Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis
Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis are the co-directors of Generation Revolution, a feature-length documentary about BAME activists who are changing the social and political landscape.
Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis. Photo by Paul Marc Mitchell www.paulmarcmitchell.photography
What’s your connection to the British Council?
Usayd: We are travelling to the US to screen our feature documentary Generation Revolution (see all dates here). The British Council are supporting us on our trip there, which we are so excited about.
What are you working on right now?
Cassie: That would be telling! We have a really exciting new project that we are actually shooting a few bits for now. What I can say is that as filmmakers we like to challenge the representations of people of colour in film, so it will have at least that in common with Generation Revolution. Keep your eyes peeled.
What/who originally turned you onto film?
Cassie: As a child I was always fascinated by music. I spent a lot of time making hip-hop beats in my youth, then I started getting into photography and visual storytelling. Film kind of came organically out of those interests because it’s a medium that pulls together all of the other art forms.
What has been your career high so far?
Usayd: Probably seeing and hearing Generation Revolution on a huge curved screen at Picturehouse Central and realising that it actually looks beautiful. When you’re so busy being involved in every single element of making your film and getting it out there it’s surprisingly easy to miss!
Cassie: Hearing people who’ve seen the film talk about how it has affected them and encouraged them to get involved in some form of activism. Generation Revolution was always about inspiring people and changing minds and it’s always good to hear that you’ve been successful.
What was your first job in the film industry?
Cassie: I started out as an office manager’s assistant in an agency, then helping agents out with bits and bobs. It was good fun but I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be deep in the creative process not just facilitating it.
Usayd: I worked for a production company a few years ago. It’s one of those experiences where you really just shouldn’t get me started. It did make me sure that the independent route was the way for me though!
What's a key piece of advice you’d give to someone starting off in filmmaking?
Usayd: That the technical ability to make a film (shooting, editing, etc) is just a fraction of the process of filmmaking, and probably not the most important one! Just know what you’re committing to. Film is a difficult thing to break into and the reason, beyond the industry massively favouring of overprivileged white people, is because it is so much hard work.
What is your favourite British film?
Usayd: The Wind that Shakes the Barley. Yes - slight tongue-in-cheek (if you know what the film is about you’ll know why). But I did really love that film, and when I saw it I was so happy to discover that there was a British director (Ken Loach) making such critical films that weren’t siloed away from the industry.
Cassie: There are so many British favourites but I’ll go for a modern one. Does Ex Machina count? A sci-fi film about AI could have gone very silly but I really enjoyed how tight and restrained it was. In a strange way I felt that it had carried forward some of the ethos of the Dogme 95 folks. Do away with all the artifice, just give us a compelling human story. It’s really amazing to see Alex Garland step up from being an author to screenwriter to director. I think that his style is pretty singular and I look forward to seeing more from him.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
Cassie: Selma! There were so many ways that you could have made a film about Martin Luther King - the event and the pacing were perfect. Again, I’m really excited to see where she [Ava DuVernay] goes next.
What’s the first film you remember seeing?
Cassie: The Little Mermaid. Apparently I used to watch it all the time. I really connected with Sebastian the crab even though he had a pretty dodgy West Indian accent.
What’s your favourite line or scene from a film?
Usayd: The ‘bathtub scene’ in Scarface is fantastic. It has the perfect mix of political and witty dialogue, excellent framing and character development of Tony Montana. I might just be saying this because we used to mimic the line “Get out of the way of the television” when we were younger.
Cassie: The scene in Mo' Better Blues where Shadow (Wesley Snipes) and Bleek (Denzel Washington) are arguing about jazz and the fact that people don’t come to support black jazz artists. I think Shadow says something along the lines of “You grandiose M*F*s don’t play the s**t that they like, if you played the s**t that they like then they would come” I think that it’s a meta commentary about black arts in general but also interestingly about Spike Lee’s oeuvre. It’s the La La Land before La La Land - way more interesting if you ask me.
Favourite screen kiss?
Usayd: My parents would cover my eyes when there would be any sort of intimacy in a film, so I wouldn’t know any good on screen kisses. Kissing is haram!
Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain?
Cassie: Small screen but Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) in Luke Cage was probably one of the best villains on any screen. It really felt like he was more of the attraction of Luke Cage than Luke Cage himself. He was a well defined character who actually had beliefs, dreams and values despite his villainy.
Who would play you in the film about your life?
Cassie: Michael B. Jordan. It looks like he’s a bit booked up right now though - probably Malachi Kirby then.