• New Wave

Alia Hassan: A Man Of Allegory [Interview]

Interview & Photography by Tyrus

Styling & Design by Alysha Patel

Our guest interviewer Tyrus hosts a conversation with fellow film director Alia Hassan - the two touch on Alia’s creative process as a director, his heritage and future ventures of Allegorical.

Leicester-based menswear designer Alysha fuses her Indian heritage with the streetwear culture that she grew up amongst in the UK. The images feature the Shaadee Puffer, a handmade jacket constructed using upcycled saris collected from Alysha’s Indian community in Leicester.

“Being inspired by the works of Allegorical, the irrefutable aura of confidence that surrounds all of Alia’s filmography is something I have long admired. I set this interview up as a chance to pick the brains of someone who has been in the game a little longer than myself and figure out how Alia’s distinct directorial voice has developed into its current state.”

- Tyrus

"It was never meant to be a concretely defined group of people or collective; rather it was a vision that like-minded creatives could help me realise."

The origins of Allegorical

Allegorical was never supposed to be a film collective - it was supposed to be multidisciplinary. People with different crafts coming together to make a single piece of work. There were various people involved in its inception and then several others involved throughout the creation of various works. In this way, it was never meant to be a concretely defined group of people or collective; rather it was a vision that like-minded creatives could help me realise.

Retrospectively, this vision of a creative utopia was naive in many ways, and has led to me being very selective with the people I keep around me, and the skills and work ethic I demand from those people.

How did you decide on the name “Allegorical”?

I was tripping on acid on New Years Eve of 2014 - completely melting. I, along with some friends, were running towards central London to catch the midnight fireworks. The journey brought me past many monuments that had marked my childhood and adolescence growing up in London - where I had my first kiss, my first fight, my first zoot. It was somewhat of a showreel of my life up to that point. We didn’t make it to the London Eye in time for midnight, and we ended up in the middle of Hyde Park. As the clock struck midnight, and the sky lit up with fireworks, I looked up and started crying. The feeling of beauty in that moment was indescribable - and I knew I wanted to capture and immortalise the intangibility of it.

The journey eventually brought me back to a friend’s house and at the time I was trying to find a single word that defined Barack Obama’s presidency and what he stood for. At the time Obama was someone I looked up to as a global icon for change in the status quo (in retrospect, not so much). I was ultimately trying define what his presidency and this shift of power meant to me, as I felt it mirrored the transition I was making in my life. Being in an overtly abstract mindset, it was difficult to find a word that truly encapsulated the concept I was trying to describe. The fictitious word “arregorical” eventually came out of mouth. The next day, my friend and colleague Sam Campbell texted me the word “allegorical”, telling me “it was the most similar word to what you were trying to describe.” An “allegory” is a story that may act as an abstract representation of a given concept - this was something that resonated with me at the time, and resonated with the vision I had for what was to become “Allegorical”.

What was your motivation behind creating “Bittersweet Baghdad”?

It came about because of my frustration with how the Western media portrays places like Iraq. As someone born in Syria, of Iraqi heritage, and having moved to the UK at the age of three, I was conditioned to believe that Iraqis represented a backwards ideology and culture. 9/11 happened, and America and the Western allies invaded Iraq as a direct revenge for these attacks on the Twin Towers (although I don’t believe anyone is convinced that “revenge” was the only motivation for this invasion - we now know that Sadam’s administration had nothing to do with the attacks on the Twin Towers or the Pentagon). This made it increasingly clear the extent to which Arab culture had become vilified in the UK and the West in general. Immigrants in this country experience an element of shame or lack of pride in regards to their heritage because we’re taught that anywhere that isn’t the Western world is fucked. This can create a lot of subconscious resentment for the place that you’re from. During primary school, around the time of the 7/7 attacks, it was very hard to feel like I was a part of British culture or even feel that I was accepted by British people. I saw many of my peers from minority groups at this time hiding traits of their cultural heritage in order to fit in.

I have a complete understanding of Western culture and how Britain operates. British people have no idea what my culture is and what it represents. I therefore created this film to attempt to change this skewed narrative, by exposing the humanity of everyday Iraqis.

As a director, what was your approach when shooting “Bittersweet Baghdad”?

From a directorial standpoint, I wanted it to be as natural as possible and, in virtue of that, I wasn’t able to plan it. My lack of understanding of Iraqi culture at the time meant I had to be very open to what this film could become. When I arrived in Baghdad to shoot it, my approach was just to record as much as I could. I feel like the real film making process came in the edit, working alongside my in-house editor Alex Odam. Whilst reviewing the footage, I could very much see how Bittersweet Bagdad could have become a conventional, run-of-the-mill poverty porn documentary, presenting a skewed narrative about the misfortune of the individuals I depicted. It was only through my perception and personal experience with the subject matter, however, that I was able to craft the narrative I eventually achieved - a personal and unfiltered insight into the everyday life of everyday Iraqis.

