Rakan Aksoy literally learned the craft of documentary filmmaking on his father’s knee.
The Saudi-Turkish 27-year-old has a passion about filmmaking in a country that does not always make it easy for filmmakers to practice their craft. Undaunted, Aksoy plunged into the field as a protégé of his father, Omar Faruk Aksoy, a documentary filmmaker for National Geographic and director of photography at the Sand Dunes studio.
Aksoy started his journey when he was a full-time student studying management information systems at the College of Business Administration. He grew up learning how to dedicate himself in filmmaking by reading movie books and watching YouTube videos to improve his skills.
He took baby steps starting at the age of 15, working as his father’s assistant carrying bags and accompanying him on different international cruises.
He was intrigued with the field, but still thought of it as too restrictive since they were bound to deliver a specific message to the audience.
“What I did was that I got myself a computer and started editing films for my dad that ended up providing me with experience, which little by little led me to making my own short films,” Aksoy said.
Subsequently, he started working as an assistant for editing small documentaries.
“The first documentary I got to work with and edit was for “Albir Society Jeddah,” he said.
Later he participated in different projects. Aksoy became an assistant director, participating with Cosmic Pictures to work on a project about Haj.
“It was a big project, different from what I used to do,” Aksoy said. “The company hired a lot of people, including freelancers. Most of them were brought from LA (Los Angeles), California, and other international places, and who were all Muslims so that they’d be able to go into the Haram and take shots. It was fun working with them.”
Aksoy said he developed a filmic visual style while watching movies and documentaries. His mind was already editing the film.
“I think of where the structures should be and I understand what a final result should look like,” Aksoy said, “Some things are hard to see in reality.
You have to go out there to explore and capture them before they disappear.”
Aksoy had been working independently until 2008 when he met Hasan Hatrash, who is a director and cinematographer and member of the International Documentary Association (IDA).
Hatrash participated in several documentaries for the BBC and other international video.
They have since worked on many films together. In June they co-founded the Pixel Factory, a production company with Waleed Al-Alawi and Hanaa Al-Fasi. Hatrash said he would like to see a professional organization of critics. “Digital tech has become available, and everyone’s trying to film and be a photographer,” Hatrash said.
“I think it’s great, only we don’t have any critics to criticize to (help) develop the work professionally. We need criticism in order to become better.”
One of the challenges the filmmakers face is having to deal with unprofessional productions in Saudi Arabia, such as uneven quality in sound and lighting.
This led him to dedicate himself in sound producing. He believes working with internationally professional people will instill a sense of professionalism in his work.
One of the Pixel Factory’s early films was the “The Ship Maker,” which is clearly a favorite of Aksoy.
“Our goal was to make a short documentary about the old man, but it became more of a human story that talked about work and its importance to our lives.”
The film’s affectionate portrait of a man engaging in the long lost art of shipbuilding by hand appeals to Aksoy’s sense of humanity.
“I got into filmmaking because I thought of social aspect change. You want to address some issues and talk about it so people can move forward.” Since the filmmaking industry in Saudi Arabia sometimes causes conflicts, the filmmaker’s best way to make a film is to tiptoe around the sensitive subjects.
“If we wanted to talk about the issues of women driving, we would talk about drivers in general,” he said with a laugh.
Aksoy also participated in making the YouTube hit “Abaleeso,” a story about a devil speaking of his sins.
The challenge for the Pixel Factory was dealing with a script not fully written while they were shooting.
“The sun was coming down, we had to finish before the sunset,” Aksoy said, “The team and I then took an advantage of that and decided the beginning of the episode would be brighter and darkens in the end, so it’d give the feeling of weird surrealistic way that gives you a creepy feeling of the scene that’s more isolated and focuses more on the character.”
Aksoy said that storytelling and how the film proceeds during filming often changes during the day.
“Sometimes the result would be even better than what we originally had in mind,” he said.
If the crew faced a problem, they would think, “How can we work around that?” he added.
Aksoy is currently working with a small independent film company in Gothenburg, Sweden. It will be focus on minority and cultural issues such as Muslim life in Sweden.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many Muslims are living in Sweden, that’s the message I’m trying to send through the upcoming film.”