Shereen Abdul Baki - The kitchen conqueror

8:00, 2006, Narrative
Reem wanders the aisles of her neighbourhood market, slipping into dreams of fortune-telling teacups and chicken slaughtering aunts who offer advice on love, cultural identity and independence.
DirectorShereen Abdul-bakiWriterShereen Abdul-bakiCameraBobby Eras


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Who is Shereen Abdul-Baki ?
I am a 33-year-old first generation American, with Palestinian parents. Actually, my mother is half American so I guess that makes me a quarter Tennesseean and three quarters Palestinian. I come from Washington DC, but always felt more at home in California. These days I live in The Hague, a short bike ride from the beach. I studied Graphic Design for my BFA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, worked during the Internet boom (Washingtonpost.com, AOL, Sapient) and then got my MFA in Media Design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. A trip around the world landed me in The Hague, where I can be found in my studio writing, editing, painting and drawing. I teach a Masters Digital Design Studio online at the Academy of Art university in San Francisco.

Why filmmaking?
I have always been a cinema buff, but considered myself mainly a spectator. I have spent whole weekends at the theatre, or watching movies in my living room. In graduate school I was working a lot in time-based media, and taking film classes at the same time. Mostly they were for my own interest, so that I could see old films projected that I would not have access to otherwise. Somehow it was a natural progression to merge my design and media background with film. I wanted to explore the role of design within film specifically, but I was also writing fiction and all the ingredients just seemed to fall into place.

The Kitchen Conqueror is about...
The Kitchen Conqueror is about trying to understand yourself and who you are, culturally speaking. So many of us come from varied backgrounds, grow up in countries that our parents did not, and experience this thing we call the ‘multicultural existence’. As a woman who grew up with very progressive and intellectual parents, I still felt a push and pull between the two different sides of my identity, Eastern and Western. The Kitchen Conqueror evolved from a set of short stories I wrote dealing with culture, independence and identity, which spoke to these issues through food. Fiction writing gave me the space to exaggerate, explore, dream up scenarios and put words into people’s mouths. Cinema gave me the space to tell these stories visually and verbally.

Financing your movie?
Because I was a graduate student at the time, I knew that I would have to finance my film myself. I was very lucky because I had access to basic equipment at the
College. I asked all my friends for help, and drew a crew together for two days, for four hours each time. I fed them very well. My DP found a sign I had posted, and worked for free because someone had done him a favor once when he was just starting out. My music director also helped me out, using spare time while working on a big budget feature because he thought it was fun. I found out what their interests were and paid them in symbolic gifts. What I appreciated most was their respect for me and my vision, and absolute selflessness in helping me out. The rest of the work was done by myself, torturous at the time, but part of the experience. My actress quit the day before the shoot, so I had to cover for her. Luckily it was not a dramatic role.

New Media; a challenge for film makers?
I think the term new media might not be so relevant anymore, as we live in the age of media and we are totally immersed in it. We all use the internet for research, to post our work, share our work, view other’s work and find out what is going on in the world. I think that no matter what format you work in, the web is an amazing tool to take advantage of. There is so much fundraising that happens online, or requests over email. I personally am very curious about mobile tv and mobile phone filmmaking, which I would like to explore. New media is not overrated. Media is where we are and is our present way of life.

Do your films have style, just as some painters have?
I think that I do have a style, or it seems to me more of a feeling, but I cannot put my finger on it. It is not necessarily intentional. I often think of myself as a collagist, someone who puts different layers together; words, sounds, moving pictures, photographs and drawings to tell stories.

Can you name one particular influence that really had a lasting impact on you?
Maya Deren. I am still enthralled by Meshes of the Afternoon each time I see it. I think that what she did in the 1940s was incredible. I can’t say that I only have one influence, though. I read a lot of fiction and screenplays, devour graphic novels and have a soft spot for films from the 1920s-1960s (Godard, Rene Clair, Hitchcock, Robert Wiene, Oscar Fischinger) and Iranian cinema. And stop motion animation.

Which film related websites do you frequent?
I look at so many different things: designer sites, people who are into crafting, experimental film, online comics. It is the mixture of all these things that interests me most.
I am at Atom films a lot. And Women Make Movies because I like to see what other women filmmakers are thinking about and making.

Individual film making or co-operation?
Although we all need a little singular brainstorming time, I think that I am most inspired when I am collaborating with others. There is nothing better than the synergy of working with a great team, even if it is just two of you. Working with people whose strengths are totally different from mine opens a new way of looking at things. I am a conceptual person, I write and come up with stories and have the ability to see the bigger picture. I edit, and have a good eye for the visual and love the
Process of making things, whether that means directing or drawing. It depends on the project, we can all shift into different specific roles depending on what we want to achieve. I have been a slate girl, editor, art director, actor and director. This is often the case when you make low budget films. My real strength lies in the storytelling.

I would like to do so many different things. I would like to write, direct, make shorts and features. I would love to make a serial, really develop characters and story lines for a show that has continuity, but in a style that is a mixture of live action, animation, etc. A fortune teller told me once that my work is like a cocktail, and I thought that she said it perfectly. I want to tell stories, in the context of film, and tell them in interesting ways, whether that means that they
Are short, long, abstract or concrete. I am still experimenting.

Did you ever had another ambition in life than to become a filmmaker?
Oh yes, I wanted to be a painter. This was because I grew up with a family full of artists; some painters, a photographer and a writer, so I always thought that I would do one of those things. In fact, I do all of those things and I do them through film. Filmmaking allows me to combine so many of the things that I love to do. I think that at one point I wanted to be a travel photographer or writer, because I thought it was cool to get paid to run around the world. And a food critic. A chef at times. Many times.

Digital or classic?
I work digitally. I like the ability to see what you have done, to be able to redo, the idea of editing while you are shooting. It is such a fluid process. I have to admit that I am in love with film itself, and if it weren’t for the cost I would use it more. (as would many people). The nice thing about working digitally is that you don’t have to have a lot of money to make a film! That is incredibly liberating. I have worked pretty small scale, in Super 8 and mini DV.

All other remarks
Thank you to the Streaming Festival for including me!

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