Maya Bastian is a Tamil Canadian filmmaker, writer and artist. From 2008, she spent several years travelling the world as an investigative video journalist, documenting areas of conflict and post-conflict, which has culminated in an ongoing exploration of trauma as it relates to community and culture. As a director, she has won awards and exhibited her short films internationally, which run the gamut from narrative to documentary, to experimental animation. Her work has been shown in Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, UK, South Asia and across Canada. Her short hybrid film ‘Air Show’ received national press for its look at refugee reactions to militarized air shows, and has aired on CBC. She is currently in post-production on her short film ‘Tigress’ which looks at militant rebellions and the ways in which we rebel. Tigress was recently chosen to participate at Canada’s NSOT Program at Cannes 2021 Court Metrage . Maya’s work frequently explores post-conflict reconciliation and intergenerational trauma. In her spare time she works as a programmer and industry outreach for several Toronto-based film organizations as well as being a strong champion for filmmakers of colour by sitting on panels and teaching workshops with various organizations.
Tell us about your upbringing and how that sparked your love of film.
I’m the first born girl in a Tamil household — so things were very strict for me. I rebelled in every way I knew how, and eventually moved out of the family home as a teenager. I wasn’t allowed to pursue art in any way, my entire life was mapped out for me: go to university, become a lawyer, have an arranged marriage. I knew that wasn’t the life for me so I left. We were also raised far from any other Tamil people, in a small Ontario town. So I didn’t have any frame of reference of what other first-generation Tamil kids were experiencing.
My love of film did however come from my parents, we watched a lot of old movies growing up. My dad still plays a game with me where he asks me to identify the actors in old films. I also had a cousin move in with us when I was a pre-teen, she introduced me to more arthouse films, period pieces…lots of different types of films. It made me want to become an actor and I pursued that until my early twenties.
Can you share a bit about one of your experiences travelling around the world as an investigative video journalist documenting areas of conflict and post-conflict.
I was in Palestine when the pandemic hit, in March 2020. I wanted to go there because I felt that I couldn’t properly understand conflict and trauma if I didn’t go to the place where it seemed the most complex. I also see a commonality between what the Palestinian people are going through and what Eelam Tamils have endured. It was an incredible experience in all the ways. I visited refugee camps and spent time speaking with locals about the country situation. I was on a residency with Al Ma’Mal Foundation and I lived right in the old city of Jerusalem. Every day I would walk around for hours and meet people and have discussions — which always led to conversations about the situation there. I’ve never been anywhere else where the pressure felt so intense. It’s ingrained in daily life to such a degree that it’s almost imperceptible unless you have a very keen eye. For example, at the Damascus Gate tourists come from all over the world to attend the markets. But if you sit there and watch, you’ll see Israeli soldiers harassing Palestinians all day –searching them, detaining them. It’s not something I noticed until a Palestinian friend pointed it out. I think it’s taught me to look underneath and to think even more critically when I land in these places.
Tell us how you’ve used film to bring awareness to various social issues? The recurring themes in “Arrival Archives”, “Air Show” and “TIGRESS” are around the refugee/diaspora experience. Why is this particular theme or telling of these stories important for you?
I just feel that we don’t examine conflict and war with a critical lens. Media often portrays these issues as black and white, this side against that side — but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. What I have witnessed personally is that there are many grey areas, and I feel strongly that I want to shed light on that. We also haven’t seen enough representation of the diaspora experience here in the West. I spend a lot of time thinking about intergenerational trauma, because it affects me and so many others I know directly. It’s a nuanced issue and the layers run deep. I want to speak about the things that aren’t being spoken about, and that in itself is the recurrent theme in all of my films. What can we uncover? How can we further the narrative about these issues in a way that serves the lives of the people experiencing them?
Are you able to focus on filmmaking full-time? If so, how have you managed to do this? Or do you fill in the gaps with other job/projects that are income-generating that are related to filmmaking?
Well it’s been a long time in the making, but I am finally fully invested in a career in the arts. I make films, I make art and attend residencies, I teach film and run BIPOC workshops like the X-Wave series and the Creators of Colour Incubator. I’m trying my best to balance out earning with learning and getting with giving. I’m 42, and I started this career path when I was 20. So it’s taken a very long time and a lot of it was working hard, not giving up and not being afraid to ask people for help. I did a lot of odd jobs for the last 20 years, but I’ve developed enough of a reputation now that it is sustaining me. Thank God! I don’t know what I would be doing otherwise 🙂
How do you leverage social media to help you in your filmmaking career?
I’m a full believer of using social media to promote yourself. It works! People want to know what you’re up to, and you can also connect with likeminded artists on there and build a great network. My film Air Show got a lot of press because of a tweet I responded to on Twitter. I’ve gotten work from both Twitter and Instagram. I’m very active on there, I look for opportunities and for interesting people that I want to connect with. It’s an amazing networking tool — especially in Covid times. But also, I don’t think I would be anywhere without a solid website showcasing my work. When I connect with people it leads them to my site….and honestly that site has made a big difference in my career.