Talented young filmmaker Ammar Aziz was born to a family of political activists in Lahore. His mother Mussarat Aziz is a poetess, who remained a forefront activist during the General Zia regime. His father was a businessman, who was always instrumental in backing the political and literary ventures of his family.
Ammar was brought up in a politically-charged environment. His house was the hub of pro-people and progressive literary activities.
His uncles, Shafique Ahmed and Mubashar Aziz, used to write short stories and compose poetry. They have been his role models, who played a major role in his upbringing as a politically conscious individual, keenly interested in arts, literature and philosophy.
He had his early education in a local school. He was into music, painting and literature. During high school days joining the classical music training class at Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore, was a turning point in his life. He realised that the music itself as an art form, even without any ideology and concepts, has a great appeal and impact.
“It was an amazing thing for me to realise that in music the form and content are intermingled,” he recalls.
“I was reading John Elia’s poetry, an amazing combination of pessimism and optimism. Sartre, Camus, Kafka and Borges have been the centre of attention during high school and early years of my art education,” he recalls.
Inspired by the Soviet Cinema, he developed an understanding that film is a medium that can combine various art forms and can carry the artistic expression of his left-oriented ideology. After doing intermediate from the Government College Lahore, he joined the National College of Arts to major in film making and graduated in 2007.
He feels himself lucky to be trained by Shireen Pasha, Sarwat Ali and Arif Waqar.
“It was the last generation of progressive teachers at NCA’s Film and TV Department,’’ he claims adding that their replacement “are strictly against the pro-people cinema and consciously promoting absurd capitalist ideologies, meaningless concepts and stupidity in the name of contemporary art.”
“They are teaching students that the age of pro-people art is over after the fall of Soviet Union,” he says.
“Consequently the upcoming generation is looking at filmmaking only as a mean to make money,” he regrets.
He attributes his artistic grooming to the NCA faculty of his time, especially Shireen Pasha, for teaching him the skills of documentary and filmmaking.
“The most important thing I learnt from her is the political correctness while dealing with gender issues.”
A 30-minute documentary ‘Hasht Nagar’ was his thesis project.
“I focused on present cultural situation, especially a vibrant theatre and rich music in this remote area. One can see the impact and traces of militant peasant movement. I have glorified this movement because it was intentionally ignored and maligned by state-supported mainstream media.
“The farmers still own their lands and are not oppressed like those in other feudal areas; I was surprised to see the pictures of Mao and Marx in the homes of local farmers,” he says.
In 2012, he made another documentary, ‘City of the oppressed’ portraying the political movement and problems of the powerloom workers of Faisalabad. ‘Daughters of a lesser god’ is another remarkable work to his credit. It narrates the miserable life of ‘choori’ (bangle) making women of Hyderabad. They are home-based workers, working in miserable conditions and earning meagre amounts for their living.
These films were appreciated at various political conferences in Bangladesh, Nepal, Moscow and Berlin. ‘Daughters of a lesser god’ is screened at Mosaic Film Festival this year. It is selected for major film festivals including Vancouver International Film Festival, Eastern Breeze International Film Festival and London Labour Film Festival, UK.
He is currently working on another documentary dealing with the life of insecure labour. He believes that art is the only answer to exploitation, oppression and meaninglessness.
“Art is the eternal thing that lasts; even revolutions can be countered and derailed,” he says.
About his filmmaking, ideology, and concept of life, he says: “When it comes to non-fiction and fiction filmmaking, a lot of people see the artistic dynamism of the former with skepticism in comparison with the latter.
“It’s a common myth that documentary films are lesser of an art form. What’s more artistic than trying to capture the essence of the real, multi-dimensional life without distorting its nuances?
“I find this experience very fascinating; you film an ongoing series of moments in different times and spaces – enclosing all the abstractions behind the seemingly ‘ordinary, daily life’ – and weave those fragments to give new meanings and a life-like continuity. For me, it’s a life-changing experience.
“The notion that realism offers lesser aestheticism goes back to the political interests of those who’ve been portraying the realist art merely as propaganda.
“I believe in storytelling, which should be able to abolish the superficial separation between ‘art’ and ‘cause’ cinema. However, my political views don’t mean reinforcing any ‘answers’ in the art. Art is the answer itself.” — Naeem Sadhu