Filmmaker Spotlight: Saleem Reshamwala

Saleem Reshamwala is the director and editor of “North Cack,” a long-take video for hip-hop artist G Yamazawa- ft. J Gunn and Kane Smego. We had the pleasure of asking Saleem what inspired his filmmaking journey and how his Asian American heritage influences his work.

Image Credit: Saleem Reshamwala

Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month!

Saleem Reshamwala:North Cack” is a strange looping long-take music video for hip-hop artist G Yamazawa- ft. J Gunn and Kane Smego. With it’s shoutouts to barbecue sauce, cole slaw and clean air, the song has become a sort of North Carolina anthem, and we shot the music video with a surreal NC vibe. G moved to L.A. years ago, but he’s from Durham, NC. My parents are from India and Japan, and I was just intrigued that there was a really good Japanese-American rapper from the middle of North Carolina, so I reached out. The first real project we did together was a music video for his song “Dining Room”, a story about him growing up in his parents’ Japanese restaurant, and we’ve worked on projects on-and-off when he’s been back in town ever since then.”North Cack” is the one that really took off.

How did you get into filmmaking?

SR: On November 11th, 2011, I turned 33, which was a quirky numerical coincidence, and I felt like I should do something with it. So I decided to try to make 33 videos in a year. Started out as me doing solo projects, but evolved into music videos, short documentaries, and other collaborative projects. And that’s the project that leads me to work on videos full time. Before that, my background was largely writing and graphic design. I’d done some little video experiments, but nothing serious. But while living in Japan, I ended up rooming with a great filmmaker named Jason Ho, and I did a lot of writing for him. That was also a huge part of how I began learning about film, from the writing side.

What are some films and/or filmmakers that have inspired you?

SR: I’ve always loved Michel Gondry, both his films hit an emotional core, but use all kinds of strange practical special effects along the way, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind“. There’s a Japanese movie called “Fish Story” by Yoshihiro Nakamura that has a few interlocking border-line-absurd storylines that all come together beautifully, and I’ve always wanted to try to write like that. It’s one of my favorites, and I hope to pull something like that off some day. Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” blew me away in its fearless strangeness. Reading a few Edgar Wright scripts a couple years ago definitely made my writing punchier. Been watching a bunch of Wong Kar Wai lately:
Chungking Express” and it makes me want to shoot everything more beautifully. And I’ve got to say that seeing “Sorry to Bother You” a couple weeks ago feels like it freed my mind up in all kinds of great ways.

Image Credit: Saleem Reshamwala

Do you have a favorite Asian American film?

SR: Picking favorites is hard, so I’ll just name a few recent things that have stuck in my mind lately. I saw a short a little while ago called “Float” by directors Voleak Sip and Tristan Seniuk, and though I know nothing about the Seattle scene it takes place in, it had a beautiful mood and hung on strange shots for awhile in a way that I really liked. And while it’s not a particular film, all the work by the Daniel Kwan along with his fellow Daniel collaborator Daniel Scheinert makes me feel happy and strange.

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

SR: Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s as a Muslim kid with a very mixed-race background in the suburban South, you kind of had to figure out how to work all kinds of situations where you’re going to stand out. I knew hardly any Asian Americans, and people around me didn’t know how to place Asian Americans. You had to find your own path. For me, it was often just letting myself be a quirky kid, trying to have fun with the weirdness. Also, when no one knows where to put you — you can kind of hang out with everyone. So you learn a lot about people. And getting to bounce to Bombay as a child for weeks at a time, and being an outsider-insider there, and getting to stay in Bhindi Bazaar and witness all that chaos, well, that helped a lot with filling my head with stories.

What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?

SR: Really strong! It really feels like we’re in a moment. Crazy geniuses like Hiro Murai are crossing borders and he’s an example of how the line between cinema and not-cinema is pretty hard to draw- large parts of  Atlanta,  and it seems weird to not classify “This is America” as a short film, and there are some clear large-scale mainstream breakthroughs being released this year. There’s still a long way to go, but it seems hard to deny that there’s a shift happening.

What’s next for you?

SR: I’ve been working on a feature film script, and I’m in the process of rewriting it and figuring out next steps. I can tell you it’s got lots of rollerskates, live music, and samosas. And G and I are co-directing a music video that’s coming out in a couple months. It’s going to be more surreal than the last.

Image Credit: Saleem Reshamwala

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Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Saleem Reshamwala! Watch the “North Cack” on the X1 Asian American destination or with Xfinity Stream this August.

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For more Filmmaker Spotlights or Asian American news and entertainment visit Xfinity Asian American.