properly explore the sci-fi genre because it allows you to create such a rich world where you decide on the universe and its rules, which is such a freeing way of being able to discuss issues of interest to you.

6. Do you feel accessing the film industry may have challenges as a Muslim?

There are challenges. I’d say the biggest challenge is the restrictions we put on ourselves. Muslims have been in the UK for so many years and we are very overrepresented in fields like Medicine, but highly underrepresented in the Social Sciences or Entertainment. I think we just need a psyche shift as a community, and I see that happening with incredible journalists, writers, artists, academics who are achieving phenomenal success.

The tough thing for a lot of Muslims is feeling like you need to compromise on values. If you are an observant Muslim, you probably won’t want to work on content that is very sexually explicit or that portrays minorities in a stereotypicsal way, or engages with issues in a way you fundamentally disagree with. But you know who can change that? – Writers! We need writers to tell more diverse stories. It doesn’t have to be about ‘diverse’ characters, but tell the stories you want to tell in the way you feel they should be told. We’re seeing more and more storytellers from diverse backgrounds get into every area of production.

It’s never been a better time to enter the industry in many ways, because the number of schemes looking for people from diverse backgrounds is huge, and there’s a lot of rhetoric around increasing representation. There’s still a lot of barriers to access, no doubt about that, but there’s a lot of positive examples around us that I hope serve as inspiration to others that this is possible.

My litmus test for content I would want to make is what I call ‘the parent test’. What films could I watch with my parents without awkwardly shuffling and jumping to the remote, needing to forward something? “The Wolf Of Wall Street” doesn’t pass that test. But all of Christopher Nolan’s films do, and he’s one of my favourite Directors.

7. What privileges do you feel like you have by the same token, do you feel being a Muslim man in the industry has worked for you?

In some ways, I do think it gives you an edge. I don’t think Muslims are necessarily the only ones who should write about Muslims, but your experiences, knowledge and understanding are unique and can be very valuable to someone else’s understanding of a character who might share something with your perspective. I feel that being able to approach stories, information or research with a different perspective is advantageous and many productions recognise that value.

8. The script was clever and witty, and the production quality was very high, you had a budget of £2,000, could you give us three tips for producers in a similar position?

Thank you. We didn’t actually have a budget of £2000. My Producers and I agreed on a self-funded budget of £400. My biggest priority was doing justice to the story – I wanted to make a film that looked and felt like a professional feature film, using the absolute minimum budget we could. As I decided how to do that, I realise the only way to bring the budget close to £2000, and that’s with most people on production not earning a single penny. It was an amount that I felt I could invest, but not more than that.

  • Tighten the script: Analyse the script, what really warrants money being spent on. Some things are nice to have in a film, but some things aren’t really necessary for the universe. The main location we used took a quarter of our budget, and delayed our production by 4 months in trying to secure venue, but it was too important to the story
  • Shoot smart: One of the fun things for a Director can be problem-solving. You might need to make it feel like there’s thousands of people at a protest. No way your budget will allow that. If you shoot handheld and a bit shaky, very close to the faces, you could achieve that look using 10 people. Just shoot smart.
  • Hustle: The truth is that even higher budget films need some favours called on. Exhaust your networks. It might cost £1000 to rent an office location, but you might know someone who has a private business that may let you use their offices for free. It’s give and take, you don’t want to always be calling on people for favours, but if you have meaningful relationships with people around you who are able to help, you’ll be surprised that there are so many things you could get if you just asked.

 9. What would you say to those who may have told you you couldn’t do this on a low budget?

Plan. It all comes down to pre-production. If you have planned meticulously, you can stay on budget.

10. What words of encouragement would you give to young reative trying to forge their career?

Just persevere. Make your own stuff. Filmmaking has never been so democratised, with smart phones and easily accessible software. I have never been to film school or studied film. Everything I know is self-taught and learnt either through practice, talking to people, or what I think is maybe the best resource of the modern age – YouTube.

