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A Moment of Reflection with ‘The Queen of My Dreams’ Writer-Director Fawzia Mirza



A young Pakistani woman puts on her earrings.
Cineplex Pictures

NOW STREAMING ON:

The last six-ish months may have been a marathon for The Queen of My Dreams filmmaker, Fawzia Mirza, but, really, she’s just getting started. Beginning with a world premiere at TIFF back in September, the Canadian filmmaker (who uses she/they pronouns) worked the festival circuit thereafter, making a notable stop at BFI London Film Festival for the movie’s European premiere in October and, just last week, sharing the film at SXSW. “Got to do a panel — a sort of fireside chat — at The Muslim House,” Mirza says of their 24-hour stop at the Texas-based festival. “Had a taco, of course, as one must.”


Now, The Queen of My Dreams is playing in theatres across Canada, telling the globe-trotting journey of a young Pakistani-Canadian woman, Azra (Amrit Kaur), who flies to Karachi to join her mother Mariam (Nimra Bucha), and brother Zahid (Ali A. Kazmi) in the wake of her father Hassan’s (Hamza Haq) sudden death by heart attack. In addition to her grief, Azra must wrestle with her fraught relationship with her mom. Taking cues from Bollywood cinema, the film unravels two stories — one following Azra in the present and the other re-tracing Mariam’s journey from Pakistan to Canada in the past — ultimately highlighting how mother and daughter are more alike than they think.


The Asian Cut caught up with Mirza on the day of her movie’s theatrical release, and unexpectedly, though not at all unwelcome, the conversation turned into a deep reflection on art and intention, the rules we break as queer people precisely because we are queer, and what it means to be in the director’s chair.


This conversation has been edited for clarity.



TAC: It’s been a decade-plus-long journey to the big screen for The Queen of My Dreams. You made the short film version at a time when queer representation on-screen was just entering the mainstream, and now the feature arrives at a time when there’s more accessibility, flavours, and perspectives. Have you had a chance to sit and think about what this moment means to you, considering our collective history or maybe your own history as a person and an artist?


FM: I've been thinking a lot about what it means to make a movie, what it means to tell your story, what is a Canadian film — I've been thinking a lot about being authentic to who you are when you make your art. That's kind of where I'm at right now. But the thing that I do know is that there have been enough people at this point, who have come up to me and told me that it was like I was telling their story. 


I know that the mission that I centred [in the film] is right, meaning: I need to do this work and tell these stories and centre our communities, and we all need to [too]. It doesn’t matter what Hollywood puts out. “Are we at the centre?” is always the question, and, more often than not, we’re not. At a time when film festivals are struggling, when funding for films is struggling, when indie films are struggling with funding — now more than ever, we have to support indie films that centre our stories. For me, it means, queer, Muslim, South Asian women, gender-expansive people, trans people. People like that are who I want to see at the centre.


The Queen of My Dreams is an indie film, but it has such a huge scope to it. You’re traversing through time and space —


Literally!


— dancing with fantasy and reality, and operating within two national film industries. You’re sort of ticking all the boxes that a lot of first-time feature directors are told to avoid. As someone who has produced before, did you look at this and think, this is a big task? What was going through your mind?


What was going through my mind was just that we’re doing it and I was in it, and oftentimes, when you’re in it in this immersive way, you have to stay in the water. You can’t get out; otherwise, you’re forced to reflect on the impossibility of the task — and you can’t [do that]. Since the film has world-premiered, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the difficulty level, and, you’re right, now I understand why first-time feature directors make films that take place in a house, with three actors, in one city, in the same country. And it makes sense why: to really direct a film, whether you wrote it or not, you have to have the whole world in your mind.


I was fortunate enough to have three incredible producers — Marc Tetreault, Jason Levangie, and Andria Wilson Mirza — who believed in me enough, and were committed to me, to this story, to this vision, and to the need for this movie, that they were holding up parts that maybe I couldn’t. It was very much a Herculean task, and one that I wasn’t doing alone.



A young Pakistani couple lie on the hood of a car.
Cineplex Pictures


I want to go back to what you were saying about wondering what Canadian cinema is. Here, you’re also in Pakistan. What was it like to balance those two national identities in cinema?


Anything I’ve ever made has always been a very public conversation about my private struggle of coming to terms with my identities and self-love and self-acceptance. This film, in many ways, is no different. It’s an amalgamation of all the lessons I’ve learned about myself, my family, my community, and the world.


I didn't go into making this film thinking I had to balance the national identities. I have had to balance all of those identities in this body and in this world and in these communities, and had to reconcile these identities every day. I started coming out in 2006. I was a lawyer, and then I had to come out as an actor, and then I had to come out as a director who stopped acting. That balancing act is something that, I'd say as a queer person, has been inherent in my life for years. I came into this movie being very confident in who I already am, and I didn't come into this film, questioning if I could be these identities. If I made this film 10 years ago, it'd be very difficult.


You did a bunch of short films between The Queen of My Dreams short and the feature. Was doing those shorts sort of stepping stones towards gearing up for a feature?


I didn't start as a filmmaker — I was a lawyer — so the path has been so circuitous. And then I started as an actor in this world of artists. I never imagined directing, but then I also never imagined writing. I only started writing out of necessity because there weren’t roles depicting all of my identities in one character or centering our communities. Like Issa Rae: her first series that launched her into stardom was The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, and that was such a revelation in terms of how she just started doing it. 


I had this experience on a film, where I was working with a director, and we had very different visions of a project I wrote and was starring in — and that made me think that I should direct a short film. It wasn’t until I did the TIFF Writers’ Studio, with the script for The Queen of My Dreams, that all the writer-directors in there were like, “So, who’s directing your movie?” I said I was looking for a queer, Muslim, brown woman or non-binary person — just someone who really gets me. They were like, “The way you’re talking about your movie, you’re talking like a director.” I guess I was looking for me, so I decided to direct the film in March 2020. That decision changed my life because then I realised, “Okay, well, I have to direct other things.”

I made other short films before I made this feature, and it was so wild because, once I decided to direct, suddenly the information became clearer — my purpose became really clear. And I remember having a moment on the set of Queen of My Dreams in Pakistan, where I turned to my wife [producer Andria Wilson Mirza] and I was like, “This is what I was meant to do.” And I have so much to learn, and I have so [many] more ways to evolve as a filmmaker and storyteller.


That must be so exciting because, especially as queer people, we have to go through life redefining everything that’s expected of us because so many “rules” we are taught don’t apply to us. To hear you go from being a lawyer to all of these things, and now coming into your own here, and still excited to learn — that’s very inspiring.


It doesn't happen overnight. That evolution to wanting to infuse everything I do with love might be my truth and essence, but our essence is often polluted by our experiences and traumas and the world. To filter out the pollutants and connect, and reconnect, to my true self has been a journey, but I think part of my power and my self-love has come through sharing who I am very publicly. Whether it’s fearlessness or courage or stupidity or naïveté, it has helped me be this way and find this path.


The Queen of My Dreams is now playing in theatres.

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