NFF Talent - Ashgan El-Hamus
24 September 2020
Talent en Route: Ashgan El-Hamus (director)
2020 Talent en Route Ashgan El-Hamus is, she explains to See NL, a born storyteller, but scriptwriting alone was never going to be enough.
"I kind of naturally went for screenwriting because I was just writing all the time," says Ashgan El-Hamus of her studies at the Netherlands Film Academy. "But I knew already that I wanted to be a filmmaker in the broader sense. I didn't know what it all meant but I knew I wanted to be not only a writer."
After she completed her screenwriting course she decided to head for Brussels to complete a masters in direction at the LUCA School of Arts. But at the same time she was writing the Dutch version of the hit Norwegian teen series Skam. Eventually something had to give. So after a year she quit Brussels, returned to The Netherlands and subsequently wrote the Skam second series.
At which point she finally decided enough was enough, and determined to follow her filmmaking vocation, successfully applying to the Netherlands Film Fund for funding. "The Film Fund Shorts scheme really spoke to me. You don't have the 10-minute limitation. It can be whatever you want. It is less money but more freedom. And that turned into Birdland*) which is premiering at the Netherlands Film Festival."
In the film, eight-year-old Skye and her mother Joy live on a trailer site on the edge of town. Skye wants to be like her mother so much that she copies her behaviour. In the process, Skye explores the boundaries of Joy's liberal style of upbringing...
What was the debut experience like for El-Hamus? What was satisfying about it? How can she improve?
"I think I am always looking at actors, just looking all the time. Do I believe what I am seeing? Is it real to me? Or does it seem fake? I think this is the most important thing, and it kind of comes to me naturally. I don't have to force my focus there. It goes there automatically,' she responds.
"What can I do better? A lot. I didn't study for directing. I am just winging it basically. I feel like I am really just following my guts," she adds. "I would like to improve more the feeling that I have breaking the script down beat by beat, knowing exactly where my actors are going all the time. Not just having the gut vision, but something a lot more in terms of control."
El-Hamus also stresses how she writes her screenplays from a directing perspective, especially the ones that she will be looking to make. "At the film academy I remember one director who said how she really liked the script that I wrote and would like to direct it, but she felt that I should. And that was the moment when I thought ‘yes, I want to direct it, so give it back'."
She adds of the writing process: "When you know you are going to direct it, sometimes you are already taking things out because you know they're not going to happen. Sometimes you have to wear a producer's hat."
When asked if she has devised a short or medium term career trajectory, she quite rightly (and satisfyingly) bats away any such proscriptive probing.
"I try not to as I don't really like it, to think so far ahead," she asserts. "What I do think is that I want to make my own films. I want to be a filmmaker in the broad sense and I really hope that this year won't be my last. I think the greatest compliment I could ever get is that somebody looks at my film and says ‘oh yes, that is Ashgan's film. I can see it. I can recognise it'. Something like that - I would like to have my own stamp."
*)supported by the Netherlands Film Fund
Information about the Netherlands Film Fund Shorts scheme (in Dutch): www.filmfonds.nl/film-producties/new-screen-nl/realisering/realisering-korte-film