Professor Hossain’s film wins Best Feature Film at Sci-Fi London

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Crew of “After We Leave” at the film’s theatrical premiere at the Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood Feb. 21, 2020. From left to right: Anita Leeman Torres (actor), Brian Silverman (actor, producer), Aleem Hossain (writer-director, producer), James Black (actor), Clay Wilcox (actor), Anslem Richardson (actor). Photo courtesy of Babak Motamen.

Media Arts & Culture (MAC) professor Aleem Hossain’s independent, $30,000 budget sci-fi film “After We Leave”premiered and won the Best Feature Film award at Sci-Fi-London, a British sci-fi film festival, May 2019. 22 film festivals rejected Hossain’s film before Sci-Fi-London. According to Hossain, “After We Leave” was shot between 2011 and 2015.

“After We Leave” is set in a heavily polluted future Los Angeles where only couples can emigrate to extra-planetary colonies. The film depicts Jack Chaney, the protagonist, trying to find his estranged wife to catch a spaceship bound to take off in a few days. A central tension in the film is whether Chaney wants to find his wife because he became a changed man, or because he just wants to use her to leave earth, according to Hossain. John DeFore, a critic from the Hollywood Reporter, praised “After We Leave” for “eschewing trippy concepts and focusing on easily digested relationship issues.” The film can be viewed on iTunesand Amazon, and is rated 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes as of Mar. 22.

Official poster of “After We Leave.” Photo courtesy of Aleem Hossain.

Hossain said he was shocked that 22 film festivals in a row would reject his film.

“No one ever expects like, ‘I’m going to get into Cannes, or Sundance,’ you know that’s hard,” Hossain said. “But 22 festivals in a row was a hard thing to swallow.”

Julie Kirkwood, cinematographer and producer for the film, said the initial idea for the film emerged when she and Hossain were chatting about their frustration at work one day. According to Kirkwood, people would offer her scripts to shoot, but she said sometimes she does not like the content nor the style of those scripts.

“One day he said, ‘What do you think about just making something small, but we can at least take all the time in the world to make something exactly what we want, and cast our actor friends who were also frustrated with the roles they were getting?'” Kirkwood said.

According to Hossain, his vision for the protagonist emerged randomly in 2010 when he was driving.

“I was in traffic on Wilshire Boulevard, at the stoplight, and I saw a guy’s face in my mind, and a question which was, ‘Has he changed?'” Hossain said. “I didn’t even know what that meant, then I thought he was looking at his wife.”

Hossain said from this idea, he decided to make a movie about how much people can change. Coming from a multi-racial, immigrant family inspired him to choose migration as the backdrop for the film. According to Hossain, his father and some of his relatives migrated from Bangladesh to the U.S.

“Even just growing up, it was always on my mind that ‘What happens when you have people who grew up on one of the poorest countries on earth — Bangladesh — and they can get one of these few, rare, limited tickets to come to America, which seems almost like a sci-fi land?” Hossain said.

According to Hossain, he tried to bring the aspects that independent filmmaking does well into the sci-fi genre, such as more diverse characters and more challenging and experimental storytelling and style compared to Hollywood filmmaking. He said a lot of independent filmmakers nowadays try to compete with Hollywood productions and mimic their style, but this misses the point of independent cinema.

Another cinematic trope “After We Leave” challenges is the quick turnaround of flawed characters, according to Hossain.

“In how many movies, there’s a flawed guy who radically changes and gets everything he wants? That just doesn’t feel right to me. I decided I was going to make a movie about a flawed guy, who’s trying, and maybe he changes a little,” Hossain said.

According to Hossain, the crew started shooting for the film December 2010. Because everyone on crew had day jobs, most of the filming was done at night and on weekends. After filming finished in 2015, Hossain started a Kickstarter campaign and gathered $18,618 to cover post-production costs. Blaise Hossain, Aleem’s younger brother and visual effects (VFX) supervisor for the film, said during filming, he gave Aleem directions on how to approach shots that would make later editing possible. He also said Aleem was tech-savvy, which made his job of adding visual effects easier.

“He knew very clearly what were the tropes to avoid, what were the absolute red lines not to cross, and more importantly, what were the things that he could do to more naturally create a good place for me to work with,” Blaise said.

Blaise said he created 80 shots with visual effects, which took him approximately 700 hours. According to Blaise, he created most of the visual effects in his home studio using Adobe After Effects.

Chanda Dancy composed and designed the sound effects for the film. Dancy said she knew Aleem Hossain since he was a graduate student at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Dancy said composing for a film is turning its emotions into sound waves. For “After We Leave”, the emotions she felt were longing, searching and melancholy. As a string player, Dancy said she used instruments such as violin, bass and guitar to create music that reflects the gradual emotional build-up in the film, which led to an apex toward the end.

According to Aleem Hossain, he will try to schedule a free-of-charge, public viewing of “After We Leave” in Thorne Hall for Fall 2020. Aleem said he is currently writing the script for a potential new film that draws on his own mixed-race identity.

“I’m wondering if I can tell a sci-fi or superhero story, where the identity of the character draws upon my own identity,” Aleem Hossain said.