Tell us a bit about your family background and growing up in Toronto as the child of immigrants. Have you always been interested in film?
I have always been – and still am – in awe of my mom and dad’s work ethic and how they travelled around the entire world with two little kids. I am where I am today because of their adventurous nature, worldliness, and ability to take on anything that the world throws their way. They exposed me to so much art, so many countries, music, languages, architecture, food, religions, and most importantly so many amazing foreign films from around the world — I think that is where my love for films first came from.
You got into film while studying architecture at university, and architecture continues to inspire your work through elements of home, domestic life and interiors. Is it a subconscious influence or something you’re always thinking about from concept to production?
It might be a bit of both. I love architecture and I always will — there are a lot of intuitive choices behind why a window faces a certain way, why they chose to build the entire home around one particular tree, why they incorporate fragments of escarpment rock into the design. But also within the walls of these woodsy log cabins, serene bungalows, and messy flats, there are secrets, stories, and sensibilities. I like the concept of homes and domestic life and how people act behind the closed doors of their homes. Everyone has their unique quirks, routines, and strangeness that they unveil when they are home alone. I like that. I want to explore that. Together, you get a really great marriage of film, storytelling, and architecture.
How has your background as a former model influenced and shaped your approach to making fashion film, particular in terms of casting diversity and the female gaze?
It has definitely helped me become a better director — helped me direct movement and performance having been on the other side of the camera. I can communicate to actors much better when it comes to inspiring performances, and asking them to channel different character traits, or move a certain way to evoke a particular emotion.
It’s interesting that after you made a short film, Boredom – about a girl who’s voluntarily stuck at home, turning down invitations from friends and generally being bored – life imitated art and we all became isolated social recluses in lockdown. What inspired the idea for the film, and were there any specific filmic references beyond French New Wave cinema?
I love how weird people are at home, so I wanted to explore a young woman who just loves being home, has a terrible habit of being flakey, is fussy, humdrum, and is misleading. Cinematically, Anna Karina and A Woman is a Woman were the main inspiration for style, colour, and aesthetic.
Contrast short film
By contrast to the lethargy of Boredom, your dance piece Constant has a fizzing energy that’s reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s film for Kenzo. How did you approach casting, and what was the key to getting those intense performances from the drummer and the dancer?
When I was seven, I was travelling with my folks somewhere in Asia, and I saw the most amazing thing. There was this drummer who was playing a percussion instrument called a tabla and with him was a dancer, she was performing a traditional dance called the kathak. It’s a very old art form and it is very intense. Each of her movements were reciprocated by a specific hit he made on the tabla, and they worked together to create this harmonious and hypnotic performance. It’s very complicated footwork, hard to master, and what’s amazing is that it goes on forever. She only stopped when he stopped, and she only danced when he played — the back and forth was really amazing, endless, and constant. That never-ending and perpetual bond between the two was what inspired Constant.
Besides architecture and interiors, what are your biggest sources of creative inspiration?
I am deeply inspired by photography — it helps me visualize scenes, lighting, and sometimes even entire narratives from start to finish. I found some very old stills recently of past wedding receptions from the 70s in Mexico — the happiness, the dancing, the tears, the boredom, the excitement, the clothing, the hot summer sun, the cars, the flash, the candid moments are so raw. I love stills. I also find a ton of inspiration in fashion and how different fashion houses have gone through so much change from the moment they were created to what they have become now. I love watching foreign films from Korea, Italy, China, Denmark, and all over the place really. I love subtitles. I love the translations and how they are a little off — the sense of being slightly lost in translation is so great. And the strangest and newest thing that has been a sudden source of inspiration are the weird, eerie, and dark short stories by Roald Dahl.
Fortnight Lingerie, Golden Hour
What themes or concepts are you keen to explore in future projects, whether creative or commercial?
I am excited to work with film noir, dark comedy, and erotic thrillers. It’s definitely what I want to do next.
What are you working on at the moment – any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I am working on a short film right now – a dark comedy piece. I also just finished another short film, where the entire thing is an immersive auditory experience. I am really happy about it and can’t wait to share.
Interview by Selena Schleh
Mashie Alam website
Director: Mashie Alam
Cinematographer: Thomas Van Der Zaag
Starring: Henriette De Vries
Stylist: Basia Wyszynski
H&M: Claudine Baltazar
Colour: Clinton Homuth
Narration: Dina Roudman
Film Processing: Niagara Custom Lab
Film Scanning: Frame Discreet
Director: Mashie Alam
Cinematographer: John Ker
Colourist: Clinton Homuth
Dancer: Anastasia Shivrina
Drummer: Riley Simpson
Wardrobe Curation: 100 % Silk Shop
Hair & Make Up: Christine Jair
Assistant Camera: Daniel Poirier
Dolly: Dillon Freel
Data: Jared MacIntyre
Sound: Audio Network