Videographer Waleed M. Al-Yamani’s fascination with movies gets expressed through his love of guerilla filmmaking. He shares his thoughts on film, filmmaking and his new movie Verified.
Why do you love videography?
Filmmaking as a discipline is illusion, from the likes of George Méliès to Christopher Nolan, film is magic, misdirection and for some, deception. However, filmmaking when done seamlessly reminds people of the truth. Whether that is something wonderfully grand or beautifully intimate, cinema is immense enough to contain it all. What better canvas can any expressive person ask for?
Tell us a bit more about your own videography and what you would like to achieve through this.
I love the language of film even though I grew up in the video generation and have never been lucky enough to work or own a film camera. I still admire the discipline, the alchemy of light hitting the emulsion to make dreams reality. I try, and fail sometimes, to capture this spirit using video.
I cut my hands with consumer DV cameras and edited from one VCR to another, a skill I learnt from my cinephile uncle. I split hairs and sleepless nights thinking if Hitchcock made Psycho with cameras the size of VW Beetles and that was 40 years prior then surely, we must have the technology to make a smaller camera for a guerrilla filmmaker. It would be years of fuzzy footage before the age of the DSLR came around and with it a renaissance of run-and-gun filmmakers, my type of crew.
What made you switch to Fujifilm and when did this happen?
With a degree in Middle Eastern philosophy, I could do two things: Think deep thoughts about being unemployed and tell amazing stories. Two decades ago, I was minted a filmmaker and like most, I used both the fear of starving, the never-say-die moxie of my mom (my cinema champion) and a hustler’s spirit to wrestle my way into the industry.
I often ask the students I mentor, “Where is God in your story?” and that could mean any number of things, but for me, it’s always being the guiding Hand that moves my plot forward. Without it, I would still be filming lampshades and spiders in my apartment complex. This ‘Supreme Director’ had me cross paths with some wondrous filmmakers, the likes of Khalid El-Jelailati, Charles Khuzwayo, Thabiso Camilo Christopher and my current muse, star of Verified, Richard Gau.
It was a meeting with my own guru Cliff Shain, a photographer and cinematographer for over 30 years that introduced me to Fujifilm. We met in a basement four levels underground, where for years we cooked up crazy work with a pair of X-T2s all while drinking bitter green tea, talking philosophy and learning that Uncle Cliff could shred faces with a Stratocaster, very rock ‘n roll.
Which Fujifilm camera do you use and what’s your favourite lens?
Much like my Mr. Miyagi, I realised that when you take a technological workhorse like an Fujifilm X-T2 and pair it with an older vintage prime lens like a 35mm, using dark magic you get something special. I love old lenses because like old wisdom, you get to break down the pristine digital image and mimic the way certain characters see the world.
That’s not to say that I don’t slap on a slick new Fujifilm lens between the lens whacking to go full silverback on a shot. By that I mean that there’s a language to shooting, you choose the right lens to say the right thing. The question is what grand idea can be expressed with the Fujinon MKX cinema lenses? I wonder.
What do you love most about the camera and lens?
I love versatility and flexibility, but at the risk of being a bit controversial, I think that there is a laziness that hamstrings the types of films we make with the technology at our fingertips. However, just like with the immense power of the internet, people succumb to their comfort zones. All art is about the flexibility of the instrument and in the age where we have a cornucopia of choice, the artist is the instrument. Your work speaks to your own dexterity and if you have an unwillingness to sweat or sweat your tools, you will continue to make mediocre work.
The case in point is that we made Verified with three people, two X-T2s and an X-T3 because we learnt how to pivot as artists and push the technology. It helps that the star Richard Gau and Melissa Kahn, my producer, are some of the sickest filmmakers on the planet, dextrous multidisciplinarians.
You see, what I love about the cameras I use is that they don’t get in the way, I hate having to negotiate with a camera or a camera person for that matter because of their limitations. When you work with me, I am going to make you sweat and the beauty of Fujifilm is that your gear sits up in all its Japanese glory and says, ‘Oss!’
Where can people find your work online?
I am wading back into the digital space after withdrawing from social media and the like for two years as I finish Verified, this interview marks the start of our film’s digital journey. To follow along, we would love it if you would subscribe to our newly minted YouTube channel and like us on Facebook below, so join us and #GetVerified: