Koutaiba Al-Janabi, Cinematographer of The Winter of Love

Renowned Cinematographer Koutaiba Al-Janabi’s contribution to the independent film, The Winter of Love, was uncompromising. Highly experienced of working on low budget productions and supporting new film makers, meant that filming of The Winter of Love was possible. Below is an extract of an interview with Koutaiba Al-Janabi conducted by Charlie Sen.

What is your background?

I was born in Baghdad, and studied at the Budapest film school and later moved to London. I have worked on short films, documentaries, and I have made a few features, and The Winter of Love (formerly A Quiet Desperation) is one of these low/no-budget feature films that I worked on.

How did you come to work on The Winter of Love?

A few years ago I met Shakila Taranum Maan with a ready script and she was looking for a Director of Photography to work with her. Ruhul Amin (another Filmmaker), from the Bangladeshi community introduced us and we started to work together. At that time I was in the middle of filming with Leon Herbert, shown in many cinemas in London. That too was a no/low-budget film, titled Emotional Backgammon. Shakila saw my work, I saw her work and I felt she came from the East, so did I, and I spent before many, many years in Eastern Europe always working with European subjects and I felt that this was a real opportunity for me to work with someone from the East.

I talked together with Shakila about our backgrounds, how we like colour; how we like the people. And so through these conversations a relationship started between us. From that moment I advised Shakila to explore the history of art and we started to study the old painters and advised her to see the work of the Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer to establish the mood and the relationship of the Preeti, who lived mostly in her bedroom. We started to work with the scenes in the house, for the colour of the location. We had some difficulties, as there was very little money involved. We went to the location a few times, we set up the scenes.

The film is based in Southall, a very well known multicultural area in London. We visited the area many times. Shakila took me to around the area; we worked a lot to prepare this film.

So what kind of look did you go for? What was your and your director’s design?

The starting point was very strange – really it was the East, and the quality of the drama and the story. Plus – a very strange thing happened to me. Always I build the scene – when I first saw Shakila’s face it gave me a lot to move the story. Her face, she doesn’t know this, but Shakila was the starting point. Because I felt that in that period, definitely she worked on this script for many years, and I tried to get something from her face, her hands.

We felt about yellowish, golden colour, as this colour in my culture and her culture was dominant.

How was it shooting in a place like Southall?

I thank Shakila because she gave me the chance. Maybe she liked the first three days of the filming and she let me move on and I moved on – anybody came to Southall who have not been to India will be impressed with the colour, the people, with the shops. Somehow for me, I can feel the similarity with where I came from. I felt I knew the people. I knew them before. I can talk to anybody in the street, I can touch anybody on the street, and I can go to the shops. Somehow I feel this kind of tolerance and the people of Southall were very open to help. This is what helped me to show Southall

So how did you visualise the film?

The framing was open, although Shakila had a very strong visual style she was willing to look at different ways of imagery for the film. Also as it was low budget we understood that we had to treat the 35mm like a 16mm and so that is how it was. As I mentioned before, we didn’t prepare everything so much in advance and the situation was always moving and changing around us. And we have to be creative sometimes we have to be handheld; people sometimes don’t arrive on time. We jump to another scene. The light is no good, everything is changing and we must think very quickly, and this is something, which made the people very tired because we worked very hard. And the crew was very limited.

Being low budget, you must have had a very good team to work with – how were you able to sustain it?

I must thank two people, they worked very hard; Thomas Theakstone he was the Focus Puller and he was the Gaffer.

We got very good support from the producer, Manjeet. She gave us very good confidence and really supported us. Sometimes we did not really have permission to shoot, things like that. The lights we put it in the middle of the road! We made it in a crazy way, in a guerrilla filmmaking way. Manjeet was brought up in Southall and she had a relationship with the people, and this helped a lot.

As the film was made on 35 mm and we had huge equipment. Tom, and Gaffer Paul DeFriepas and I – I can’t remember all the rest of the people, we all worked very hard. And you can see the quality of the picture. We never let any scene go without lighting it well.

Were you able to get support from the industry?

With my relationship with Panavision, Shepperton and after Adrian Waterlow met with Shakila and read the script, they tried to encourage her and they gave her a very good deal which helped us a lot. We need to thank Adrian as he helped us to get the equipment, and Harry Rushton at Bucks Labs who helped us so much and really took the project to heart, he further helped us to get the footage from Fuji through Roger Sapsford. We got a few lights from Lee Lighting.

I am very proud of this film, and I hope somehow, somewhere the film gets some luck and is shown.

This was clearly a low budget film, how was it on a day to day basis?

This was a big thing, Shakila and Manjeet, they put this thing together and they tried. They got support from the crew and from me to realise this dream – it seems to me that the dreams of low-budget films in this country there are problems.

I think this was made five years ago carrying the subject about tolerance and personal struggles. And this is a big issue around us and always will be. And all the crew, actors worked beautifully, enthusiastically, everybody when they saw the film they realised the quality of the picture. I believe this film will never die because everybody put their heart in to this film.

This film was shot in very small rooms, small locations, Manjeet and Shakila’s friends, council flats and so on. Every location in this film carried the energy – and the human touch. We made two sets, the scene with Banger and his wife and she set up the shed where Shammi and his older brother drinks – but I think this was half a set as we used a really shed so in reality we only made one set. All the film was shot in real locations.

How was it being in Southall, as part of a community?

With this film I believe and we believed that we went into the heart of the community. I do believe that the East is East. And that is very clear when you go to a place like Southall.

We worked very hard to present the mood of the light, and working toward the colour of the Art Director, Amarjeet Kaur Nandhra, who had put in lots of effort.

As the DOP of this film, I am very proud of the night scenes, of the shadow scenes, abut the colouring of the film, the quality of the colour. And all this I think it is a little bit in the European style. It is not a Bollywood film, absolutely not. A Bollywood film you need money. Somehow we made a European film.

I think the film shows the struggle of the community. But the problem is with low budget film you need some support to survive, need some distributors for such a film to survive.

We showed the harshness, the difficulties, the suffering of the immigrant community. I think this film will show either the beginning or an end of this kind of film being made here in this country. I also think that this film shows the energy of the Asian community and all the community was very positive with us. And through all this – a kind of tolerance between the communities, and it was fantastic to work with the people in the heart of it.

What is your overall feeling of the project?

I think this is the best that I have touched, because of the atmosphere, the quality of the picture. This is when the Director of Photography can work and is able to voice their thoughts and have input. I feel that everything is there in this film.

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