Director Haya Waseem, a young Canadian filmmaker whose documentary work weaves elements of human relationships into a larger cinematic tapestry, has joined the roster of Variable. This marks Waseem’s first representation agreement for advertising and branded content in North America. Her signing was announced by Variable Executive Producer Alexander Friedman and Partner and Executive Producer Tyler Ginter.
Born in Pakistan and raised in Switzerland, Waseem emigrated to Canada when she was 16 and attended film school at Sheridan College. She was an editor before moving into writing and directing short films, and has edited most of her work to date. Her films often take a personal look at the merging of cultures and influences, and are particularly adept at revealing glimpses of how people feel about vital and highly personal aspects of their lives.
“We look at a lot of young directors, but Haya’s work really stood out,” says Fried-man. “The way she speaks about her work and her passion for filmmaking is genuinely inspiring. It made us very excited to start collaborating with her.”
Friedman says the Variable team was impressed with the thoughtfulness of Waseem’s stories: “She’s really trying to say something different, and isn’t trying to conform to what other filmmakers are doing. Rather, Haya has a clear, unique, socially conscious voice that’s shaped by her background and experiences. And that came through very clearly once we got a chance to meet her.”
Waseem has directed a number of short films that have screened at festivals around the world such as Cannes and Berlinale, and is a graduate of the Director’s Lab at the Canadian Film Centre, founded by the director Norman Jewison. Her work includes “Shahzad,” an introspective film about a young boy who arrives in Canada as an immigrant from Pakistan. Written, directed and edited by Waseem, it explores the boy’s relationships as he adjusts to his new life, both socially and at home. The film screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016 and is currently being developed as her debut feature film.
Waseem also shot a “Brand Canada” short for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. documenting the experiences of immigrants to Canada, both the newly arrived and those who’ve lived there for many years. Personal and probing, the film reveals the many small discoveries they made after arriving and settling in. “I remember when we landed at the airport, and the immigration officers were smiling,” says Vladimir, who emigrated from what was then Czechoslovakia over 30 years ago. “I thought, well, we can probably make it here.”
Starting off as an editor has been an asset to Waseem’s directing, particularly in terms of challenging traditional narrative structures and establishing a fluid pace to her storytelling, she explains. Her desire “to contribute more to the visual language, and to align all aspects of the craft in service of a singular vision,” motivated her to move into directing.
Variable has been on her radar for some time, and Waseem says the company has a clear vision of her path to success in the advertising arena. “They’ve been very precise in terms of guiding me in this new world of working with agencies and brands,” she notes. “They recognize what I have to offer, and in turn I’m eager to work with this strong, supportive team that understands the industry so well.”
Her path to production was somewhat unexpected, she says: “Growing up, I had no family members who took their artistic sensibilities beyond a hobby, but I was fortunate that my own creative pursuits were always celebrated and encouraged,” she recalls. “I’ve always had these interests, whether it was writing, music or performance. It wasn’t until college, however, that I fell in love with cinema and the documentary format. Through editing and crafting character-driven narratives, I realized the potential of sharing stories and the deep fulfillment this exchange brings.”
“I think Haya’s ability to edit her own work will help considerably in building her commercial reel,” notes Friedman. “It’ll also help in her ability to collaborate with the editors she’ll be working with in the commercial space. She also has a terrific sense of how music fits into a final piece, too – again, a result of her editorial background – and she carries that awareness with her into each project.”
“We feel Haya fits in perfectly with the Variable brand, and that anyone looking at her reel can see her visual and directorial skill come through in a way that translates easily to branded content and commercials,” adds Ginter. “She has all the ingredients to be a superb commercial director, with her eye for composition and lighting, her sense for directing talent, her empathy and her ability to weave key dramatic themes through the visual language of each piece.”
For Waseem, the chance to work on commercial and brand projects presents an ex-citing new opportunity. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with different brands and agencies and being inspired by the process,” she says. “I trust my talents and my intuitions; they’ve taken me to where I am today, and will lead me to where I’m supposed to go.”