Riz Ahmed and Director Aneil Karia on Making The Long Goodbye

In March 2020, actor and rapper Riz Ahmed released Long goodbyea concept album inspired, in part, by the rise of far-right political groups and anti-immigration rhetoric in the post-Brexit UK Ahmed; Academy Award nominee for best actor best last year for The sound of metalsaid the critically-acclaimed album came out after “thinking a lot about identity.” [and] my place in the world. “

It was around that time that Ahmed connected with filmmaker Aneil Karia. Finding something in common in their Asian British identity, the duo said they were immediately interested in collaborating on a project.

The result is a short film Long goodbye, which incorporates music from Ahmed’s albums. Ahmed also stars in the film, which depicts a South Asian family on the outskirts of London – in the distant future, or perhaps chilling in the present – as they prepare for a celebration. But what began as a cheery look at a close-knit family gathering quickly turned sinister as news reports began depicting scenes of violence and an all-white, supported militia. by the police force, knocking on the family door.

Long goodbye, which culminates in Ahmed’s stinging monologue, is a terrifying look at the daily nightmare for members of some socially marginalized communities. Ahmed and Karia talked to CHEAP about their largely improvised film (now shortlisted for the Oscars for best live-action short), the balance between the incredible tonal shifts and why the production is like a therapeutic therapy.

How did the two of you first start collaborating on this project?

RIZ AHMED No projects – I just want to work with Aneil. A mutual friend put us in touch. He said, “You should meet this guy Aneil, he’s really special.” I just finished this album, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my identity, my place in the world, and people like me. I was chatting with Aneil and he was thinking about the same things, and we talked about just making something. I said, “Let’s make a short, let’s do something. I just want to create things now, and I want to do something from the heart.” Through a series of quiet and increasingly surreal tortuous conversations, we came up with this idea – indeed, Aneil did, he presented a two-page prose outline. It comes from such a personal place, from a place we all recognize. It’s the nightmare he digs out of our brains and puts on the screen.

When we were preparing and creating this story, I played him the album and he really responded to it. And he says that’s the missing piece in this: “I’m going to use some of those as scores.” Honestly, I’m not too sure about that. But the end result, a combination of on-screen horror and upbeat music at the same time – it’s almost Scorsese-esque. It just shows how many different roller houses Aneil can participate in, from the social realism in the beginning to this musical, the horror in the middle, and then ending with the poem mentioning this direct, very artistic. He’s been working through a wide range of genres in such a short amount of time. And it’s just a really special creative experience.

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Aneil, can you tell me about the big tonal change in the movie? Is it a challenge to do that?

ANEIL KARIA Sure. I was very frustrated by that particular aspect and how to navigate those shifts and shift gears. But that’s what’s interesting and most important, because I think what I’m driven by is the fear of this “worthy” version… a bleak journey where you’re left with a problem. Social issues and everything is constantly serious and optimistic. What we needed was something that took us to a challenging place, where we faced our worst nightmares, but also had a defiant attitude. That’s what’s important for those tonal changes. There’s a beauty, warmth, and love in the front half – that’s what Riz and I experienced in our family and extended family, but exactly what we don’t see on screen. . There’s an energy and chaos and almost an eerie thrill in the middle. It then ends with this poem, all the anger and rage you feel towards the world and the treatment of people within it is distilled into this beautiful controlled distribution. . How we make those changes is a constant source of anxiety for me, a constant challenge.

Much of the film’s content is improvised, which makes the first half of the film feel very natural. How do you get the beats you know you want without scripting?

KARIA That’s another one [source] worried, that if we didn’t paint this completely believable family portrait, you’d go into this violent violence in a way that feels cynical. I suppose it must be horribly easy. Improvisation is a very important element of that. [As Riz mentioned,] I came up with this prose document and then something rather dry and dull – an Excel document to scrape out each scene. There’s a shape to these scenes, it’s not like [I said], “Let’s go to the bedroom and see what happens.” It is not free form. We will discuss [the characters] and the nuances and specifics of how we get from A to B, and we have that openness and unpredictability that brings that authenticity and reality. It’s a perfectly calibrated semi-improvised approach based on getting that structure right, and then the insight and instincts of Riz and the other actors. It’s a tough thing to actually do a manicure.

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Ahmed in the live-action short film Long goodbye.
Courtesy of Psiff

Riz, as an actor, does improvisation come naturally to you?

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AHMED I think it did. My first movie is [directed by] Michael Winterbottom, and it’s basically completely improvised. But when I started working with Aneil, he would constantly come to me, “Yeah, stop doing that…” (Laugh.) I guess I had some anxiety about how we were going to convey all the topics, ideas, and emotions of all our conversations during this short time. You just let it play and sit with it. He was far more willing to give us a hand than I thought he would admit. He kept walking in to make us leave, if that makes any sense. That’s why Aneil’s work has this tremendous flexibility, and also this sense of breathing space – the breath it feels alive. My experience is a lesson in letting things happen. If you let things happen, one thing leads to another, and we’ve ended up where we did. It’s one of the best movies I’ve been in and one of the most creatively satisfying experiences I’ve ever had. That’s because I was in Aneil’s hands and because he took us from the emotional beginning to the emotional place at the end, through all the different genres, in a day and a half of shooting.

You described the film’s ending as having “a defiant attitude.” The first part of the film depicts a South Asian family preparing to celebrate, which may be something the audience has never seen in the film. In a way, is showing that – something white audiences may not have seen on film – in itself an act of defiance or protest?

AHMED Honestly, I’ve never been a part of anything so little eye for what people think of it. I think Aneil and I are just doing this from a very personal place. We did something very emotional and very introspective. Aneil’s technical ability is very good, but it is only from a very rudimentary place. I mean, at least for me, it’s like therapy. As to how it may or may not be received… I mean, I feel crazy knowing that people are discussing this in the House of Commons in the UK Parliament or those calling me from around the world and comment on it. It was just a testament to Aneil’s talent.

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KARIA I think the question is quite interesting, actually. Maybe that goes unnoticed, but I get what you mean. And I think it’s an insult to you when you’re from a particular minority and you’re constantly seeing portraits of that community on the screen in lazy, succinct ways of writing. . I’m taking an arbitrary number here, but [the] 10 gossip about a community begins to define it again and again.

You’re watching it and thinking, “Come on… is this my family or my community or my people?” There’s just so much depth and the ordinary and the mundane. Maybe there was an unconscious challenge to getting the role right. And “therapy” is a really good way to say it. When you said that, I was thinking how when people say “it’s therapeutic”, [they mean] it is clean and good to carry. But in reality, the reality of any therapeutic process is that it can be quite scary, upsetting, and a bit nauseating. If you’re doing that, you’re really going deep. That’s the truth of this movie, [because] Confronting those subjects, especially in the middle of the movie, is very frustrating. It was something challenging for the actors to go through. I think “therapy” is great, because you go through something chaotic, dirty, and scary. Through that, you become stronger or clearer.

The edited interview is long and clear. This story first appeared in an independent January issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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