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One Times One

About this film

It is not easy to leave one’s home. It is even more difficult to build a life in another country, a country that is, perhaps, very different of one’s own. Ahmad emigrated to the US from Syria but struggles to find his feet. His days are spent idling, waiting for job opportunities that rarely arise for him. One Times One tells the story of Ahmad and a curious, if at times ambiguous, companionship with Mike, a 50-something American who lost his arm in an accident and keeps himself busy by drawing cartoon characters. Chris Bell uses the same patience he has shown in his feature film The Wind That Scatters in order to dig deeper into Ahmad’s daily life and struggles. It’s an episode that plays out so many times in our world that it gets overlooked and forgotten, but Bell brings it back into light and makes us aware of this enforced idleness that puts our life on hold.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
The first question I’d like to ask you, Chris, concerns Ahmad. I find this very important because One Times One isn’t the only film of yours in which Ahmad takes centre stage. Can you tell us a little bit about him and how you got to know him?

I met Ahmad through Mohammad Dagman, another artist I frequently collaborate with. Ahmad is a really kind soul who came to New York from Syria a couple of years ago. Before the Syrian civil war got to where it is now, Ahmad would participate in demonstrations around the country against the Assad regime. He’d often read poetry at these demos, one of which I included in my feature The Winds That Scatter. Mohammad knew Ahmad through these actions, and when I asked Mo for recommendations, he brought me to Ahmad.

Where does the film has its roots? I believe you made this one after the feature film The Winds That Scatter?

It actually has its roots in The Winds That Scatter! The short was originally a plotline from the feature that I ultimately excised from the final film. It hurts to cut entire storylines, characters, and digressions, but it’s also something you have to do at the end of the day in order to have a more cohesive work.

The process of getting Winds finished and screened was pretty terrible. I guess this part of the filmmaking process always is – you’ve done about all you can do for the film and now you just have to beg people to watch it, promote it, screen it, etc. At this point in time there were other companies and people on the film that were trying to help it, but it ultimately didn’t work out and it was a real nightmare to live through that. It felt bureaucratic, hollow, and unfulfilling.

I lay in bed one night and I just thought to myself... what can I do to not go completely mad? And for some reason my head makes the decision that more filmmaking is the way to go. The Winds That Scatter was always rumbling around in my brain, and I couldn’t help but think of the footage on the cutting room floor -- that lead me to Mike, and I thought that maybe his section could stand on its own. So I tried it, and I’m happy that it did work. Better than I expected, at least. Because the scenes now stood compact on their own, the focus was stronger -- layers, parallels that I didn’t know were present started to reveal themselves.

What seems to be an underlying story strand in your film(s) is that Ahmad just cannot find a job, or nothing permanent in any case. His life is one of persistent waiting in a way.

Yeah, I mean, that’s probably what’s the most interesting part of being unemployed. Those in-between moments (waiting to hear from a job, waiting for the next day so you can look again, etc) when there’s really nothing you can do. I imagine this class-centric storytelling or capitalist critique will find its way into all of my films in some form or fashion. And... good!

Is this the reason why you have chosen a contemplative style for the film?

That’s just my house style! I’m most interested in quiet moments – there’s a unique humanity to them. When someone’s lost in thought or considering something, etc. These are things that we take for granted, but if you slow things down and focus on the minutia, they’re really beautiful and say a lot about someone… or about people in general. Everything moves too fast these days. We lose details, we overlook meaningful things. The contemplative style is a reaction to that.

In One Times One, you oppose two seemingly very different characters. Ahmad, an Arab, a Syrian refugee, and Mike, a white, bold and strong American. And yet, they’re not as different as it might look at first sight. I think that what brings them together, in a way, is that they have both lost something. Would you agree?

In a way, yes, and they’re also both lonely and can get on with each other well. At the same time, they’re both living and, to a degree, suffering under a capitalist system. There’s common ground there, and they don’t necessarily have to speak about it directly.

How much were Ahmad and Mike involved in the scripting and making of the film? Have they seen the final version

There was a script and we stuck to it, to a degree. Once we got to set, they tweaked lines and filled in the details of their characters. For example, I wrote that Mike drew, but Ahmad decided himself who he wanted Mike to draw. I wrote that they tell each other jokes, but they came up with their own.

Winds was too slow for Ahmad, so I’m not sure what he’d make of the short! Mike I haven’t heard from in awhile, but I did send him the film.

Are you currently working on a new project? Perhaps with Ahmad again? He seems to be your fetish actor, like Tsai Ming-liang and Lee Kang-shen.

Many projects! I have a couple of shorts that are traveling festivals as we speak, and I just wrapped on another one called “The Finger.” My next feature, “Incorrectional,” will hopefully premiere at some point in 2018.

I would love to work with Ahmad again! Last time I spoke to him he seemed interested but his work schedule is pretty hectic. Another condition is that I would like it if we wrote the script together from the ground-up. Hopefully in the future. I have a short film in my head about him and his son, and Ahmad mentioned shooting something in Turkey together. I’m not sure what will happen, but we’ll see.

Thank you very much for this interview.