Our interview would actually begin in the front seat of my car as we made our way through Johannesburg central. My appointment with Ms Tajdin had been made very late by an ANC convoy that had decided to cut in front of us. With no ways of getting through, and a very angry Metro police officer making sure we didn’t, we had no choice but to admire the spectacle making its way to Ellis park stadium to hear our esteemed president.
For Amirah this is the quintessential African experience. “It’s getting stuck in traffic from Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit as she landed in Kenya. It is seeing children running across the road, the sound of Papa Wemba blaring from the car speakers. That is what Africa is, it is Life”
Her first feature film entitled “Fluorescent Sin” like so much of her work functions to grasp such images of Africa. Yet for this film maker is it these very scenes of everyday life that offer her work its transcendence. Her commissioned short film for Sole DXB, entitled Baqal, features mesmerizing images of late night grocery and stores. Filmed in a dreamy decadence the images slowly pan of over the vender. As puffs of smoke wisp from their weary lips the viewer is made to feel like a nocturnal hunter on their evening’s inquisition.
For Amirah the spaces she roams are not clearly separated by geographic boundaries. She herself is no stranger to travel. A ‘global Bedouin’ she has lived in Kenya, Dubai, having received her art degree from Rhodes University. Her work has even shown at the Cannes and Sundance film festival and has attended residencies in Chile and Johannesburg. Her works celebrate how, where ever you travel you will always experience the same culture, the same store fronts. In all her travels it is in such street scenes that she sees the commonalities between the places she travels. “We think we are different but when you step out you can actually realise that we are all the same”. This self-identified Bedouin shows us the similarities of experiences and in doing so a shared humanity that is able to thrive.
Her own journey into filmmaker would start at 14 after watching the 1962 film “To kill a mocking bird”. She hated the movie for having betrayed the visuals of the book she so loved with the same name. Her decision to enter into film was one of wanting to take charge of the visual telling story. Her future works would centre on themes of womanhood, sister relationships and drag queens.
She is currently working on the script for her film, Hawa Hawaii, within it she deals with a complicated relationship with a mother and her flamboyant son.
“With HAWA HAWAII, I’ve brought the story closer to home and my heart, setting it in my home country of Kenya and more importantly, Mombasa – an island I have a complicated relationship with owing to its ancestral hold over my heritage and identity that continues to unravel itself to me. This coastal region has been the home of more than just my father and forefathers, it’s been the home of some of Africa’s most colourful characters, inspired artists and wandering souls. Hailing from this Swahili background myself, I felt compelled to pen a story set within it is sometimes restricting confines yet incredibly rich history.
As a Swahili woman myself who has never been able to live up to my expected role as a daughter, grand daughter and woman, but who nonetheless has a deep love for my culture and religion, I am bound by my birthright to share this story with the world. Not only because of the urgency with which it needs to be made but because it is MY love letter to my people and a community that is fast disappearing, silently.”
Her work is sincerely personal but it is in these intimate spaces that we are shown how not so different our intimate relationships can be. A must see work of hers is entitled “ Minerva’s Lilies”. Here she follows the corporeal fantasy world experienced by two sisters guided by the soft backdrop of a Dubai dessert covered roads. The soft Swahili Taarab music goads us to mediate on their moments with their mother. It’s a film that shows how even within the close and personal relationship between mother and daughters, a sense of individuality is also brewing. The girls experiencing their sensual pleasures of having their hair braided and taking bubble baths. The girls ride their bikes as their mother is left in the shot with her deep thoughts. It is a close relationship but it is one where all are growing to be their greater individual selves.
Amirah also recognizes the challenges of being able to tell her story as a film maker. She like many other woman in the industry have the great responsibility of telling our stories. Whether black, woman or African, these are our stories as those who feel the oppressive burdens of being within such categories. Yet when one watches her work we see that there is life beyond such oppression as we lose ourselves within those quiet intimate moments. She herself is no stranger to the trials of being a black woman in the industry and acknowledges that there is still much to be done. She sees her work as one of setting an example of what is possible for other young budding filmmakers. “My legacy is to dedicate myself to the cause”. Her success becomes the destiny set for others surpass.