KVIFF 2023: Naqqash Khalid’s ‘In Camera’ Starring Nabhaan Rizwan
by Alex Billington
July 9, 2023
A common question asked in many stories told throughout all of cinema history has been: how far will you go to achieve your dreams? What will you do to get there, what will you give up, what will it take? This one is yet another worthwhile cinematic creation that grapples with these kind of existential questions. One of the better discoveries at the 2023 Karlovy Vary Film Festival is a film titled In Camera, marking the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Naqqash Khalid. Written and directed by Khalid, the film is a world premiere in the festival’s Proxima Competition section. It’s a story about a budding actor living in London trying to get work and break into the world of acting in the British film and TV industry, but he continues to encounter problem after problem after problem. Mainly problems with racism or carelessness or typecasting and beyond. It’s frustrating – and as a viewer you’re rooting for him, but no matter what he tries, he always ends up back at home without making any real progress. There’s optimism in his perseverance and courage.
Khalid’s In Camera is clearly a very personal story. It’s always refreshing and encouraging to see someone share with us through cinema their own perspective and their unique experiences. It’s especially compelling to see how different these experiences are from my own as a white person, and that’s the point. The film is obviously about what it’s like to be non-white person in the UK and how hard it is to stand out and become something more than just the token person-of-color needed for some diversity role. The film appropriately and sharply critiques the acting industry, mainly about how casually careless and disinterested they are in every sense. Nabhaan Rizwan stars as Aden in In Camera, who’s constantly dehumanized and objectified by almost everyone he encounters – whether it’s trying to get acting jobs or just make his way around the city. In a desperate act for work, he takes a gig to “play” the role of a child who has died – the parents want someone to be there to help them work through their grief. He’s good at it, but it doesn’t go well in the end.
The filmmaking is the most impressive part of In Camera, it feels effortlessly fluid and natural. The footage is often bright and upbeat, playing against Aden’s consistently depressed and downbeat attitude. This is a delicate balance that works well. It’s an astute performance, because Aden doesn’t want to be this way, but as we follow him over the course of the film’s brisk 96 minutes you start to realize exactly why he can’t help being upset. Everything about this industry and this society is frustrating, and it’s not his fault. Not at all… There’s two additional storylines in the film that get in the way of Aden’s story, both about his roommates. One is a young doctor, played by Rory Fleck Byrne, who is overwhelmed and exhausted by the stress of his life at his hospital. The other is a hot-shot young guy in the fashion world, played by Amir El-Masry, who is friendly to Aden and wants to help him because he sees himself in Aden as well. Khalid spends too much time drifting into the doctor’s narrative, almost as if he wanted to also make a film about the NHS and how exhausted its workers are. But this film isn’t about that and it should’ve stay focused on Aden instead.
Nonetheless, I am quite intrigued by this film and I’m glad it exists, and above all I’m moved by Nabhaan Rizwan’s engrossing performance. He has so much to say without every saying it directly to the camera, it’s all found “in camera”, which could be one reason why this is the title. The film is more watchable than most of the indie films I see at festivals, with clever bits of levity that give it an edge. Even if the conclusion is a bit obvious, it’s still meaningful in its thought-provoking intent. Director Naqqash Khalid has described the film as “a fairytale about ambition, performance and identity” that is structured “like a concept album.” He intelligently and competently crafts a film that is about the experiences of a person of color, while also being about how hard it is to break into the entertainment industry and prove yourself. It’s clear Aden is talented, it’s clear he has the ability and tenacity to succeed as an actor, it’s just up to someone else to believe in him. Unfortunately waiting for that “someone” to come along and make a difference might not be worth the wait.
Alex’s KVIFF 2023 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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