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Barbarella Chats with Indie Filmmaker Aleem Hossain

Hey y’all, Barbarella here to share some information from my interview with the delightful Aleem Hossain, who just proved to the world that you can make science fiction films on an independent budget.  His feature, AFTER WE LEAVE, won Best Feature Film this year at the London Sci-Fi Film Festival, and it just recently screened to Austin audiences at the Other Worlds Film Festival.  

In town for the Fest, Aleem appreciated Other Worlds for its intimacy and the fact that filmmakers, actors, and fans mingled amongst each other discussing their love of the genre and of the films that were screening.  Aleem took time to speak with me at 9:45 in the morning because it’s never too early to discuss science fiction.   

I’m always intrigued by the filmmaking process, and I found Aleem’s filming schedule particularly fascinating.  When I asked about keeping people engaged over the four years it took to make AFTER WE LEAVE, he had this to say.     

“I didn’t think it would take that long to make.  I knew I was going to shoot it nights and weekends.  I had some reasons for doing that, but I thought maybe eight months of nights and weekends.  It was a union film for the actors, but everyone else was working for free or for cheap, and so that meant whenever they got a bigger paying job, I’d lose [them] for a couple weeks or months.  My cinematographer, Julie Kirkwood, shot DESTROYER with Nicole Kidman.  She shot a couple of big horror movies.  My brother, who does the visual effects, got swooped up by a JJ Abrams’ project and worked on that for a while.  

“I almost exclusively worked with people that I knew and I had worked with previously who I really respected, and they really believed in me.  Every actor in the movie is either an actor that I knew was not only good, but [also] would be committed and could work in this way, or it was someone they brought in that they knew from an acting company or another show they did. 

“What kept people coming back, I think, was the whole film is about giving people the freedom to do the kind of work that sometimes mainstream work doesn’t allow them to do.  I wanted to be deliberate.  I wanted to take time.  The actors could always have one more take.  Julie and I could compose shots that were a little risky.  The great thing about that was in doing that, in opening up and allowing my collaborators more input, the images on the screen look more like what I wanted than any earlier times when I was trying to micro-manage everything.”

I asked him how he met his lead actor, Brian Silverman.

“My wife and I were both in film school together.  We weren’t married at the time, but we were together.  She was helping a friend cast a short film, and the role they were casting was for a timid, nice boyfriend.  She came home after this one casting session, and she said, “Oh my god, I saw this guy, and he was so wrong for the timid, nice boyfriend, but you are going to put him in a film you make.”  It was Brian Silverman, and his intensity and his rawness just struck her instantly. The next month I [made] my final film at UCLA and cast him in it.  We’ve worked together ever since, about 15 years at this point.”

Regarding the futuristic world Aleem painted in AFTER WE LEAVE, he had this to say.

“As a futurist, I have a little bit of a bone to pick with how our visions of the future in all these blockbuster movies are getting very monolithic.  Everything is holographic.  I put on this thing and a hologram appears, and an interface floats aside me.  I feel like when I think about the role of technology, it’s gotten less and less visible.  Like our phones are so small and opaque at this point, so I wanted to take that the next step further.  I was like look, they’re all going to do it mentally in their heads, and we aren’t going to see any interface."  

He goes on to share his view of the role of visual effects in his film.  

"At its core this movie was a human drama, and I was going to get to certain moments of human drama by having a speculative world, but with the exception of that first shot with the rockets, we had this mantra that if the first thing the audience is seeing is the visual effects, we failed at that moment in the story.”


“What makes science fiction great is not just the conjuring of a future world.  It’s the questions that are being asked or the artistic things that are being tried.  I think it’s an amazing genre to be able to comment on the world and humanity, but to do so in a way that allows you to talk about topics differently, to see through a different lens.  Sometimes that shift in POV can help reach different audiences.  But also, you can do thought experiments.  You can do meditations and existential explorations about real-life things.  I just think in general, it’s a genre built on imagining different futures, and that has some built-in audience appeal.  I feel like on a story level and a commercial level, it should be the most diverse genre, and it’s not.  One of the reasons I’m happy to talk to people about how I made this film very cheaply is that I really, really believe more people out there should feel entitled to do sci-fi.  This genre does not just belong to the biggest studios in the world.”  

If you want to see AFTER WE LEAVE, you’ll have your chance.  It will get released in New York and LA on February 21 for a small theatrical run.   A short time after, it will be available online for rental, purchase, and streaming, although the exact platforms have not yet been determined.  


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