Ahead of the upcoming Bridging the Gap: Outsiders screening in Glasgow at SMHAF, filmmakers Meray Diner and Riad Arfin spoke to Dan Shay to share reflections on their experiences during the filmmaking process and the questions their films provoke. The interviews highlight the power of film to create a language and space to reflect on mental health.
Having gotten to know both Meray and Riad through a filmmakers’ group Meray has organised over the past year, I asked them what its impact had been on their experience of filmmaking?
Meray: The group really helped me because I did training for it with Film In Mind and that training told us about how lonely we are in the filmmaking process. Often filmmaking is a very isolating process until you make the film. Developing ideas, trying to get permissions and pitch, you’re on your own, so the group really helps to resonate with others and know what they’re going through and how we’re struggling in similar ways, even just to chat about things that are day to day barriers or struggles and sharing advice – that helps. Everyone goes through similar things and it was really helpful to realise what I’m going through is normal, [to have] someone else seeing it from outside and approve that my feelings are valid.
Riad: Because I’m in a country and a new environment, having this group is very helpful, even just to talk about film, it doesn’t have to be about your personal filmmaking experience. Having this environment where you can talk about anything – we were even talking about Netflix – is good because I don’t have anyone who I can share this with. So, having this group, for me, is really helpful.
Riad has just moved to Glasgow more recently so I asked what brought his move?
My move to the UK was to be with my partner, that was the only reason I moved here. She had to come back to the UK, we both became sick of the long distance and wanted to be together. We had to do a long distance [relationship] for a period because it is not easy to get a visa to come to the UK. We realised through trying long distance that we don’t want that and the only way to be together was me moving here, which meant leaving everything, including my job.
I’ve never lived anywhere other than Bangladesh, and that is quite far away. It’s not a similar culture like other places in Europe. For me coming here was a big step, which I didn’t realise was going to be hard. It is difficult.
Both Meray and Riad have recently moved house within Glasgow so I asked how they found this experience?
Meray: This move was very emotional because it was with my partner and is the first permanent plan that we have had, to own a house. It made me question our search deeper about that feeling of settling because we just made a big decision and also because I have moved so many times in my life.
Since I moved to Scotland, this was about my 15th house move in the 15 years that I have been here and this one is going to be long term. It was confusing to make decisions on how to set it out, and then I realised that because I have never really done that I struggled to do it.
That struggle actually sort of kicked off the process of this film as it really triggered the emotions of searching for settlement, being away, family and grounding. I guess the whole move started this process.
Riad: It’s completely different to Bangladesh where it’s very simple and easy. My experience here was a little difficult because we got rejected from everywhere after 15 viewings, and then the one viewing in which my partner went with me was the only one we got.
This made me think more about myself, and if it was because of me. It might not be but who knows? I can’t help thinking that it was because I look different and am from a different background and country, so it’s very emotional.
What things help you to feel settled here?
Meray: Finding friends and people that you are super close to. Settling into your environment and finding your groove and finding your new way of being. It helps to express yourself to feel more settled, in a more concrete way. As my dad says in the film, it’s little things that you start to build, things that you find from your home or the plants and the trees that are now in my garden or my house – they make me feel settled.
Riad: I don’t know if I would say that I feel settled, but there are some things in Glasgow or in Scotland that help me to live day-to-day life. Lots of outdoor activities, where the weather allows – being close to the mountains and going for a hike. This is very new to me as I have never done anything like that before but I think it is helping me. Also the people here are very friendly, even if you don’t know them, you can have random encounters that can be fun for a time.
I asked Meray specifically about her film Pembe Ay (Pink Moon) she guided me that the Turkish pronunciation Pembe Ay that sounds like the agreeable Scottish ‘aye’, explaining:
Meray: Aye/I means ‘moon’ and also means ‘month’ in Turkish, so, Pink Moon. During my development, and Bridging the Gap proposal, I used a quote from Zarina Hashmi who said:
I understood from a very early age that home is not necessarily a permanent place, it is an idea we carry with us wherever we go. We are our homes.
It’s that sense in moments where you are feeling happy, good, grounded and feel that you just need to keep searching and working on it to find that settling feeling.
So that’s what I realised. It’s not always the norm, and we have different homes in different places, but home also means, love, family, cozy places, and where you rest and want to be after a long day. I work from home as well, so my sense of home has changed as I am there all the time. Sometimes I want to get out.
