Amran Ali - Filmmaker

A couple of months ago we were blown away by the first episode of the Visual Wisdom Project – a 10-part series of short films where people share stories of someone or something that has inspired them. Recently we had a chat with Amran Ali, the talented London based filmmaker behind the project and in our conversation she speaks more about the Visual Wisdom series, the reality of being a filmmaker and the things that have monumentally changed her.

SA: How did you get into filmmaking?

Amran: I got in to filmmaking when I started writing screenplays around the age of sixteen. It all started when I watched a few films and became fascinated in how you make films; I started looking into screenplays and one day I just started writing. This was when I was still in college studying Graphics and Design. I thought to myself how could I study a combination of Graphic Design and Film, so I ended up applying to university to study a really practical based filmmaking degree. The more I continued to progress in my degree the more I fell in love with it.

SA: Is there a certain type of films you’re interested in or you specialise in?

Amran: I specialise in documentaries so I do a lot of factual based films. Although I initially started off doing screenplays, I’m not really a big fan of drama-based films so I prefer something that’s real, about actual things that people can relate to. I’m interested in women's rights, East Africa and ethnic minorities so a lot of my projects focus on those things.

SA: Has there been a moment in your life that has changed you in any way?

Amran: When I was around sixteen, I was a socially awkward kid. My entire life was just about me being at college or at home. I didn’t have a social life, I didn’t care about having many friends and my parents were really worried about me. They used to say things like “Why is she not going out?” and they would tell me to go out and be more social and I didn’t really want to do that. It was a really weird period in my life where I wasn’t fussed about anything.

But then Alhamdulillah my mother gave birth to my little brother when I was eighteen and he is literally the light of my life. When he was born I started looking at life a little bit more differently and that helped me come out of my shell and do more things in terms of filmmaking.

SA: Would you say you’re very close with your brother then?

Amran: Yeah definitely, he’s the reason why I became more comfortable with myself as well as others…I was such an awkwardly shy person before that (laughs) and it’s weird because he has no idea. He’s actually six years old now and he has no idea of the impact he’s had on my life!

SA: (Laughs) Well if he ever reads this interview in the future, he’ll definitely know.

Amran: I know, right?

SA: So tell us a bit more about your current project.

Amran: I decided to do this project called Visual Wisdom where I select a bunch of different types of people, ask them about something that has had an impact on them or someone who has inspired them and I give them the space of 3 minutes to tell their story. I tried to do something different from what I normally do as I usually focus on women or East Africa so I decided to be more broad and I included people from all backgrounds, genders, races and careers. I’ve gotten the chance to meet loads of different people because of it, as there’s a musician, a teacher and even an artist involved in the project. The Visual Wisdom series is in 10 parts and they should all be out by the end of next year.

SA: What’s the inspiration behind the Visual Wisdom Project?

Amran: I like hearing people’s stories. I really do love it and I feel like right now there’s so many things going on in the Somali community and so many new platforms like Somali Sideways and your magazine, that are working to have other people’s voices heard and that’s how I am with my filmmaking. I just want to be able to give other people a voice and have it heard.

SA: I think it can be said that people tend to have a glamourised view of filmmakers. Can you tell us the reality of it?

Amran: You’re going to be broke most of the time. (Laughs) You know artists, they’re broke a lot of the time but that’s when a lot of their good work comes out I think. It’s not always a paid job, I personally freelance a lot so money comes and goes for me all the time but if you are passionate about something...I mean I would do this for free. It wouldn’t even matter to me; do you know what I mean? There are so many things that make this a difficult career, it’s the least glamorous job in the world but like I said if you enjoy it, then these things won’t bother you.

SA: How would you advice other young women who want to get into filmmaking?

Amran: I would tell them to keep reminding themselves of their vision and to know what they want to get out of it. Everything that you get into has to have a purpose so if they want to do filmmaking, they shouldn’t do it because they think it’s cool or because other people are doing it, it should be for the right reasons. More importantly they should believe in themselves. A lot of people will question them and even their friends and family are likely to tell them to quit and to do something else instead, so they need to faith in themselves.

SA: And what advice would you give to your younger self?

Amran: That’s a difficult one. But I would go with “Don’t…let other people’s opinions get to you.” That’s one thing I regret the most, that I used to let other’s opinions get to me so much. Letting other’s people’s opinions get to you, whether they’re friends or even just people older than you can be damaging. That’s something I wish I knew when I was younger.

Watch the first episode of the Visual Wisdom Project: 

Sagal Abdulle is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.

(Photo credit. Faiza Jama)