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Interview: Edmonton Rebirth Fim Festival

The first ever Edmonton Rebirth Film Festival takes place on Sunday, June 9th at the Garneau Theatre. The festival will feature short films from a myriad of local artists and creators, including the debut of a two-part short film by Ejazz Allibhai in conjunction with his upcoming album. Learn more about the festival below, and buy tickets here.

Ejazz, who set up the festival, made some time to sit down and chat about the project, Edmonton's scene, and Chinatown revitalization.

Interview conducted and edited by Devon Acuña.


To begin with, what is the Edmonton Rebirth Film Festival?

It started off as me wanting to premiere a short film that I've been working on for the last two-plus years. That was kind of how it started: I wanted to showcase my film at the theatre, and it's a 15 minute project, so that's not really the most enticing. I just thought maybe I should get other people involved, and that idea kind of blossomed into calling it Edmonton Rebirth Film Festival.

My [upcoming album] is called Rebirth. The reason why I decided to call it that is because I do really think that Edmonton is in a similar phase of its life and history right now, in a lot of different ways. And I think that even goes down to individuals. I knew when making this project that one more universal way it might connect with people is [that it discusses] the amount of disconnection from oneself people started to feel during the pandemic. And it feels like this year there's a different energy around, people are, in a lot of different ways, coming out of the shell. Or the process up until now has been coming back out of the shell, and I'm starting to feel people out of their shell. But I think this year in particular for Edmonton is a quite important year, a quite pivotal year for its growth and direction. I think that there's a lot of change, whether it's due to specifically infrastructure development or just resources and funds allocation. From my limited understanding, it seems like it's a big year for direction, and so that's why I decided to call it Edmonton Rebirth Film Festival: to be a part of that wave, to give light to that wave, and to feature some people that I think deserve to be acknowledged as a part of that.

Who else is taking part in the festival?

I should say, before I continue, these are film projects: It's not specifically about the artist in particular, even though a lot of the films being showcased are music videos. This event is to highlight them, plus the team and the whole video production. Just for simplicity’s sake, because most of them are music-related, [the artists being showcased are]: Nick Lange, Conch, Tariiiq, Mitchell Lawler, Our Good Wolf, William Blue - those are all musically related music videos - and then there's one project called A Portrait of Chinatown: Episode One by Jordan Hon, and that's a docu-series type project. There's a big initiative this year for Chinatown revitalization, and this is a very great film project talking about rebirth, revitalization, things like that.

There's so many things I want to showcase, there's so many other people who deserve the title of “Edmonton arts hustler”, “contributor”, whatever the word you want to use is. I squeezed in as many people as I could. I have a two-hour window for the theatre, and it's gonna be like 119 minutes.

I've heard a couple people say lately that it's almost useless to have a full length music video. You need 10 seconds to put on Tik Tok that are gonna look good, right?

Yeah, it's discouraging for people that want to wear the art hat first, not the business hat first. That's a dichotomy that I always find annoying personally. I'm getting better at wearing the business or marketing hat, but it's never the preference. I spent the last couple years making a short film, and it may or may not do anything for my career, but I guess the degree is up to the universe, right? That's what was coming from the artistic ether. It's bigger than just marketing, this is for my growth, my expression.

It's tough, you want to keep in mind the marketing, how you want to get yourself out there. You want people to think it's good and find middle grounds, like have a big project, but then learn how to make snippets of it to share, instead of just only making snippets in particular.

At the Rebirth Film Festival, I am not doing a no phones policy or anything like that. For comedy shows that do that, I get it, and I think it's kind of cool, but for this, the people who have their projects involved, the fact that their stuff is on a big screen can be now shared on social media and whatnot.

Did you have a team that you worked with, or did you plan this yourself?

I just planned it myself. There's been a few people that have helped me in various ways, though. Like when thinking about what ticket prices should be, I conferred with a couple friends, or coming up with the name Edmonton Rebirth Film Festival with my friend Colin Campbell. He's a dope figure in the scene, and is very much so on the Edmonton growth train. I was having coffee with him, and then the name came about into my brain.

I thought it was kind of cool too, because at the end of the day, what I am doing is for the city, but it's not funded or sponsored by the city. Some people were like “well, can you call it Edmonton Rebirth?” I mean, why not, you know? And that kind of empowered me a little bit. The city does great things and then sometimes maybe questionable things, depending on your perspective, so it's nice to feel like I am doing something that I feel like is in a positive trajectory for the city.

I didn't see a call for submissions or anything, is this just people that you already fucked with?

Yeah. I'm not thinking too much about next year or doing it again, I'm trying to just treat it like this is the one and only. And should the stars line up for me to do something like this again, I love hosting events and putting people on. Maybe if I were to do it again, the theme could be different, because this year it's pretty much all music videos, there's not a single animated production, for example. So the focus next year could be "animated" or something, but I’m not trying to think too much about that.

It was more like "I have a project to showcase, and I know these various people or projects that deserve some light," and so that's kind of how that came to be. If I were to do it again, I think then maybe [I would take submissions], and especially if there was some awareness that I put on this kind of event, maybe people would be inclined to submit. But this time, it wasn't a submission process or anything.

