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26th June 2023
In conversation: Taha Ismail
Title of film: Vaarwell, Dlam
Director: Taha Ismail
Production Company: Collective Unconscious
Taha Ismail is a visual artist, creative director and filmmaker which makes him something of a creative polymath. He first caught our eye when he was still in arts school in London and fast forwarding a couple of years, he scooped up Gold at the 1.4 Awards with his dance piece RISE. We talk with the young artist about setting up his own creative collective, his South Asian heritage, yet feeling at home in London working across various creative mediums

Taha’s most notable work is perhaps This Is Me, a compelling piece that portrays the struggles of a South Asian boy caught in the liminal space between his present life in London and his roots in Bangladesh. The film won the hearts of many, screening at festivals worldwide, all the while raising a few eyebrows and starting some interesting conversations.


Please tell us a bit about your background – You are a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker with experience across several mediums. Did you have a particularly creative upbringing in Bangladesh?

I actually didn’t, not until my teens anyway. I don’t come from a family of creatives, nor did I grow up with friends who were dabbling in the arts. However, I was exposed to a lot of western pop culture and arts growing up, and went through short stints in painting, papier mache, photography, magic and even breakdancing. I also ran a small design business (phone covers, mugs, posters, etc) for a year. None of those stuck, except for photography, which naturally expanded into film and visual arts.

Around 2010-11 I was consuming a lot of Youtube content (shoutout FreddieW & Ryan Higa), and that actually inspired me to start a channel for my own creative experiments – which somehow ended up garnering millions of views and a 40K+ audience. A hobby slowly developed into a passion, eventually leading me to study film in London.

South Asian upbringing but now living in London – how did you navigate these two very different cultures? How is that dichotomy represented within your work?

It was definitely a bit of a culture shock when I moved here, especially since it was an arts school. It was wild. I kind of expected it, but experiencing it first hand still surprised me. I’ve grown to love London because of its mix of people, cultures, ideas and identity.

Both my time in Dhaka and London have bled into my work, both consciously and unconsciously. I tend to use a lot of colours in my work that are inspired by my roots, such as greens, reds and yellows. I’ve also started using blue a lot more while living in the UK, it probably has something to do with my love for Dover and blue hour in London.

I’ve also been incorporating a blend of cultures and ideas in my current projects, whether that’s working with diverse artists, cast or exploring untold narratives. I am passionate about collaborating with creatives from the Global Majority – community means a lot to me, especially in London. 

Scene from Rise

You write, shoot, direct, edit and colour grade – where and how did you acquire these skills? 

When you’re a self taught filmmaker or artist, you tend to dabble in various departments and styles during the learning process, which is also the most fun bit. Especially in film. Although I did try my hand in various roles across film, I realised my strength lies in writing, directing and editing. I have a knack for good colour and cinematography, but it isn’t my main focus. I’ve naturally gotten more into producing as well, since launching the collective. There’s a chance I’ll be doing a lot more of that in the future.


Rise explores a world in turmoil and conflict, where multiple strangers come together to experience what it means to be human. Taha’s distinctive perspective and his innovative use of words, dance, and atmospheric music won him Gold at the 1.4 Awards of Brilliant Filmmaking.


Your work stretches from narrative filmmaking to creative direction and production across music, dance and the visual arts as a whole. Do you have a particular medium that you are drawn to?

Film as a medium has been the driving force for me so far as it is an all encompassing art form, however I have to keep experimenting and trying different things. Visual arts has been the go-to for me, but I just love the overall process of creating/building something – whether considered creative or not. I’ve been acquiring knowledge and dabbling in the more business side of the arts lately.

What led you to set up your own creative collective? How has that been?

It was always at the back of my mind to start something like this. For my co-founder Raf and I, it felt like the best way to progress while staying in touch with our connections was to start Collective Unconscious. We had a strong base and shared vision that is still expanding and growing.

It has been rewarding despite the challenges. I’m learning everyday and love getting to play different roles across both business development and creative direction – it fuels me. We’ve done some cool projects and have some more exciting things in the works. It’s led to a keen interest in brand and community building, plus talent development – so the future looks exciting.

Was there a clear brief from the commissioner for the trio of visualisers for Vaarwell in terms of a starting concept/idea to play with or did you have relatively free reign to let your imagination roam?

No, I built out the concept from scratch, mainly inspired from the sounds Vaarwell provided us. They sent in a few references so I had an idea of what they were after, but that was it. Vaarwell allowed me to be creative and pushed to use experimental ideas & techniques – I really enjoyed working with them.


Taha’s latest project, a series of visualisers for rising indie duo Vaarwell, offers distinct visual experiences. In W/U, a couple’s persona and their real selves clash. DLAM (see top) shows the duo navigating London at night, their faces hidden by blurring lights. Sellout portrays the pair frozen amidst a lively fairground, disconnected from the joyous atmosphere. These pieces appear to be lacking a clear narrative, likely intentionally, and thus works better as a feeling. Created for both live performances & online audiences, these videos are experienced in loops, exploring themes of self-perception, expectations, and life’s pressures.


How do you go about building creative teams around your projects?

I just like working with people who are genuine, understand the creative vision, and most importantly are nice, reliable collaborators. Usually, I continue working with the same people whenever possible. I also really enjoy meeting and working with new people.

What does the creative process look like for you? Do you tend to storyboard everything out methodically or are you more fluid and organic in your approach?

It depends, if it is a narrative film project, I will generally storyboard everything. If it is of a more experimental nature, I stick to having shot lists only, and allow ample room for creativity to creep in via the location, performers and the moment itself.


In Egos, Taha’s collaboration with leading German techno band Gheist, we see a man face his inner demons and heal himself through movement and music. Taha’s experimental approach and creative direction shines in this rather strangely poetic piece – which has the power to both alienate traditional audiences and captivate the esoteric.


A lot of your work involves choreography. What draws you to telling narratives with dance/body movements?

Body language holds immense value in how I perceive the world. To me, it transcends language and is an alternate way to communicate with the mind, for both the performer and the viewer. In my opinion, dance & movement holds the power to evoke certain emotions and feelings that words and images alone do not. A combination of all of these mediums to me is a multi-sensory audiovisual feast, thus a chunk of my work ends up featuring movement, both rehearsed and improv.

Are there any particular themes you’d like to explore in your future work, be it personal or commercial? What’s coming up next for you?

Although a rather vague term, I think I will be exploring elements of the human condition in some form or another – I’d like to explore subjects of migration, loss and guilt through more psychological and experimental techniques. Currently, I’m developing some narrative shorts and music projects while also working on building the collective further. 


Interview by Lyndy Stout



Taha Ismail website




Vaarwell, Dlam

Director: Taha Ismail
Production Studio: Collective Unconscious Producer: Rafael Ramirez
DOP: Shaka Agina
Gaffer: Edward Heredia
Editor & Colorist: Taha Ismail
Special Thanks: Edward Heredia
Music: Vaarwell