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Q&A with T A P E Collective’s Isra Al Kassi

Monday 23 October 2023, by Reem I-T

Reem spoke to Isra Al Kassi, Co-founder & Co-director of London-based outfit T A P E Collective. The Collective is mostly known for curating screenings and events with a particular focus on representation, identity and heritage. They have partnered up with a number of festivals, most recently the BFI London Film Festival.

What was the instigating factor that led you to found T A P E Collective?

Angela and I were part of the Young Barbican Programmers, which launched its first cohort around ten years ago. We connected immediately, and would spend our commute together dreaming up a T A P E space, ethos and cinema. We didn’t intend for T A P E to be a business, or an organisation as such, but we had ideas of how to do this things differently as curators. We wanted to prioritise exciting storytelling and the ’could-be-cult-classics’ which may have had a short festival run but disappeared before coming to UK screens. This was the driving force and we were ready to be as makeshift as needed, working in alternative spaces, with undistributed films and borrowed screening equipment. Money is always a hurdle, and what I always try to remind people of is that someone has to cover the costs. We’ve learnt that that might come in the form of partnership support, in kind support, or ticket sales.

T A P E Collective founders Isra and Angela

How did you form your team and reach out to partners?

It was Angie and me for a long time, and we’ve always had collaborators that were part of the T A P E extended family. It was about connecting with likeminded people who wanted the same thing: curating exciting events and connecting with an audience on a grassroot level. This commitment still has a strong presence in our collaborations now. We prioritise transparency and a supportive work environment. I have a pretty fearless approach to reaching out to partners. Ultimately, if I’m aware of a project or event which I think would work well with T A P E, I like to reach out to see if there’s any scope for collaboration. We’re mindful about not thinking that we are alone in our work, and are aware of the incredible talent out there in the form of writers, curators, filmmakers, designers and more, and we think it’s always more impactful to collaborate than to try to compete.

Were you inspired by other organisations or artists? Did you have specific influences?

Bechdel Test Fest were inspiring with their work of being very focused on their intention, while being creative in their event programming. We didn’t have any other collectives or curators in mind but were always inspired by the filmmakers and artists we met.

How do you keep the momentum going? In terms of creativity, motivation, funding...

We’ve tried to figure this out, but to be honest there’s no rhyme or reason to our resilience. We just love T A P E so much, and at the beginning, with full time jobs and other commitments, T A P E was running on passion and little sleep. Not much has changed in terms of what drives us, but there is a different momentum now, and we think of the people who rely on us and our practice that keep us going. Creativity comes in different ways, and we never try to force it but instead welcome it in through different means. We also have loads of ideas, which have been on the backburner for a bit, and it’s about recognising when the time is right and not attempt something, which we don’t have the capacity to deliver. We try to plan our funding as much as possible in advance, it’s about knowing which grants work with what we do and letting go of those which come at a bad time, or which would see us adjusting our work too much to fit the eligibility criteria.

What do you feel have been your greatest achievements as a collective?

Our greatest achievement is that we’re still standing. We took our time to grow, and we are ready to scale up or down to ensure a sustainable future for T A P E. I’d like to think that even if we had no events for 6 months, T A P E would still stand with a rich archive and material to keep its presence clear, so it’s not something that needs us to be active and busy all the time (although T A P E is).

How do you feel about the UK film industry today? What would you say are the most promising initiatives and trends, if any!

I have far too many hot takes about the film industry to fit into one answer but the best I can do is that "it’s complicated". I have a lot of love for UK cinema, but I also think there are small and easy fixes we could implement as an industry to make the playing field fairer. I think a lot of that work continues to be done by grassroot organisations, or community groups that work outside official institutions but have figured out ways to work with bigger organisations for the sake of their audience and collaborators. Baesianz, We Are Parable, MENA Arts UK, SPACE, Skin Deep, Queer East, Other Cinemas, Invisible Women, Other Parties, Cinenova are just a few to mention.

How have you found collaborating with international filmmakers and institutions? Would you like to expand TAPE’s remit to outside the UK?

We have dabbled with international events and a presence, starting off with attending international festivals and it’s definitely something we’d like to grow and continue! It’s been an absolute pleasure to distribute the work of international filmmakers like Isabel Sandoval, Miryam Charles and Shamira Raphaela. It comes down to whether or not it feels right, and if we feel we’re the right people for a certain project.

What would you say are your ambitions for the near future?

We want to do it all. That dream of a T A P E space remains, we’d love to run an all-encompassing community art space to serve as a hub for our curation, collaboration, production and more.

What are your cinematic "coups de coeur" from this past year?

Shabu UK release.

Best bit of advice you have for emerging film collectives?

If you have to force it then it’s not worth it. This is in particular when it comes to partnerships and collaborations. T A P E wouldn’t have lasted if it weren’t for the fact that Angela and I are just on the same page when it comes to everything - we trust each other, we trust the process and we support each other’s ideas, and are here to help each other with anything the other person wants to accomplish. To be supported as a film collective also means you should support others, that’s not possible with egos in the room, and I always say that it possibly comes down to luck that we met and decided to launch T A P E together, that trust is something we can always return to.

Follow T A P E on Instagram @tapecollective / @goodwickedry and via their official website.

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