Raising a ruckus: Q&A with Usman Riaz on his latest short film

Composer, multi-instrumentalist, visual artist, filmmaker – it seems there’s nothing Usman Riaz can’t do. He has recently publicly released a short film, Ruckus, named for a track from his album Circus in the Sky. But Ruckus is more than just a music video; it evokes and invites viewers into a particular mysterious time and space, while telling a story. We asked him to tell us about the film and what moves him to make so many different kinds of art.

Tell us about Ruckus. How did it come about? What gave you the idea?

Ruckus is something I have always wanted to do. The inspiration behind the piece was the musical STOMP. I have watched that show live more times than I can remember and always wanted to make something similar to that. They use normal objects to make beautiful polyrhythmic, percussive music. I always wanted to play harmonica over something like that, so I figured I could make my own stomp!

Can you give us a hint of the plotline?

The film revolves around a street urchin and his companion as they steal from an unsuspecting lady while she makes her way out of an abandoned train station. The result is nothing short of chaotic as the “ruckus” caused by these two thieves begins to affect everyone around them. I wanted to pay homage to Charlie Chaplin and Robin Hood with the pacing and characters. The tone of the film is open to interpretation.

Who are the actors/dancers in the film? What is the setting? It’s very atmospheric…

Along with directing the film, I also did the art direction for it, I knew exactly what kind of aesthetic I wanted. I knew the film would be black-and-white so I searched for locations what would look atmospheric and textured. I wanted it to also look ambiguous in its setting, it could be any era, really. I cast the actors myself. I auditioned stage actors because I knew their expressions would be a vital component to the film since it has no dialogue. They also needed to have a good sense of rhythm to actually look like they could be performing the piece. I had a lot of fun torturing them with the costumes and makeup, getting them to look as dirty as possible.

Is this the world premiere of the film on the internet? I understand it has been screened at various film festivals and SXSW this year?

I had uploaded it to YouTube prior to this, but chose to promote it through Vimeo because unfortunately YouTube has been banned in Pakistan (which I feel is completely ridiculous!) ,and Vimeo is a great way to share it universally with everyone. I am very grateful that the response to the film has been very positive.

You are an instrumentalist and a visual artist – what drives you to make short films as well?

I have always loved telling stories, and I feel that these shorts films are an amalgamation of everything it is that I do. It allows me to encompass music through the score, art in the art direction and aesthetic and finally storytelling through the visuals and characters.

Music, art and film are all like brushes and paint for an artist. Only when you combine all of them can you create a painting.

Do you have any other projects – film or otherwise – for us to look forward to?

I have recently completed my second musical short film entitled ‘The Waves’ that I have submitted to various film festivals. This film is based on a piano composition I wrote about the ocean and is about two marooned soldiers out at sea. Its a much darker piece of music and that reflects in the film.