Director Aneil Karia on his Oscar contender THE LONG GOODBYE starring Riz Ahmed “The film represents a real and tangible anxiety that lives in the back of our minds”

Writer/Director Aneil Karia and Writer/Actor Riz Ahmed’s THE LONG GOODBYE takes us on a journey that is both intimate and devastating. The 11-minute short film is an unflinching look at what may lie ahead for us in these increasingly intolerant times, and what is unfolding for minorities as we speak in many countries around the world. This live action short film has been blazing through the festival circuit taking home two Oscar-qualifying awards, one at the prestigious Hollyshorts in Los Angeles – as well as winning Best Short at the British Independent Film Awards and the Cannes Lion. It’s impact has reached far beyond screens – it was mentioned in British Parliament as “required viewing” shortly after its release. Aneil Karia’s whose debut feature ‘SURGE’ won a Jury prize at the Sundance Festival, and he is a rising star of British Independent Film. 

 Riz and his family are in the middle of preparing a wedding celebration when the events unfolding in the outside world arrive suddenly on their doorstep. The result is a devastating and visceral feat of filmmaking, and a poignant poetic cry from the heart. 

We caught up with the director Aneil Karia to find out more about this fantastic film which could be winging its way to an Oscar.

Let’s start off with a little bit about yourself, how did you get into film making? 

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. 

I ended up studying Journalism at university and worked in television news for a little while when I was a young adult. But having moved to London, I was starting to discover more independent / foreign cinema and this abstract desire to do something more creative started to get a bit more tangible. The first thing outside Journalism I got to make was a low-budget music video. But the journey from there to making a career as a director was long and messy to be honest. I spent years making stuff that didn’t necessarily enrich or excite me creatively, but in hindsight was an important part of learning the craft. Things like behind-the-scenes content for tv series – or even hair product tutorial videos for YouTube!, It was back in 2012 when I had this moment of clarity where I said to myself stop putting the onus on getting paid work and make something you care about. This ended up being my first short film, Beat. That experience was like an epiphany of sorts for me. For the first time I was trying to tap into my true instincts of what I wanted to attempt as a filmmaker. From there on it wasn’t easy but at least I understood the direction I wanted to move in. 

For the first time I was trying to tap into my true instincts of what I wanted to attempt as a filmmaker.

Towards the middle of the film, we see quite a shocking scene, where family members are being dragged out of their home and shoved into vans and lined up outside their street? I wonder was there a specific event that happened that helped in the creation of that particular scene because it’s very unsettling to watch? 

There wasn’t a specific scene or historical event in mind. A lot of the coverage around this film talks of its events as this sort of fictional dystopian nightmare, but it’s actually anything but for many communities around the world. In Bosnia and Myanmar for instance – where these scenarios have played out for real and in our lifetimes, not just in this black and white historical age. However, we didn’t use one of these events as a reference point for that scene. The idea is that far right fringe groups have grown in numbers, power, resources – even in state support potentially, and they become a para military kind of organisation. We were trying to find a very specific British 21st century manifestation and what that might look like. 

The idea is that far right fringe groups have grown in numbers, power, resources – even in state support potentially, and they become a para military kind of organisation.

Why did you decide to make this particular film? What was the inspiration behind it? 

The film was the product of several conversations between Riz and I about how toxic the rhetoric in modern UK had become. Racism seemed to be becoming more insidious and more dangerous for that – Brexit and the dialogue around that seemed to be normalising xenophobia in quite a chilling and disconcerting way. As I said, these events aren’t so fictional and for minority communities, these kinds of fears are always somewhere in the back of your mind. At the time of our conversations, the whole political climate seemed to be reaching a horrible boiling point where it felt like this country increasingly didn’t feel like a home anymore, like it didn’t want you.

How did the white protagonists in the film feel while filming those haunting scenes? having to be so forceful and violent? 

It was challenging and upsetting to be filming such scenes. It’s clearly really sensitive and difficult material to be trying to imagine on film. We had to be hugely mindful of how sensitive, and potentially triggering and upsetting it would be, not just for the Asian cast being attacked in the film but also the white actors playing it out. We had to spend the time properly engaging with actors playing the farright characters, ensuring they were compassionate and emotionally intelligent people. Interestingly, usually as a director, with actors playing antagonists to one another – or characters who aren’t supposed to know each other – I might keep them apart until we are rolling. Having them come together as strangers to each other often has an interesting effect on the dynamic. But with this film, that felt irresponsible. We ensured all the cast met and became comfortable with each other before we began. I’ve shot several distressing scenes in my time and you have to go into them in a really emotionally intelligent way, you need to constantly be checking in with the actors, you need to be giving them the power to control and cut a scene at any point. Just because the white actors are playing the persecutors it’s very complex for them too. It’s challenging the most real and raw and most upsetting part of that scene because you are trying paint something authentic, challenging and genuinely violent. Achieving that is complex for the whole crew and you need to go about it in a considered way. 

It’s challenging the most real and raw and most upsetting part of that scene because you are trying paint something authentic, challenging and genuinely violent.

What was the atmosphere like on set once you called wrap? 

We shot this film in 2 days – which happened to be the two shortest days of the year! This meant we had about 6 and a half hours of daylight on each day and we were using natural light, so the intensity and pace we needed to work at to get it done was quite ferocious. The shoot finished with the final scene, Riz’s piece to the camera. We had time for two takes, both of which Riz absolutely nailed. It was a strange feeling when we wrapped, we had worked at such a crazy pace I don’t think we had time to stop and think too much, we were just hammering through it.  As the last question touched upon it was really intense, challenging material, so everyone was quite emotionally and physically exhausted.  It wasn’t a euphoric feeling in any sense – but there was a lot of love on set and this sense that we had at least strived to make something important.

We shot this film in 2 days – which happened to be the two shortest days of the year!

How did you meet Riz, and what was the conversation in the making of this film? Were you both very much on the same page, wanting to send out the same message? 

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. 

Riz is incredibly articulate and I enjoyed hearing these feelings I’d wrestled with put into such perfect words.

What would be the key message you want viewers to take from this? 

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. 

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. 

Why did you decide to have The Long Goodbye on YouTube? Why not a private screener?

Well, I’m not an expert in this, but I think increasingly there is the ability to still do the festival route with short films whilst having it on a public platform. I think it was really about getting the film seen and getting it out there and seen by people first and foremost rather than being an inclusive industry film.

What can we expect next from you? Are you going to stay with the same subject? Or is there something new I the pipelines? 

Riz and I are developing a feature film and I’m about to begin directing a new TV drama. 

Regina Mahmood

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