This was so relatable for me as I’m sure many others found a new relationship with home.
For me Riad’s film A Border Between Us addressed ‘change’, from perspectives on weather, to appearance, to location. He explained some of his thoughts about ‘change’ at the moment?
Riad: I think change is inevitable. You know, nothing stays the same. We all know that right, but when we experience anything from change in location, country, culture, then you actually realise how difficult it is and all the things that matter to you.
When I was in Bangladesh, to be honest, I hated a lot of things, I can talk about it for ages because I was frustrated, I was done. It is an underdeveloped country with lots of problems and so when I was there I was thinking I’m moving to a better country. This idea completely changed with the move. Now I feel more Bangladeshi than I ever have.
I’m missing a lot of things that I hated when I was there. There are a lot of things that are important culturally like friendships that we took it for granted in Bangladesh. Here it takes a lot of force to make good friendships and I really appreciate a good friendship now.
This work and conversation reminded me of a chapter in a book called Freedom of the Migrant by Czech writer Vilém Flusser, with a title: ‘To be unsettled. One first has to be settled.’ I asked if that resonates with any of the emotions the film explores?
Meray smiled and responded: It’s an interesting thought, of course, to feel unsettled, we need to know what that feeling is to then feel unsettled but I don’t know if that Is the case here or if there’s also a sense of people looking at other people going ‘they look very settled’ because they have things or a way of living that I don’t have and maybe that’s mostly what I feel like.
I come across a lot of people that are what we call settled but I don’t know if they would describe it that way. You feel like they are very grounded and have things accumulated in one place, a network and places that they know which creates a feeling that takes time to build.
I felt unsettled within Glasgow coming to a place that was new to me, and didn’t know anyone and still kind of don’t. Then I felt like even back home in Cyprus I didn’t feel settled when I moved back their after studying in Scotland, so I came back here because it felt like a new home.
Meray added: In some ways I agree with that quote but also, a lot of the time when I speak to people like me, I don’t think they know what feeling settled is. They just keep searching for it and come up with people who project [feeling settled] to them, then realise, I’m not like them. Is that what feeling settled is like? So we can find people that can never feel settled, they are still searching for it or in the process of figuring it out or changing it.
Your answer is really interesting in the way that you highlight this sense of comparison…
Yes that is why this Flusser quote reminded me of the Zarina Hashmi quote “…We are our homes.”
Riad said: The film definitely does explore the emotions of feeling unsettled. I was just asking myself the opposite in that, to feel settled, you need to feel unsettled first. When I was in Bangladesh, I don’t know if I was feeling settled but now I’m here and I definitely feel unsettled 100% all the time. I know somehow what settled means and I can compare it, as before I didn’t have that knowledge from both sides.
I asked the filmmakers feel moving affects their resolve?
Riad said: Moving is an interesting experience and I think I am more knowledgeable now. In terms of understanding both worlds. Going through all these experiences is meaningful and I’m taking them as a learning opportunity. These learnings might help me moving forward, making decisions, and you can’t buy this experience.
I’m trying to be optimistic about the whole situation because then I feel optimistic. I’m trying hard not to feel low about because you can look it in a completely different way that I’ve made a terrible mistake and all this kind of things. But also if I hadn’t moved I wouldn’t have learned all these things that I’ve learned or met all these amazing people, it’s very good, it’s learning. (Fittingly) My idea of the western world was for movies, after coming here, I realise it is totally different.
I grew up in Bangladesh reading philosophers and the way they talk about individualism and existentialism is completely different if you read those books from here in Europe to the way we perceive it in the east. It’s interesting for me, because I love philosophy, films and movies and exploring life and learning new things.
Meray replied: It depends on how it is, if it’s a chosen and a smooth journey or if it’s not a very difficult journey but it has its own challenges that you deal with.
Even though my journey seemed smooth in that I came here to study at University and I ended up staying here, I actually had a lot of difficulties. My family was in a difficult situation to support me to study here and then I really disconnected my relationship with my father by not going back and he was really saddened.
My whole family didn’t expect me to move abroad and migrate but also realised I also didn’t have an option as I didn’t have opportunities to stay there even if I tried. I just didn’t feel like I belonged there or had support, and at some point I felt like I was trying to live in two places at once, Glasgow and Cyprus, and that’s when it was getting a bit difficult.
