Amina Zhaman, Ph.D. is a renowned Circassian artist, writer, composer, film and stage director. In this exclusive NY Elite Interview Series (Part I, II, III) , Amina discusses her love for theater, film, and music.
NY Elite: What mindset are you in when you sit down and write for your songs, or scripts?
Amina Zhaman: I don’t set out specifically to write a song or a script. This is impossible to plan or calculate. It all depends on inspiration, ideas, or events in someone’s life that may influence the creation of a work of art. Lyrics and music come to my mind in the most unexpected places – on the street, in the subway, by the pool. Where there is no piano around, not even a pen or a paper. I usually write down everything in my notes of the phone, on the recorder, and sing until I walk up to where I live. As for scenarios, everything here is more systematized. First, all of a sudden, some brilliant idea strikes me, then I proceed to taking notes. If a project is biographical, I scrupulously and carefully study the life and work of my hero, and as soon as the material has matured enough, I start writing a script. The preparatory process takes much longer than writing the text.
NY Elite: You are best known for directing critically acclaimed films such as Before Breakfast and The Movie Man. How would you describe your own approach to this particular genre?
Amina Zhaman: I only work on those films that I myself would go to as a spectator. I make films not for commercial or entertainment purposes, but with the ultimate goal of contributing to the historic legacy of world cinema. Nothing more, nothing less. I am equally responsible for the adaptation of American classics, for instance, one-act plays Before Breakfast and The Movie Man by Eugene O’Neill, and for films based on my own scripts.
NY Elite: It seems that your leading role in a socially sensitive movie Right to Love was all about commitment and dedication to filmmaking. What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken for a film/art project so far?
Amina Zhaman: No one can predict the success of a film or a play. Producer Marina Bolotokova and I put all things aside and flew across the ocean to New York to meet the talented Canadian director Paul Kurti. Paul had to quit his job in Toronto to shoot a dream film in the Mecca of arts – New York. We all took a big risk, but it paid off. In the end, we managed to create a magnificent feature film Right to Love.
In 2019, I staged a grandiose production of CHALIAPIN/O’NEILL with the participation of opera star Vladimir Baykov. There was some risk in engaging a soloist of the Bolshoi Theater to portray Feodor Chaliapin, since Vladimir had to play more than to actually sing in the show. Rehearsals with him gave an excellent result. Vladimir shines in the role of Chaliapin, both as a singer and as an actor.
Eugene O’Neill’s The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog inspired me to write a philosophical short story KOALA MICHAEL in the Spring 2020. At the time, I had no idea about how difficult it was to make a children’s book. Choosing scenes for illustrations, working with artist Boris Lysikov, selecting drawings, involving book designer Kostya Syatko – and all of this during the pandemic. As a result, we now have an original book with a spectacular cover and incomparable pencil drawings inside. My latest book KOALA MICHAEL (2022) delights both children and adults. They all look forward to its sequel. Perhaps, I will write a second book about the star of Australian Zoo koala Michael, just a bit later – following the production of STANISLAVSKY/CHEKHOV.
NY Elite: You showed your working drive as producer of the award-winning film Battle Fields. What important choices do producers/directors need to make while working on independent films?
Amina Zhaman: The most important thing is the choice of colleagues. At the beginning of one’s career the choice is little, but you still have to try to find real allies in actors and film crew. Cinema is about teamwork. You all must have a common goal, not 20 individual ones. You can make a movie with anyone. Making a good film that will conquer the hearts of viewers around the world is only possible with professionals/team players who believe in the idea of the film and treat their work as a mission, not as a duty.
NY Elite: What does the quality of a film depend on?
Amina Zhaman: Great script, good soundtrack, perfect casting, brilliant performances from the entire cast, high-level standard of directing, camerawork and editing.
NY Elite: You also serve as the Festival Art Director for the International Filmmaker Festival of New York (IFFNY). What is special about this experience?
Amina Zhaman: Everything about IFFNY is special to me. As an art director, I have a unique opportunity to interact with extremely talented directors and actors from around the world. Interviewing them and watching the strong program of the festival is nothing but pleasure. The geography of applications expands every year. So being a part of IFFNY is an honor for me. For the past three years the festival has mostly been held online. However, online communication is finally getting back to live format.
In October 2022 in Istanbul, I met with 2021 jury member, amazing screenwriter and director Robert Haufrecht and his lovely wife Emanuela Villorini. We even bumped into each other at the opening ceremony of the Bosphorus Film Festival! I made subtitles for Robert’s latest film Subterranean Love (Olga). Robert won a Special Jury Award for this film at the 10th Antakya International Film Festival (Türkiye). Later it was successfully screened at Bulent Doruker’s Digital Film Academy in Istanbul for students and special guests – internationally acclaimed filmmakers, such as Eren Danışman, Etna Özbek and Alican Acar.
NY Elite: What kind of films do you want to make?
Amina Zhaman: I want to make screen versions of my plays – biopics CHALIAPIN/O’NEILL and STANISLAVSKY/CHEKHOV and Hollywood comedies based on my original scripts.