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15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
17-20 February 
Interview

Tanya Bittar Massally 
COCOABEAN 

Section: In Someone Else’s Shoes  

COCOABEAN is a visual-poetic narrative that celebrates unity amidst difference within our contemporary, multi-cultural society. It was an incredible feeling knowing that our poetic expression, encompassing the beauty of our diverse friendship circles, generated such a reception!
 

Hey Tanya, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Hey! Lovely to meet you and thank you so much for having me feature. The past two years have been crazy to say the least – we never could’ve imagined that we’d find ourselves in a global pandemic. Despite the trying times, I’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude and take the time to truly develop an understanding as to where I would like to end up in the future and take each day as it comes.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

 

I found that during the lockdown period it was very difficult to stay motivated, especially because I was in the midst of completing my university degree and final-year dissertation. I felt that I suffered from a bit of a creative stint initially, but then taking the time to think about what inspired me within my life and channeling that into succinct ideas, helped me gain the mojo back. With regards to new opportunities, absolutely! Due to the nature of everything going online, there were lots of interactive Zoom sessions, masterclasses and talent scouting opportunities that emerged. Q&A discussions, career’s fairs and talks were particularly helpful during this time, to keep the film/tv spark alive. If anything, career wise, I’ve finally understood what my heart desires and have gained clarity in the path I wish to take.

What does it mean to be screening COCOABEAN at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?

Having joined the BFI aged 16, attended the film academy course and repeatedly attended the amazing events held annually, it’s such an honour to see my work under the same roof! I used to sit in the audience wonderstruck by the quality of the work on the screens and never imagined that years later an audience would be watching my work. It’s such an incredible feeling and I feel both lucky and blessed to have COCOABEAN screened at such a well esteemed festival, that I’ve attended for years! My passion for film and TV stemmed from participating in the course and getting a flavour for the industry.

 

You won the Writer’s Craft Award for COCOABEAN at the RTS Student Awards, did you imagine you would get this type of reaction to your short?

Not at all! This was my first-year and first term university project. We had just been introduced to 4K Blackmagic cameras and new Avid software and were tasked with creating a 2 minute short film. With that, I knew I wanted to create something that was dear to me – the beauty and celebration of difference and difference. My tutors had put COCOABEAN forward, unbeknownst to me at the time and then I received an email to say myself and Jack Denison (co-writer) had won the award. It was truly the most amazing feeling to know that our work was powerful enough to reach people through the visuals and integrated poetic dialogue.

 

For our message to be heard, seen and acknowledged was and still is, such a rewarding feeling that I can’t express! The reception has been unreal and I cannot thank everyone involved enough, for their participation.

COCOABEAN is going to be in the In Someone Else’s Shoes section of the festival, are there any nerves ahead of the festival?

Three years later and I still get nervous watching my work on the big screen! I think naturally we all have that feeling of: will people understand? Will they like it?

 

Ultimately, I’m just looking forward to showcasing the beauty of those involved in the project and to allow the poetic dialogue to speak for itself. Hopefully, the audience are able to take away a central message from the piece and or question their pre-existing notions of the term BAME.

Can you tell me a little bit how COCOABEAN came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

As I mentioned earlier, this was a first-year informal university task simply utilising the new equipment that we’d been introduced to. I never imagined for a second that it would progress to the stage that is has and reach as many people as it has. During your first year at university you’re exposed to so many different types of people from varying backgrounds and who are of different races, religions and creeds and it’s such a beautiful thing. Since I was a child, I’ve always had an incredibly mixed set of friends and I just wanted to create a piece that showcased all of my newfound friends’ beauty and individual flare. I also wanted to toy with the notion of BAME, as at the time it was seen as quite a positive term, but I’ve

since recognised that it’s not always as positive. The goal was to capture everyone in their most natural essence, thriving, and then the poem, was to reflect the battle that people of colour have periodically faced. However, the main goal of COCOABEAN was to empower others to embrace their individuality and to unapologetically be themselves.

When working on a short film like this how close where you able to keep to your script once you started shooting, did you allow yourself much flexibility?

So with COCOABEAN we were literally working with a budget of £0 and wholly reliant on friends and extended others volunteering to participate. I set up an initial casting and was so overwhelmed by the amount of people who wanted to partake in the film – it was wonderful. I devised a fully scheduled shooting agenda, multi-rolling as the producer for scouting talent and locations, director, cinematographer and writer – managing to execute the full project in just one week. We filmed across 3 full days and focused on the lived experience whilst filming. It almost became a little club! Everyone got to know each other along the way. Having the devised plan allowed for me to keep to the script once shooting and ensure that each day had a specific focus.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing COCOABEAN to life?

I’d say trying to manage large numbers of people/talent involved and working around their schedules whilst also trying to maintain a timely shooting schedule.

Since making COCOABEAN what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making this film?

 

The most valuable lesson I’ve taken from this film is that the making of a film is such a collaborative process. It’s absolutely essential to express gratitude and thanks to everyone involved – everyone’s role is significant in contributing to the bigger picture.

Where did you passion for filmmaking come from?

The BFI very much helped me recognise the path I wanted to follow and confirmed to me that a career in Film and TV was exactly where I both needed and wanted to be in. My initial passion stemmed from travelling the World, meeting people, experiencing different cultures and always wanting to capture those moments on camera or place myself in the shoes of others within scripts.

To me, creative expression through writing is a means of escapism. I’m fascinated by creating content that has the ability to alter the human condition through my artistic direction/expression and working with other talent to do so. I see visual storytelling as an educational tool that alludes to exposing people to the skilful artifice of a creative mindset. I very much believe in the power of collaboration and that the film production pro- cess is a collective effort – where we all work together to manifest the vision of a creative mind. The beauty of life, is that we are united through the single most important truth that we are all human. Therefore, capturing the authentic moments and intricacies of someone’s behaviour on paper, I feel is a very powerful thing to be able to do. The power of writing is that we are able to create stories that allow for audiences to be educated / question their moral compass or details about themselves / our way of living, whilst propelling a narrative and that, is what I'm particularly interested in within my craft.

"Without breaking boundaries, we wouldn’t be exposed to newfound ideas, we’d simply be trapped in the same state of mediocrity."

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Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?

Push every single boundary going. Boundaries are meant to be broken, they’re gateways to new realms! Without breaking boundaries, we wouldn’t be exposed to newfound ideas, we’d simply be trapped in the same state of mediocrity. Each one of us has limitless potential. There are so many unheard stories yet to be told, tell yours, tell the World what you have to say.

For anyone out there thinking about making their first film do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?

That crazy idea that comes to mind on the train, at 4am, in a dream or even sky-diving, could potentially reach so many different types of people – do it. Go for it and execute it to the best of your abilities. Build up a strong team of like-minded people, collaborate, share and always listen. Take criticism, listen to advice, value the advice and constantly evolve within yourself. Pick up the camera, write that script and don’t look back. You could be changing the World – why wait?!

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from COCOABEAN?


I hope COCOABEAN allows people to celebrate their differences and individuality. No one person is built the same and this is something we should cherish – we’re all unique. We’re not a tick-box on a checklist, we’re not a group that can be lumped under one term, we are all individual people who are strident and proud of who we are and our heritage. United through our humanity and unapologetically ourselves.

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