That applies for other careers too I’d say. I don’t know anyone’s personal circumstances, but I think if you have some kind of skill that you can monetise, then use that skill to try and fund your passion. So many Hollywood actors were Waiters before they made it. I believe that if you work hard enough on something to truly excel at it, then there will be some way to make a living off it. But that means really putting in the effort. Free time is a luxury, and it can be necessary for one’s mental health as well, but if you have too much of it, then there’s probably a lot more you could be doing.

11. Were there moments of self-doubt in creating this? How did you tackle that?

Oh yeah! I was terrified. It was tougher to direct than anything I had directed before. I was working with more established actors. We had to shoot very quickly due to budget, and the performances needed to be incredibly layered for the film to work. The film depended on good sound as it is mainly dialogue-driven, and we had such a low budget that I wasn’t sure if we could make something really do justice to the script that we all believed in.

On top of that though, I had to produce it. I handled most logistics, found us locations, sourced props, spent hours buying costumes online (and then returning them a day later to save money…). I had to fight the self-doubt everyday by convincing myself that the final product would be worth it. And I’m super proud of what we ultimately achieved.

12. Was there a moment where you thought this wasn’t possible? What was that moment?

I mentioned finding the perfect location. 2/3 of the film takes place in a Victorian-style study with a crackling fireplace and beautiful mahogany bookshelves. The script demanded a place like that. I spent weeks visiting locations until I found the perfect place. We had to use it in the night because it was an active pub and it was too noisy during the day, so we booked it for February 11, 2018 (I remember clearly). On Feb 7, I get a call from someone vital to the production saying they can no longer make that date. I go back to the pub to ask for a change in date, and they tell me that the pub is being closed down and renovated for 3 months literally from February 12.

I spent the next 3 months looking for locations pretty much everyday. I visited 50 places. I found nothing comparable. In that time, everyone’s steam started to fizzle, momentum dropped, and I really thought this would not happen. When the pub finally opened again, I was terrified that the entire room would be torn down or changed, but thankfully it was almost exactly the way we needed it. Back on track.

13. A lot of people will not see the struggle and challenges you had to go through in producing this, you mention some of this at the event, could you tell our readers about them?

Sometimes a lot of effort goes into something that will make a few seconds of screen time. Our film has a scene where a couple fights, and the male ends up getting so angry he throws a vase and shatters it on the wall. But where can we shatter a vase against a wall? I ended up using my flat, and to avoid losing my deposit, I bought paintings from a charity shop and really relied on the lead actor having a good enough aim to throw the vase onto the painting and miss the wall. Ironically, the sticky labels we ended up using for those paintings removed half of the paint from the walls anyway, so I had to spend half a day re-painting.

Other things included running a day over schedule. The huge challenge with a film where no one is getting paid is that you need to schedule shooting days when everyone is available and not busy with what they need to do to make a living. Running a day over meant potentially waiting weeks or even months before we could find another date that works for everyone’s schedules.

My biggest annoyance on the film though, was needing a door (watch the film to understand). It is hard to transport a door cheaply. It is also very annoying to dispose of a door after a long, tiring day of filming. I had to arrange a man with a van to drop it off to us the morning of the shoot, and then find saw it into pieces at the end of the day so we could dispose of it.

14. What is your next move from here?

The Traveller is going to do the film festival circuit. It will take over a year but if we do well enough, I am hoping to be considered for some of the big awards. My main priority though is using the film to pitch other projects to producers, and get the opportunity to direct a feature length film or TV drama.

 15. Where can people watch the film? 

It should be playing at select screenings over the next year, and at certain film festivals. Follow The Traveller on Facebook or @TheTravellerFilm on Insta for more updates. Likewise they can follow news on shehrozekhan.com.

Hanan

Hanan

Hanan has a Masters in Media in the Middle East from SOAS University. Trainee of the Muslim Women in Media institute Annual Cohort at UC Davis, California. Her interests lie in ethical fashion, modern-day slavery, and when not making Youtube videos she is somewhere in between Ballet and Kickboxing. King Julian is her spirit animal.