|Rouzie Hassanova introduces her Radiogram (photo: Adrienne Martyn)|
To mark the anniversary of the Christchurch massacre, on 15 March 2019, Green MP Jan Logie hosted a screening of Rouzie Hassanova’s Radiogram, organised by #directedbywomen #aotearoa.
It was just before New Zealand’s first Covid-19 lockdown, in March 2020.
We got together for a drink and a snack at Backbenchers, along with our lovely photographer Adrienne Martyn, and then crossed to Parliament’s Beehive theatrette. (Since then New Zealanders have become very familiar with this venue, where almost-daily Covid-19 press conferences are streamed, with the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, other Ministers and the Legendary Dr Ashley Bloomfield.)
Lorna Kanavatoa welcomed us all in the voice of the mana whenua, Taranaki Te Ātiawa, and introduced Jan as ‘one of our local Porirua people who we’re so proud of having amongst us and who speaks on our behalf’.
|Jan Logie speaks from the heart (photo: Adrienne Martyn)|
When Jan spoke, she reminded us that before March 15 2019 ‘members of the Muslim community had been raising alarms for us for months and that they hadn’t been heard, about rising levels of hatred and violence that they were seeing’.
And she continued: ‘Radiogram is a film about a father who decides to walk almost 100 kilometres to the nearest town to buy a new radio for his rock and roll obsessed son. And the film celebrates the strength of the human spirit, family, friendship and the power of music, and is based on a true story from 1971, set in a predominantly Muslim community in Bulgaria under the communist regime, where religious expression and Western music are forbidden. And so there are many themes in this story that feel relevant today, about the human spirit and how we create communities and enable people to live free lives, for everyone within our communities’.
Jan also referred to why Radiogram hasn’t been seen more widely: ‘In 2016 there was research done that looked at all of the films across the world that have been distributed in any form. And only 16 percent of those were by women. Which is pretty shocking. But then, actually, those that made it to theatre release was only two percent. So gatherings like this are subversive. This is at some level, almost an underground railway for women’s film. And I think it is on all of us to to push for more opportunities for, and more pressure, for the diversity of stories to be told and to be told in the same range of places’ (1).
Rouzie then introduced Radiogram.
The Q &A
After the screening, Jan introduced Rouzie and legendary editor Annie Collins, there to question Rouzie. Rouzie’s young daughter Emily joined them at first and Cushla Parekowhai joined them at the end of their conversation, enriching the discussion with another dimension. Jan and Lorna then closed the evening.
Soundtech’s beautiful (unedited) recording of the event, which includes everything except the film and Lorna’s closing remarks, is here.
This is a lightly edited transcript of Jan’s post-screening introduction, Rouzie and Annie’s discussion and some of the audience questions at the end.
Jan Logie It’s an extraordinarily beautiful and moving film. [Applause.] And I’d like to welcome up Rouzie and Annie Collins... I think we can all, after sitting through that, understand why it’s won awards around the world and acknowledge what an incredible achievement that is, particularly as a first feature film and how lucky we are to have Rouzie living in New Zealand. [More applause.] …
I’m really looking forward to the conversation between Rouzie and Annie Collins, who I suspect is known to most people in the room. But in case there’s somebody who isn’t as familiar with the film industry, Annie is one of New Zealand’s leading film editors who has edited I understand over 50 films, around 50 films. Maybe you haven’t done the adding up, but when when I was scanning through, it was a very, very long list, and of some very important films for us as a country, including the Poi E video which for me is personally very important. And [Merata Mita’s] Patu!. So I’m really looking forward to the dialogue between the two of them.
And hopefully [Emily’s] face will cheer up when you get to sit next to your mum, because that was quite amazing, wasn’t it? Aren’t you proud of your mum? Yeah. So I welcome you up onto the stage. All of you.
|Annie Collins, Rouzie, Emily (photo: Lorna Kanavatoa)|
Annie Collins Thanks very much, Jan. [Emily joins the panel.] We thought we were going to have a third person on this panel anyway, so I think it’s just right. Kia ora tatou katoa. My feeling is that the introduction or the choice of this film on this day, after the Christchurch massacre commemorations is actually, for me, a perfect film. It’s… It is just the right film.
Rouzie Hassanova Thank you. I mean, for me, it’s very difficult to judge that because you know, it’s it’s what happened last year, it’s it’s it’s it’s horrible. It’s something that, you know you never want to see and you don’t want to experience and it’s you know, there’s nothing I can say. Thank you. And I didn’t know if a film is fitting to mark the anniversary because film is an expression, it’s an art, especially my version of the story is an expression of what I feel my granddad and my dad were going through at the time. I wasn’t alive at the time, so it was very…
You know, I had to consult myself with a lot of relatives and a lot of you know, friends and family and people in the village and, and from all different perspectives, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, because I didn’t want to offend anyone. I wanted to make a film that celebrated Muslim culture and introduced it in a very relatable kind of way. It was very important to me that I wanted to let people in and understand us rather than feel a distance from us. So when Jan, thank you for the invite and Marian mentioned that they wanted the film to be shown here to mark the anniversary my first reaction was no way a film can take anything away from what happened. But then I was encouraged that it is fitting because it allows people to understand. It allows people to relate and and and include and feel like they know the culture a little bit better after that.
