The Long Goodbye
Riz and his family are in the middle of a typical family day in their house, whilst a far right march plays out on the telly in the background, which eventually arrives at their front door, leading to a devastating outcome.
Hello Aneil, thanks for talking to The New Current, has this time offered you the chance to find new inspiration or take up some long-dormant hobbies?
Pre-COVID, my approach towards life was to pack out the days as much as possible - to keep moving - so there wasn’t too much time to stare into the void! The pandemic forced me to be a little bit more still, and thats something that is quite challenging to practice, so I think that was one positive. We had our first child shortly before the pandemic and then another one during it! For that reason, hobbies currently seem to exist in this luxurious fictional realm for the moment. I did actually buy a book on whittling - along with a whittling knife and some wood! But sadly they’re still very much in their wrapping.
Congratulations on the incredible festival run you've had for your award-winning short The Long Goodbye, what has it meant to you to get such an amazing response to your film?
It’s meant a huge amount. The journey from the film’s conception to its execution was quite rapid and intense - which meant that we didn’t really have a lot of time to consider its life beyond simply making it. The film felt personal to us and we knew that the themes felt so timely and potent, which lent an urgency and fervour to the filmmaking process. We knew we just wanted it to be out in the world, living and breathing. It wasn’t so much awards or praise that were driving us, it was this compulsion to get it out into the world, as a kind of response to the toxic, insidious rhetoric that was seeming to define that moment.
We knew the film would be uncompromising and challenging to watch - sometime you don’t know if that’s going to push people away. But the passion the film was met with was incredible. The love it received from the South Asian community specifically felt very important and touching. Its festival and awards journey have been so touching too - you don’t set out trying to win these things, but particularly in such a virtual time, those accolades felt good because they seemed to symbolise the meaning it had for people.
Can you tell me a little bit about The Long Goodbye, how did this film come about?
I’d previously made a film called Trouble - in collaboration with the rapper and actor Kano, who I met when I was directing Top Boy. Riz was a fan of it and wanted to meet me as a director, we had a really nice chat. Not long after we had met he came to me with the idea about making a film. We had several long conversations in cafes drinking tea - there was a lot of common ground on the themes and emotions we wanted to explore, specifically how it felt to be British Asian in an increasingly poisonous political climate. Riz is incredibly articulate and I enjoyed hearing these feelings I’d wrestled with put into such perfect words. I went away and came up with three very rough ideas, one of which was the bare bones of the film we ended up making. Over several further meetings, we went into depth and began to craft it together into the film it became.
"The thing is, I didn’t connect the love I had for this stuff with the idea that people actually made this stuff for a living."
When co-writing a screenplay with your actor how important is the collaborative nature between you both?
It’s interesting because we were two people who previously didn’t know each other, and suddenly we creating something pretty intense together. Luckily for us I think we share a quite instinctive creative approach. Riz is so intelligent he has an incredible mind, so collaborating with him to an extent is magical and intimidating at the same time. I think we discovered a really good dynamic between us because Riz would operate at 1000mph and have all these incredible ideas. They would come thick and fast, and I ended up being this filtration system, processing them and honing in on certain ones. We had a very effortless time in the end now I look back, thrashing it out together. When you’re still getting to know someone, there can sometimes be a stilted dynamic or this danger of causing offence. But from the get-go we were lucky enough to have a very open kind of communication. We could candidly interrogate ideas, then either delve deeper into them or move away from them completely.
As a filmmaker do you allow yourself much flexibility with your screenplay once you start shooting or do you like to stick to what's written?
With this particular project, flexibility was really part of the entire approach. Naturalism was so important to pulling the emotional journey off. We had to pull the viewer into an authentic, tangible world so that the shift into something more heightened came off. For this reason we took a semi-improvisational approach. There wasn’t a traditional script. In fact what I ended up with was quite a dry excel document, with basic information about what was happening in each scene, who was in it, where it was taking place. The idea was that we all had a clear sense of the point of each scene - and where it began and ended - but that we left enough freedom for nuance, unpredictability and instinct to come through. In the casting we were trying to find people comfortable with improvisation and the unknown. The actors brought so much of the magic to the film.
Do you think more can/should be done within the UK film industry to give platforms for minority filmmakers to create and share stories from their own lived experiences?
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I didn’t have a particularly artistic background. In fact I remember being told not to do Art GCSE because I couldn’t draw a good apple, which is ridiculous when I think back! Anyway, I loved watching TV - I got hooked on soaps, then later discovered dramas by people like Jimmy McGovern and Paul Abbot. We didn’t have cable or anything - but when I went round mates who did, I’d adore watching music videos - I could’ve watched them for hours. The thing is, I didn’t connect the love I had for this stuff with the idea that people actually made this stuff for a living. It was too abstract a concept for me back then! But yeah, in hindsight that’s where the passion all came from.
How much has your approach to your films, both as a writer and director, changed since your debut short?
Probably quite a bit, though I think there’s definitely consistencies when I look back between what I was doing 8-9 years ago and what I’m doing now. Even when I was making my first short, Beat, I was trying to embrace the rawness of real streets, shooting long-lens. I was trying to allow for the unpredictable real life elements to come through. And again, I didn’t write a traditional script, I’d just described the scenes. The entire approach of that film was to create freedom for the actor and allow them to inhabit the story ‘world’ as comprehensively as possible. And that’s still what I try and do today. What I have become better at is working with the actors and also at trying to find a naturalistic way to tackle dialogue. I think that has grown through the films. I’d avoid dialogue in the early days!
Should young filmmakers have a responsibility to tackle big social/political issues?
I think I’d be hesitant to tell filmmakers they have to start viewing their filmmaking through the prism of social change. Obviously it’s a great thing to be doing with your craft, but I think when you’re a young filmmaker, you should be allowed to figure out your voice. That said, the generation below me feels so much more politically conscience and informed than I was at their age. I am endlessly amazed by that, how they seem to have a deep understanding of politics and the systemic problems that riddle our society not just an understanding but they seem to be more engaged and ready to change that. They put more energy and time into changing that than I did, which is really inspiring. The younger generations are instinctively using their art practice for change and that is inspiring for me. But I don’t think they should feel compelled to necessarily.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Long Goodbye?
I think for a lot of people, particularly our older generations but also our own, the fears that the film brings to life are not fictional, abstract anxieties. The film represents a real, tangible anxiety that lives in the back of our minds. The toxic rhetoric that permeates mainstream politics these days is continually fuelling this fear. It lends a heaviness to their existence which a lot of people wouldn’t understand. Even though daily express headlines or Piers Morgan tweets might seem trivial, in one sense they are all contributing to a landscape which is exhausting and hugely unsettling for hundreds of thousands of people.