Toronto International Film Festival 2021
Short Cuts Programme 02
& Kausar Mohammed
The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night
All cards are on the table when a queer Pakistani Muslim woman brings her Puerto Rican girlfriend home for the first time on the family's annual game night.
Hi Fawzia and Kausar - thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Fawzia [FM]: My wife has been a huge support for me. Also french fries.
Kausar [KM]: Let’s just say many unkempt closets were finally (and obsessively) organised! So that’s a good thing right?
Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
KM: Well, it was during the summer of 2020 that I was feeling a desire to just -- get back to work. And do that work with people I love. And just have fun doing it. And with that, and my partner and producing partner on board, Amalia Mesa-Gustin, and with Fawz by our side as director - this short was born!
FM: I feel like this time has helped me focus on the people and things I care about. It’s helped me focus on my work as director. And focus on working with collaborators who are in line with my values and mission. Working with Kausar and Amalia has been a dream!
What does it mean for you to be having your World Premiere of The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night in the Short Cuts Section at TIFF?
KM: A huge motivation to create the short was also to uplift our stories as queer Muslim South Asian women. To normalize seeing us in our joy, as well as our awkwardness, on screen. And to be able to do that at a huge platform like TIFF? It is truly truly humbling. It also would not have been possible if it weren’t for every single cast, crew, and community member involved. It was made through so many labours of love and I hope everyone who sees it experiences that love.
FM: TIFF has been a huge uplift and support to my career the last year and a half. They supported development of my feature ME, MY MOM & SHARMILA in the TIFF Writers’ Studio and in the TIFF Filmmaker Lab and I am a Share Her Journey alum. To have our feel-good Muslim rom-com World Premiere on one of the biggest stages in the world is a dream come true.
Signature Move had its World Premiere at SXSW winning multiple awards during its festival run, did you imagine you would get such an amazing reaction for your first feature?
FM: To be honest, I did not imagine so much love. But at the same time, I was not surprised at the hunger shown by audiences for intersectional stories that centred mixed race romantic relationships, that centred Muslim stories, Asian stories, queer stories and women stories. We also had an incredible team and the film was made with so much Chicago community.
Can you tell me a little bit about how The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night came about, what was it about Kausar Mohammed’s screenplay that interested you?
KM: I am the baby of three sisters, and my two older sisters mean the world to me! So, the inspiration for the short came about when I was introducing my partner to my middle sister for the first time. It went great - and nothing like what happens in the short - but nonetheless leading up to it I was nervous! If I didn’t get my sisters’ validation, I’d literally be crushed! My head started spinning out about all the things that could go wrong, and the intro scene to the short film was born. It was Fawzia’s genius that came through and came up with the full name in all its glory - THE SYED FAMILY XMAS EVE GAME NIGHT.
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking when working on a short like this?
KM: This short would in no way it is if it weren’t for the contributions of every single individual involved. From Patrick Ouziel our DP, to Gerin Del Carmen our Production Designer, to our makeup artist Myishia Jackson Barnett, to our cast members Vico Ortiz, PIa Shah, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, D’Lo Srijaerajah, and even little Anjali who played Saira. To Taz Ahmed who donated the set art and our partners SpeakOut Films… ok see, this is where I should stop before I list out all our credits. But truly filmmaking is collaboration. And when we trust in the beauty of that we get to enjoy the PROCESS of filmmaking as much as the PRODUCT. Also, I never want to stop collaborating with Fawzia, so that’s another thing too...
FM: I love collaboration. It is how I thrive as a creator and as a director. I love bringing folks into the process. And I love creating a space that feels safe for folks to contribute.
Has your style and approach to your films changed since your debut short?
FM: Stepping into directing has been a huge shift. It just makes me think about the process as a whole differently and my role within it. I also acted in my early short films, and am moving away from that as well.
"It is in our diverse storytelling that we take back the power that has historically taken away from us to be seen as human and as whole."
Should LGBTQ+ filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
KM: We need more of our stories and every type of the story within our stories. We’re JUST starting to see more LGBTQ+ stories on screen but even that’s not enough. GLAAD reports that while LGBTQ+ inclusion in film is up, trans & queer people of colour representation is down. There is no one narrative, film or TV show that can encompass the breadth of our experiences, so make your story. It is in our diverse storytelling that we take back the power that has historically taken away from us to be seen as human and as whole. Our stories challenge that.
FM: Pushing boundaries matters, but boundaries vary -- different people, communities and countries have different boundaries, so the stories will also be different.
Is there any advice you would offer someone thinking about getting filmmaking?
KM: To my BIPOC, LGBTQ+ filmmakers, make the content that YOU want to see. That’s what we’re missing in the world.
FM: Trust your instincts, ground in your community, find great collaborators and make what you love.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night?
KM: I hope they laugh! And go to their nearest South Asian restaurant or grocer to drink a really really good cup of chai.
FM: This film is about love, but also the film is a representation of the feel good vibes we had during the process of making it.