Annie Collins Mm hmm. Bulgaria has a huge history to it, and do people here who haven’t been there know where Bulgaria is? (Laughs.) I had to Google to find it.
Rouzie Hassanova A lot of people do. Yeah, but we are north of Turkey. That’s the best way to describe it. And north of Turkey and Greece. And south of Romania, yeah. So we’re just all Balkans really. We’re all the same. I feel like… I’ve been to Turkey many times. I’ve been to Greece. I’ve been around most of the Balkans. And I feel like we’re one big family just living in different kinds of countries. The food is the same. The people seem to have the same customs and similar kind of understanding of life and everything. So I feel like we’re one big family. We just end up being in different countries.
Annie Collins Mm hmm. Because you’ve got about five countries surrounding you, haven’t you? And the Black Sea.
Rouzie Hassanova On west I mean, on east, sorry.
Annie Collins Yeah. And… (Laughs.)
Rouzie Hassanova It’s all very confusing.
Annie Collins And what that means it seems to me is that there is constant incursions into and shifting of borders and boundaries all through the centuries. And so the country is just continually…
Rouzie Hassanova It’s very hard because it’s on that route into Europe. So if you’re coming from the Middle East or immigrating from that region or even from Africa, you can still come through Turkey and Greece and Bulgaria. Sometimes it’s a good choice, but they usually choose to go from Macedonia and Serbia. And somehow that’s why I think the Balkans are [in a] very important position geographically because there’s so many people who have gone through. And that’s why Bulgarians are so different in terms of how we look, because it’s been taken over, empires after empires after empires. I mean, we were under the Ottoman Empire for five hundred years. So we’re very influenced by the Muslim community and the culture. But the Muslim community is a minority there. So it’s interesting and the same with Greece. But we’ve also been in the Roman Empire. I mean, so many empires have taken us over. So we are big mix of lots of nationalities and lots of colours and lots of heights and colours of hair and all sorts.
Annie Collins One of the things that really interests me within Radiogramis that there are quiet little essences of the things that people do when they colonise, when they take over another country. And one of them is spirit. You got to break the spirit of people. So you take the religion or you change the religion.
Rouzie Hassanova Yes. Yes. Yes. That’s the first that has to go yet. Yes.
Annie Collins And the thing about names. It’s so, so crucial. My dad who came out from Scotland had this little saying which I didn’t understand for decades, which was ‘It’s a wise child knows its own father’. Interesting. And your name is gone. Who are you?
|Annie & Rouzie (photo: Adrienne Martyn)|
Rouzie Hassanova Well, they knew that with Muslim religion the name is the one of the biggest and, you know, kind of things that if they take away, that really breaks them or breaks the unity within the community. Because in Muslim religion, this is what I know from my grandparents and my parents, if you change your name, then Allah on the other side when you die doesn’t know who you are. So you can’t be judged. You can’t be tried, as you say. So Allah would not know if you should go to heaven or hell, which means you’re stuck forever in the in-between.
And that’s the worst nightmare for Muslim people. They’d rather be in hell if they’d been, you know, bad people than in the middle, stuck forever, not knowing where they’re going. So the names, it had such a big importance, like bigger than losing your life. A lot of people lost their lives over the change of their names. The film could have been even more dramatic and so on, but I didn’t want to put such an emphasis on it because I wanted to make a film for a family audience and I wanted people to understand, not to be isolated or see it as some sort of propaganda or anything like that. So I was very, very careful how I portrayed that.
Annie Collins I understand that you did run into some trouble at some stage while you were filming, because some of the people around whom you were filming thought you were making propaganda.
Rouzie Hassanova Yes. Yeah. Of course, everyone’s open to having their own opinions. And for some people, probably it’s seen as a controversial film because it does reveal Muslim people as human. But this is why I wanted to make it. And we were doing a night shoot. And it was in one of the big scenes in the party secretary’s kind of office. And it was 2 o’clock in the morning, I think. The mayor of the village next door decided to come over and threaten us and tell us to stop shooting because they were against what we were doing: this film should never have been made. And because people were fearful of misrepresentation or, because what happened was during communism there were few stages of changing the names of the Muslim community.
So we started off from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s. And because there were quite a few people and they were doing it strategically one by one, by hiring their own people to do it. So they were smart about it.
But a lot of the Muslim community, because now, 60, 70 years later, a lot of the Muslim people have now converted back to Christian religion. So they’ve felt that I was trying to make a film now against them or shaming them, which wasn’t the case at all. So it was very difficult to try and explain that I wasn’t doing that. It was it’s actually a very family story. I’m keeping it close to my family because that’s what happened to them. And I wanted to show something that I’m very proud of, of my culture and my family.
(1) Showtools provided this infographic re the New Zealand government’s 2015–2019 investment in large budget screen production: just 0.97% of almost $374m allocated to projects directed by women.