I was filled with appreciation of Meray and Riad for making their film and sharing their experience. I asked them if they had met many other people with a similar experience or had other opportunities shared theirs?
Riad: The Scottish Documentary Institute is the first people I shared my idea with and I am very grateful that they have supported the film, because I was thinking: why would someone connect to this?
Before making the film, I didn’t meet anyone with the same experience, but after making the film when it had the premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival, a lot of people came to me to say how much they can connect to the film. You don’t have to be from Bangladesh or from the UK – a lot of people have come to me to say how much they connected to the film.
Meray: I have a lot of friends from a similar background who have moved away and I think I find it easier to connect with those people. Maybe because we have a lot of common experiences and maybe it’s a cultural thing that people moved here. In terms of sharing the film, there has not been much of a platform yet because it’s just come out and so SMHAF will be one of the places.
I asked Meray if making this film had changed her relationship with her father?
Meray replied: That’s the question that everyone asks, and yes it has. Sometimes it’s very subtle to see or feel it, and I question that myself but really it has. Every time I call him now, he is more truthful in the way he answers on the phone. We had very difficult conversations that are not on the screen, there’s about three and a half hours of discussion that I had with him that I had never had before and I don’t think I would have done that if it was not for the filmmaking.
We talked to each other about things that we have never talked about before and that cleared some air there. I didn’t realise he had questions for me that he wanted to ask or never thought of asking, but he assumed things about me as I have assumed things about him. He also told me how I have had wrong ideas about what he thought or felt about me or things that happened. I have a completely different perspective of things and he has a different idea about what happened between us and me leaving. So it definitely has contributed to our relationship and made it better.
As a filmmaker you also always have duty of care for people you are making a film with and I was always aware of that.
These films, as those across the Bridging The Gap screening demonstrate the bravery, skill and power of film to create vital space for us to reflect. I asked them why they chose to tell their your story through the format of film?
Riad exclaimed while smiling: I live in film, I eat films and breathe films. That’s what I know. I don’t know anything else. If you ask me about something else, I wouldn’t be able to answer anything.
When I came here I was experiencing emotions that I have never experienced, through migrating for the first time in my life I felt like I look different.
I saw movies but I never personally experienced being different in a culture and a society now in my day-to-day encounter with people. When I was having lots of new emotions, I didn’t know how to deal with that. I speak to my partner in a second language, English, and that’s not my mother tongue, so a lot of things I don’t even know how to explain within it, especially the things related to how you feel, because words are limited.
I didn’t have access to mental health therapists and didn’t know such things exist.
A lot of films don’t have any dialogues but we still can connect to them. So film itself as a language is universal which can relate to any language you speak.
Meray responded: I have a notebook to develop my ideas with different sections and one of them has become a section of home. Some things have triggered this process and I was writing ideas. Home and my dad kept coming up, so I was like, I have to deal with this. I didn’t know in which way but thought I’ll try this and I think film was a tool to make that happen – using a camera.
Finally I asked the filmmakers what conversations or questions they may like their work to provoke?
Meray answered: I hope that it helps people to find some kind of healing or, interrogation about it. Where they can go and talk to their family members, or anyone they have a significant relationship with, if they want to. I hope that it can be a movie that people feel empowered through. That would be amazing.
Riad replied: When I had the idea for this film I was going through this complicated visa process and I was so frustrated and done with it. If two people from two different countries in this world love each other, they cannot just be together as they wish, they have to go through this bureaucratic visa and immigration process. I think I’d like to provoke people to question that.
Dan Shay is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. He loves to absorb and project art (often literally) whilst championing creativity that makes space to reflect and connect. Sometimes posts on Instagram and X as @danianshay.
Bridging the Gap: Outsiders + Filmmaker Q&A
Riad Arfin’s film A Border Between Us and Meray Diner’s film Pembe Ay (Pink Moon) are screening as part of Bridging the Gap: Outsiders at Glasgow Film Theatre on Saturday 21 October at 3.15pm.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with filmmakers Meray Diner, Riad Arfin and Maria Pankova, hosted by BAFTA-winning filmmaker and Bridging the Gap alumna Hannah Currie.