TIFF 2021 Women Directors: Meet Haya Waseem – “Quickening”
Haya Waseem is a Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker. An alumna of the Director’s Lab program at Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre, Weseem began her career as a documentary editor. Her short films have been screened at prestigious film festivals such as TIFF, Cannes, and Berlinale. “Quickening” marks her feature directorial debut.
“Quickening” will premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12. The fest is taking place September 9-18.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
HW: “Quickening” is a film about a young Pakistani-Canadian woman who is split between cultures. As she finds it increasingly challenging to straddle both worlds, she plummets into a pregnancy delusion that pushes her past her boundaries.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
HW: I was interested in exploring identity and coming-of-age, but also about womanhood and what it means to live in our bodies among different social and cultural confines. “Quickening” allowed me a channel through which to explore these themes in a layered, grounded way, while also engaging in an environment that tips towards hyperreality.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
HW: I want people to hopefully experience an emotional journey with a character going through internal changes, bearing witness to a delicate stage in a young person’s life as they confront the challenges of defining their identity while pushing the boundaries set out by their community and roots.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
HW: Being my first feature, the challenge was to keep pushing the film, and everyone involved, to give their best to the process while fostering a communal and collaborative environment. Thankfully, this was not so much of a challenge in our case, but a constant bar to hold ourselves up to. That requires stamina and commitment which is certainly challenging, but easy to achieve with a cast and crew as dedicated as the one on “Quickening.”
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
HW: We got funding through Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch fund. We also got additional support through the Canada Arts Council and my commercial reps in Germany at BWGTBLD and Canada at OPC. The main insight into how we got the film made was — aside from the funds we collected — that we could not have made the movie without all the additional generous and unbelievable support of everyone involved, from the extra time and attention the cast and crew gave to the production, to local vendors that gave us extraordinary deals in order for us to have the tools and resources to make the best movie we could possibly make.
It was certainly a case of spreading your arms as wide as they possibly could, and using all the stamina we had to make the most of the incredible support we got at every stage.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
HW: Stories provide worlds within worlds to observe, reflect, and share with others. I was inspired to become a filmmaker when I realized how much it pushes me to express deep inner emotions and ideas in tangible ways through collaboration with other artists and incredible human beings.
The process is unlike any other collective experience, and then to be able to share the result in the form of a story with an audience — it’s pure human connection. It’s the only way the world makes sense to me.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
HW: The best advice I received was to hold onto my taste and trust my instincts. The worst advice I got was to be practical.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
HW: I would like for more of us to examine the stories we have in our bodies. I feel like women have superpowers! I want more of our magic to be seen and experienced.
My advice would be to lean into our bodies and minds and pull out all sorts of dreams, thoughts, and imaginations, and to share them!
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
HW: This is hard to pick one film. I would have to say “The Rider” by Chloé Zhao. The way she leans into new territory and opens herself up to allow the story of a place and an individual to be told is very inspiring. There is of course poetry, beauty, and pure emotion in the film through beautiful cinematography and delicate editing, to grounded performances by non-actors. The use of nature, landscape, man and animal — it’s all very balanced, and a breath of fresh air in its simplicity and authenticity.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
HW: I am keeping creative. I use the time I have to reflect and write. I try my best to be kind and flexible when emotions go through the inevitable waves, especially with the uncertainty and global change that we experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In many ways, isn’t art and creativity meant to cope with and make sense of uncertain times like these? To abandon creativity during these times would be a loss for our recovery, I feel.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make it more inclusive?
HW: Encouraging creatives who dare to make themselves vulnerable in this arena where they might have felt had no room for them at some point. Being patient as we find our voices, and more importantly, undo some of the negative beliefs we ingrained in our minds. Creating bridges and channels for our work, and voices to be shared, not only with as wide an audience as possible — so we can receive much-needed feedback in order to grow and nurture self-awareness — but also with our own communities, so they can see our work, and become used to the fact that this is going to continue, more stories like these will exist, and are encouraged, and that they matter.