Filmmaker Katya Abedian’s ‘Skin Diver’ Is A Gentle Dreamworld
While Katya Abedian’s classmates were out celebrating the end of their high school careers in 2016, she was at home dreaming up a narrative rich with unapologetic diversity – and acceptance thereof. Now, just two years later, her cinematic dream-world has come to life. Skin Diver premiered at the Labia on the 6th of April, and stars dynamic femme-duo Tony Gum and Demi Van Der Westhuizen.
Watch the official trailer:
The narrative for Skin Diver comes from multiple sources of inspiration. One of most prevalent is the Bahá’í Faith: a religion that aims to teach the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people. The film is based on the notion that we’re all the creators of our own realities, and that we should be able to choose which narratives we partake in – without shame or fear of others’ opinions. It’s all about seamlessly embracing your own journey, whatever that may be.
Katya is interested in telling stories about minorities – stories that feel like they are “missing” from the human narrative, or simply, being neglected. She says she feels inclined to tell stories from the Middle East and the African continent because, growing up in SA with Iranian family, it’s been stories from those places and people that sparked her desire to become a filmmaker.
Having said that, she’s careful not to be too prescriptive, and to keep her doors open by not setting limitations. As long as the work has gravitas and can meaningfully contribute to the advancement of human consciousness, she’s in.
We caught up with Katya:
What inspired Skin Diver’s narrative?
Skin Diver is an ode to the tender-hearted, those who feel deeply and sincerely and are sometimes made to feel like that strength is a weakness. I hoped to create something that could connect straight to the heart of those who relate to it, without having to use too many spoken words.
Tell us about the process in bringing this story to life? Any challenges or lessons you’d like to share? What were some of your personal highlights?
It was a challenge to overcome the feeling that you are a “Lone Ranger” when you don’t have a huge team behind you and you’re having to make everything happen, sometimes for the first time. But as much as that was a challenge, it was also one of the best parts of the process because it taught me how to nurture resilience and perseverance and most of all how to quickly apply a creative solution to what initially presents itself as an obstacle. I am so grateful for all the challenges that the process brought because they grew us all to new levels.
I learnt so many lessons. One of many that I would like to share is specifically aimed at female filmmakers and artists in general. I feel it’s really important that women creators keep fighting the good fight and surround themselves with people who believe in their visions, instead of waiting for someone to validate their ideas and capabilities. I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who never questioned my abilities because of my gender and at the same time encouraged me to push through the barriers that quite definitely exist, even if it’s just the mental/emotional ones which can be the toughest sometimes.
Run us through the reasons for your casting.
Tony and Demi were the first and only women I saw when writing these characters. The fact that they both ended up coming on board without hesitation was a blessing I will never take for granted. It was the same with Thami, she was exactly the girl I saw in my head while writing.
I definitely wanted to create a piece that takes representation into account. I simply created the characters I know exist and wanted to see represented in films. It’s important for young boys and girls of colour to experience characters that are maybe more relatable than the hegemonic white narrative that has dominated mainstream cinema for so long. Having said that, there are signs emerging of the systematic changes that are starting to take place. I am excited and motivated to contribute to this shift. It’s crucial that we do not fall under the illusion that things are changing just because important films are being made, but that it goes as far as impacting both our personal lives, thoughts and meaningful conversations, daily actions as well as macro political structural reformation.
The film has quite a distinctive aesthetic. Tell us about your inspiration.
I would avoid confining what inspires the aesthetics of the film. I really just created the things I wished existed and attempted to bring the world I saw in my head to life. Wes Anderson and Terrance Malick were too obvious stylistic influences as well as the tonality of directors such as Sofia Coppola and Andrea Arnold, whose work I adore.
Praise for Skin Diver is often accompanied by mention of your age and sex. How do you feel about this?
I don’t have a problem with that because they are facts. I am young and a female. I am, like others, trying to excel in an industry that has been and continues to be dominated by male ownership and male perspectives. I don’t find any shame or issue with placing emphasis on those two factors, especially if it can prove and motivate others that they don’t need to let their age or gender hold them back.
I do, however, find it unimportant as far as capability goes. I don’t believe that those factors, especially gender, should have to be constantly mentioned in reference to work. I made a film. And I am a female. And if that’s the only thing that makes anyone pay attention to the work then it becomes problematic.
We shouldn’t have to be gender warriors in every waking moment of our lives, having to champion our creations solely because of our gender. I hope (and like to believe) that we shall advance eventually to a point where we won’t have to do that. As it stands, we are not there yet. Until that time comes I don’t have a problem with how people want to appreciate facts. As long as they are not trying to construct a narrative that they are not in a position to project. It’s a complex space that requires sensitivity and consciousness.
So if I had to put my answer in ultra simplistic terms: In principle, age and gender are not important, but in this current time it is very important — particularly in the realm of filmmaking.
Any advice for young people wanting to create something, but don’t know where to start?
Try not to talk about it more than you act on it. Try not to hope for it more than you are willing to work on it. Take it little by little, day by day. Nurture your patience and perseverance and learn how to tune into the softer voice, the whisper that the world around you is most likely trying to silence with doubt.
You are your own greatest obstacle and your own greatest tool. Do not wait for permission. Find the place you feel is best to start from and run with it. You’ll figure it out as you’re doing it, the most important part is to simply to keep doing. Also, form a community of people who inspire you to keep at.
Director: Katya Abedian
Poster Artwork: Tyla Mason