Arshad Khan didn’t set out to create a documentary about his life and his relationship with his father. In fact, he may never do it again. “ABU (Father)” came about from making a five minute memorial video.
Arshad Khan, the director, will be at the TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival screening of “ABU (Father)” this evening. Make sure you give him a hug. The film screens tonight at 8:45pm at AMC Pacific Place. You can get more info here. Don’t miss it!
“ABU (Father)” Synopsis:
ABU is a journey to the center of a fragmented family while they grapple with religion, sexuality, colonialism and migration. Through a tapestry of narratives composed of family footage, observation and classic Bollywood films, gay-identifying Pakistani-Muslim filmmaker Arshad Khan takes viewers through the tense relationships between family and fate, conservatism and liberalism and modernity and familiarity.
Arshad Khan’s Director’s Statement:
My family happens to be obscenely well documented. My father loved photography and he loved technology and documentation. We have photos from as far back as the 1930s. I wanted to use as much archival video and photography in my film as possible because I wanted there to be as clear a testament of our history and culture as possible in my film so that future generations will know – yes, the Wasi Khan family was a family worthy of our respect.
The need to keep the film as archive heavy as possible with the least amount of new footage meant the challenge to edit it was a gargantuan task for my editor Editor Gagnon, but he worked his magic because this film is nothing short of a miracle.
Our interview with Arshad Kahn below:
Earle Dutton (ED): Can you tell me about “ABU (Father)” in your own words?
Arshad Khan (AK): I am a Canadian filmmaker from Montreal with Pakistani origin. In December of 2011 my father got very ill and died. In April of the following year I was making a five minute video for his memorial and I realized that I have so much footage. There is just such a wealth of audio/video material that I was amazed. I was just finishing film school and I was trying to move a fictional project at that time. In school, they teach you to use whatever you have. Looking at all of this material I really thought that there was something there. I had a very difficult relationship with my father. He was a very devout Muslim, conservative Pakistani man and I am openly gay. His death left extremely upset and I couldn’t understand why. I decided to examine that. It started the process of working on this movie five years ago. Then about two and a half years ago, I applied for some funding and I received a Canada Council grant. Then several other grants and awards came through. People really seemed to like the project. I wanted to make a documentary and that means you have to be brutally honest. It was very difficult. I realized that my training was mainly in fiction and making a documentary about yourself is a very difficult task. On top of that, there were the ethical and moral dilemmas of using family shared archives and history. My family is very divided. The fact that this film got made is a miracle. People really realize that when they watch the film.
ED: Knowing all of that and going through that entire process, would you do it again?
AK: No! (silence) No, I wouldn’t do it again. I am telling you the truth. I have gone through very bad heartache making this film. I am doing something which people are calling very brave but the other side of bravery is stupidity. I am not sure if this is worth it. It remains to be seen. I don’t know what the repercussions are going to be for me.
ED: What was the best part of making this film?
AK: The best part for me was actually learning that I could on my own, raise a huge chunk of money and be that resourceful. People do believe in my work. I realize that I am a good storyteller when it comes to films. I was very happy to learn that. People are very moved by the work I am creating. Also, my mother just saw the film in Toronto about a week and a half ago. She really liked the film and that lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. I was very nervous. When we had the Canadian premiere in Montreal, my mother refused to come into the cinema.
ED: What the hardest part of making this film?
AK: Watching my father die over and over again was very hard. Discussing my sexual abuse was very hard. Getting the narration just right took years. I didn’t even realize how bad it was until I kept getting rejections. Then I realized that my narration just sucked. That was a lot of work. Getting the film to a beautiful place was very hard. Once the film was done, I thought well yeah the film is done, my work is done here. Let me tell you, getting done is one thing. Getting it seen and into the major festivals is much harder than you ever think.
ED: How does it feel to sit there and watch your finished film with an audience?
AK: I love my film. I have seen it a thousand times. I have seen almost every screening. I am so heartened by the reaction of people. People laugh out loud at the most unusual places. People are laughing and crying going through the entire gamut of emotions with my film. That is amazing to me.
ED: What is it like meeting people after the film?
AK: Oh my goodness it is like a hug-fest! It is crazy. Sometimes they have to kick us out of the theater because it is taking too long. In essence, the film is about love. It is also about a father and son and acceptance. Everyone is relating to it in their own way. It is so thrilling to see and feel that. Hopefully one day I can feel like it is all worth it. I just don’t feel like that today.
ED: What would you like people to take away from the film?
AK: I made the film for two kinds of audiences. One is the Western audience. I want them to understand that we are all the same. We are just as fucked up as everybody else but we aren’t fucking terrorists. I really want people to understand that. On the other hand, I want my own communities, the Muslim community, and the South Asian community to stop their fucking homophobia. I want them to stop judging love between people. I want them to stop this terrible bullshit of this pressure of hetero-normativity and their ridiculous values which they conflate with their religion. I just want them to stop and think how it is affecting people and the world.