ASFF Interview: Shasha Nakhai & Rich Williamson

Taking 200 short films from over 25 different countries, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (ASFF) is set to launch tomorrow. Including shorts from the BAFTA and Warp Films archive, ASFF really is a celebration of emerging and established short filmmaking talent. Each of the carefully selected films have their own unique stories, and not just in the storyline but in the tales behind how they were made. Aesthetica speaks to the directors and writers of The Sugar Bowl, Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson, on how they came to make this film.

A: Can you explain the basic premise of The Sugar Bowl?
SN: In The Sugar Bowl, we meet a chorus of characters that take us through the rise and fall of an island in the Philippines and its sugar cane industry. This film is a portrait of a charming place struggling with its past and trying to move into the future.

A: Where did the original idea for the film come from?
SN: I was born in Bacolod City (on the island where the film takes place) and I lived there when I was nine to 13 years old. I have very strong memories of my older brother playing airsoft in an abandoned sugar mill. The smell of decaying molasses, the overgrown train tracks, the personal effects left behind inside the mill – these were all things that stuck with me. With this project I wanted to embody the haunted feeling I felt as a little girl exploring the abandoned mill and express the feelings of loss and abandonment, while also exploring the larger issue of the island’s connection to the outside world. I wanted to present a portrait of a place I hold very dear to me and share it with others and Rich was the perfect collaborator to help me achieve so we decided to co-direct the film.

A: The Sugar Bowl is a documentary, is this your preferred genre?
SN: I would say it is my preferred genre. Although at the moment I’m producing two fiction shorts I love the improvisational nature of documentary.
RW: I like the pick up and play nature of documentary. With fiction its very difficult to just go out and shoot, whereas documentary affords us the opportunity to find a story and capture it without adhering to extensive scheduling and budgeting. That being said, I like the subtlety of fiction. I employ a great deal of my fiction influences to documentary, and find that I’m often asked take a doc-style approach to the fiction projects I work on. The line between each is definitely blurring as time goes on.

A: Which films and filmmakers have personally inspired you?
SN: Generally I’ve been very much inspired by documentary films like Baraka, Manufactured Landscapes and Darwin’s Nightmare; fiction films like Amelie; and filmmakers such as the Maysles Brothers, Errol Morris Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady and Kathryn Bigelow. I draw something from almost everything I see really so the list could go on forever.
RW: For The Sugar Bowl a big influence was Ron Fricke’s work in Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi. I love the photography in Terrence Malick’s recent films, Tree of Life and The New World so I’d say those were pretty big influences on how I approached the look. I wanted to shoot everything wide in a very painterly manner. No handheld. All of the shots were lucky in the sense that their quality was predicated by the time of day and whatever was happening in front of the lens.

A: Any new films coming up?
SN: Right now I am producing two fiction shorts – a sci-fi and a comedy. I’m also going home to Nigeria soon to shoot development footage for a feature length documentary I’ll be working on with Rich as well.
RW: I just finished shooting a short comedy in Ohio directed by Robert J. Putka called “The Caterpillar Event.” I’m now back in Toronto editing two features, Hill 677 and Fonyo for a production company called Block 4.

ASFF, 8 – 11 November, across the City of York,

1. The Sugar Bowl, Edouard Garcia, courtesy of ASFF.
2. The Sugar Bowl, Sugar Farmer, courtesy of ASFF.