Did your video start as a music video, or was it always going to be more of a film project?

Kind of yes to both. I guess I knew I wanted it to be more than just a music video that was the length of the song, but the scale I didn't quite have at that time. The film is 15 minutes and the song is 2 minutes and 26 seconds, so it kind of became not a music video, per se, but more of a short film including this song.

It's funny because it wasn't even until about 40 hours into the editing, after filming and all that, where I came up with a totally different idea for the structure, and I split the music video into two. I was just gonna do a not-music-video, a music video, and then [another] not-music-video. But then I split it into two halves. I didn't plan that from the beginning at all. The idea just kind of came to me when I was editing and I was like, “Yep, this is it.”

Did the idea for the festival come when you were deciding to make the video longer, like, “I need to showcase this somewhere?”

If I'm being completely real, I don't exactly remember. I think it was when I finally inserted the last scene, because that's when I got a sense of its togetherness. It wasn't done yet, but the concept was all laid out, the story was all there for the most part. I finally did the last scene and then I watched it at the state that it was at, front to back, and then I was like, “Man, I'm sick.” I was like, “I'm a genius.” I need to be real. That's just the thought that I had. I think that's when I first had the idea.

You know what? It probably wasn't even that. I didn't really show too many people the project, especially during the process, but I did show my friend Colin that was helping me with some of the planning. He told me “Oh, man, this is gonna do so well at film festivals. You're submitting, right?” I was like, “Yeah, sure.” I didn't even think about it too much. I was just focusing on making it.

Sounds like a genius piece of art.

I really try to be a humble and wise person, but on the flip side of the same coin, my goal from the beginning was to make a masterpiece. It was, and it still is, for my EP, because there's an EP surrounding it that'll hopefully come out no later than next spring. But it's the same thing for that and the short film, the idea I had from the very beginning was quite grand, and my goal was to make a masterpiece. I didn't want to stop until I felt like it was that. And I feel personally like I succeeded there.

On the side of saying that I feel like a genius, but trying to be humble about it: in my project, one thing I mentioned is that I think we all have a genius inside. There's a second half to that, and I’m debating if it's better to [include] because it'd be cooler to see what the second half of that is at the screening. At the same time, the project's not gonna be released for a while still. I'll say this: in the film, I do say I think we all have a genius inside of us.

Tell me more about the Chinatown one.

So that one is on YouTube. Jordan Han, the main guy behind that, has ties to Chinatown through his family and culture and upbringing and whatnot. He kind of talked a little bit about the creation of a Chinatown, starting all the way back, what they tend to mean for cultures, communities, cities, and whatnot. And some of his personal relations with it, with his parents, their personal relations, and then how people see it, how people want to see it. It's just very informative and inspiring and encouraging. There's so many things going on right now regarding Chinatown. I really thought about wanting to have even more documentary style things presented there that are about issues that also kind of present themselves in Edmonton culture or Canadian culture.

I wanted to make sure to include one thing that was kind of on that note. I do think that these are tough times, but there's a lot of things that are in the public light right now already, regardless of my doing, and I felt like people also deserve a chance to showcase their art. I don't know how to explain it that well, to be honest. I wanted to make sure to include something along [the lines of the documentary], but not have the whole event be like an educational seminar or something. I want it to be a place to feel relaxed, intrigued, inspired, inquisitive.

I don't think most film festivals show music videos. So much work goes into music videos and I feel like a lot of the dopest music videos are made by people who don't have a lot of accolades outside of knowing dope artists, etc. Just skilled people who aren't gonna be making experimental films that are gonna get awards, but they made a dope music video and might not get recognized for that.

My friend Jevon Icarus put it really well - he actually is the guy who helped me design the flyer. He’s a super dope artist and one of the most, if not the most, art-minded guy I've ever met. He said to me, “all music videos are short films, if you think about it.” That's kind of why I'm not calling it a short film festival, even though they’re all short.

As for the Chinatown initiative, though, I just wanted to also mention that, that weekend, there's a block party going on in Chinatown put on by a Vietnamese sub restaurant called Van Loc. It's a free-to-attend event, and they have stages with artists, dancers, and vendors. Its mission statement is to raise awareness and raise vibrations and energy levels for the Chinatown area, because that restaurant’s in Chinatown as well, and it's just a signifier of the overall bigger initiative.

That’s put on by two guys named Will and Wilson. And then there's another guy named Brandon Cha, aka Busyrawk. He's a B-boy, but also a DJ and now an amazing muralist. A super multi-talented, Hip-Hop roots, fundamental, well-versed individual who also has a Korean background. And he has a big project going on where he's designing four murals in Chinatown this year, and they're dope and massive, and I believe he's starting one right now. Each of them have four mythological, legendary spirits that represent each direction, and they're all facing the direction they represent, like guardians of Chinatown. I just got goosebumps even just saying it out loud, I'm so stoked for his project [said in response to me gushing about how cool that sounds].

Yeah. So I knew about those things, and then I saw the Jordan Hon video and I was like, “I feel like I gotta reach out and put this in the festival.” It just feels perfect right now.

This interview took place on Treaty 6 territory.

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