What did you learn about your heritage through the creation of the film?

I learnt exactly what I wanted to express. Just because there is war, struggle and conflict in certain parts of the world does not mean that these people don’t live a human life. All of the things that we strive for in the Western world - happiness, financial fulfilment, family and security - all apply everywhere else in the world. Even though this is a very elementary concept, it’s still something that a lot of people in the Western world don’t understand - even to this day.

The reason I was drawn to your work is your ability to create something that tastefully ignores a lot of the rules of filmmaking. The first example of this for me was the “1:11” music video you directed for House of Pharaohs in 2015. How did this video come about?

At that point I’d already been experimenting with music videos generally - but the way that the “1:11” video came about was very random. I was shooting at a music studio with an artist called Lsow (producer) , based in South London. AJ and Danny Stern (from House of Pharaohs) were both there and decided to show me one of their songs, “1:11”, and I immediately suggested we shoot a music video for it.

We shot the video five days after this meeting. Originally, it was meant to be set in a far more lavish hotel environment - it was supposed to be at The Ritz or something or this elk. At the time, AJ was very sure that he would be able to secure a location. We met up on the day and we arrived at the shittest hotel you could ever imagine. It had more of a likeness to a brothel than the Waldorf Astoria.

AJ tried to convince the staff to let nine of us into a tiny two-person room and, of course, it didn’t run. Nevertheless, we ran in, attempting to bypass reception. After all of us had snuck in we quickly realised we wouldn’t be able to shoot a music video with nine people in a four-metre-squared room - I remember at the time Nyshae (Bandanna) and I were laughing at how quickly the entire hotel idea had fallen apart.

At this point, I decided that we just need to get into any place. So we ran into the Hilton Hotel to shoot a verse and when I reviewed the footage I thought it looked pretty good. At the time there were six members, so we had to find six unique locations; we were literally running into anywhere we could find.

How was the video received?

I was quite taken back by the reception because it’s definitely not the first it’s kind. It was a monumental video within the UK underground music scene, but if it’s being looked at on a grander scale “1:11” is not the first version of this idea. At that time, both the Keith Ape - It G Ma and OG Maco - U Guessed It videos , both shot with an organic one-shot approach, had just come out. But for a London audience to see this idea in London is what made it an impactful video. I happen to also think now that, although not the first of its kind, “1:11” is the best variation of it, due to the organic nature of how it came about. If it wasn’t for the failure of the initial concept, I don’t think the video would have been as iconic as it is now.

The London music culture is quite conservative, musicians don’t like to break out of the mould of what is quintessentially London. In some ways, that’s a good thing because we have a very defined idea of what the UK scene is. But at the same time, it doesn’t allow much room for originality. So when the “1:11” music video came out it was different from what most of the UK music videos were, and that’s what garnered the attention in the first place.

"Sam - the person that I’ve known for many years. I wanted to give the audience an insight into the person that I know."

You’ve recently released a new film, “BUG OR BIRD”, an arthouse-inspired documentary about South London rapper Sam Wise. Based on the artist you explore, what was your approach to making this film?

This film was originally only supposed to document Sam’s headline show in Islington, but in virtue to the long-standing relationship I have with Sam, he gave me the artistic freedom to go beyond my original mandate and make the piece into a more in-depth exploration of Sam’s character - both on and off stage. I didn’t necessarily want the piece to be a cohesive documentation of events, but rather a collage of moments that defined Sam - the person that I’ve known for many years. I wanted to give the audience an insight into the person that I know.

We often see musicians in a performative light and rarely get access to the person underneath. With “BUG OR BIRD”, I wanted to give people an insight into who Sam is when the spotlight isn’t on him. We don’t often get to see the vulnerable side of an artist - whether it be intentional or out of a sense of insecurity - which is why I was very pleased that Sam was very candid and open throughout the process of making this film. I think it’s a piece that above all captured the growth of a person and his career up until that point, ultimately marked by a major milestone - in this case Sam’s first headline show.

"More freedom, more notoriety, and fuck the fame - I prefer infamy."

What’s next for you and your team?

More art, more inspiration, more growth, more money, more risks, more challenges, more life, more celebration, more freedom, more notoriety, and fuck the fame - I prefer infamy. When Manny asks Tony in Scarface: “what’s coming to you, Tony?”

Tony responds, “the world chico, and everything in it.”

Follow Alia Hassan Here

Follow Allegorical Here

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