An Interview with Awais Butt
As part of their final year, Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) BSc Digital Media & Communications students must embark on a creative and informative dissertation in the style of a documentary. Humanity Hallows caught up with Awais Butt the day he got his dissertation results. Though a little nervous about the remaining assignments and exams approaching (and to be honest, which final year student isn’t feeling the pressure at this time of year?), Awais is confident and instantly likeable. He seems to be a natural storyteller,
slipping from question to question with a story to tell about each and every person he encountered during the making of his documentary.
Humanity Hallows: So, Awais, could you tell us a little about your documentary?
Awais Butt: My dissertation was originally going to be about the partition of Pakistan and India, but because [the] partition was so complex, I couldn’t meet [my] aims and objectives. I decided to do a bit of research into what happened after the partition and what effects the partition had on the citizens of Pakistan and India. What I found was that after the Second World War and the partition there were not many job opportunities in Pakistan and India, so a lot of people came over to the UK. After doing my research, I realised why people came over and why the government here were so lenient on that happening, [this was] because they needed labour workers. I decided to find out places in the UK where people migrated to, and I [found] that Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Bradford, Leeds and Liverpool were the main places. [This is] because they all had factories and mills. Because these were all up north, I decided [to] go down to London to find out why people didn’t move down there. What [some] people were doing was, after making a bit of money, they’d move to London and then, basically, stop. They wouldn’t move, they wouldn’t go either up or down, and people up north were making a lot more money.
HH: Were there any particular challenges you faced when making the documentary?
AB: Making the documentary was [challenging], doing the research wasn’t as hard. [The research] was just meeting people and asking people what was word of mouth. What I found really hard was finding women to get involved, which you can probably see. Luckily, I found some [women]. One woman I found is an MBE for working with women in the Rochdale community that don’t speak English. I met her, and thought it would just be her, but I turned up at her house and there were loads of women sat knitting. Those women were good, because they all had different stories.
I wanted to interview [people] first, find out what they had to say, and then put them in the documentary, [because] a lot of people had opinions that would have offended other people, or they would have personal stories that would upset [them] so much that they didn’t want it on film. I then had the problem of the caste. What I found was that even in the UK there still is a caste [problem]. In the Asian community, people still look down [on] other people because they’re from a different caste, but we’re living in a western world. I couldn’t have made a documentary that would offend people about caste.
HH: What do you feel you have learnt from your experience of filming this documentary?
AB: I [had] wanted to go into teaching, but I’ve decided to do something like this in the media sector, but something else I’ve thought about doing is working with people that don’t speak English. What I’ve realised is that especially here, if you put something into the community they’ll give it back to you. Manchester is that kind of place, where if you put something into it, you will definitely get something out of it.
HH: What do you hope your documentary itself might achieve?
AB: After one of my tutors told me to get in touch with the BBC, I contacted them a couple of weeks ago. BBC Three is moving solely online and it’s going to be called BBC Fresh. They’ve taken a look and told me to cut [my documentary] down to 10 minutes and they will air it online. It should be up by the end of May.
HH: That’s fantastic! Are you pleased about that?
AB: I am really pleased about it!
HH: What’s next for you?
AB: The day I graduate I’m going to Pakistan, and my for my next documentary I’ve got three ideas that I’m going to go film there; this is an ongoing thing now. Next is going to be corruption in Pakistan, or it’s going to be about the different cultures in Pakistan. In Pakistan when you move from one place to the another the accent changes, but also the way you dress, the way you are, all changes too. I’d like to go around different places in Pakistan with a video and see different cultures and meet different people.
HH: So have you got the taste for documentary making now?
AB: Yeah, but not just filmmaking, meeting different people too, you learn so much, and it makes you appreciate things so much more. Meeting people that had been through a struggle helped me get through my dissertation. Our media shows all of the corruption, but it never shows the detail. Al Jazeera news shows every single thing that happens. But yeah, documentary making is the one. Especially the documentaries that make a difference, not just random documentaries, ones that have a bit of story behind them that you can relate to, they’re the ones that make a difference.
HH: Finally, what’s the response been like from your documentary?
AB: It’s been really good. To be honest, I didn’t take any of it into account [at first] because I knew my mum and dad would be biased, I knew everyone who had been part of it would be biased. [It was] only when Kaye Tew and Claudia Conerney messaged me to tell me they thought it was good that I took their feedback [into account].
Speaking with Awais it’s clear that he’s found something he’s passionate about, and something that he can pursue when he leaves University this summer.
With the prospect of a BBC showcase of his documentary, and another two projects in the pipeline, perhaps we’re seeing the start of a new talent on the scene?