"Girlfriends? I've had maybe… maybe 25 to 30," says Malik, the toothy charmer from Central LA. The fourth in a series of tribute profiles, Abteen Bagheri directs this short documentary about the rambunctious boy who has personality for days. "One girlfriend, second grade, her name was Brittany. She was in foster care. I used to date her on and off. She broke up with me to go out with her best friend. So I beat him up, and I got her back."
Mainline in partnership with Dazed, presents Tribute – a series of film portraits featuring youth. Here, director Abteen Bagheri speaks to Mainline's AG Rojas about making the film.
AG Rojas: First off, why Malik? What drew you to him above any other kid?
Abteen Bagheri: I grew up in Woodland Hills which is where Malik goes to school. I'd made friends with some of the kids who rode the bus in from the inner city, but I never truly got to see their side of the story. My friend Kay, who produced the project, worked as a yard aid at the middle school told me to come by and meet some of the kids. I told him about tribute when I got there, Malik was the only one who came up to us he was funny, bright, and I knew he had a story to tell. Most of all he was super confident, which I think is the first thing to look for when working with kids in front of a camera.
AG Rojas: Were you hesitant at all about giving him control over the camera?
Abteen Bagheri: A little bit–I was worried that maybe it wouldn't be filming when it was supposed to be. We shot the whole thing on the new GoPro – you can never see what you're shooting, and there's only one button on the camera.
AG Rojas: Was it a conceptual choice or was it more practical because he could shoot at the school without anyone caring?
Abteen Bagheri: It was a bit of both. I gave the camera to Malik, left, and told him to film with his friends at recess, lunch, and on the bus. The result is this sort of incognito, forbidden filmmaking and the fact that you can never see what you're shooting made it all a bit more spontaneous and free
You invade people's relationships for a few days
AG Rojas: I think one of the things people are most intrigued by about a director's life is this idea that you invade people's homes and relationships for a few days and then you leave forever (most times). How do you strike a balance between exploiting a situation and being sincere about your interest?
Abteen Bagheri: Jesus, that's a tough question.
AG Rojas: Do your best.
They'd given up on this kid and he's barely 13-years-old and he had this sense of wisdom to him that other kids didn't
Abteen Bagheri: It's tough not to feel like you're exploiting someone or a situation because you're in there with such a specific idea in mind of the big picture that only you know. I just try to stay true and respectful of my subjects and of their families. Exploitation is all in intention. When I went to Malik's house in South Central I showed his parents some of the footage and they were all stoked and trusted me moving forward.
That sense of duality in Malik's life is really what interested me most from the start. Here's a kid who spends every day in two completely opposite parts of Los Angeles Woodland Hills and South Central, and when the school told me I couldn't make it on him, it was eye-opening. They'd given up on this kid and he's barely 13-years-old and he had this sense of wisdom to him that other kids didn't.
AG Rojas: Tell me about his girlfriends.
Abteen Bagheri: I told him I wouldn't do that, can't be blowing up his spot.
AG Rojas: Right on when's your new video coming out?
Abteen Bagheri: I think it premieres in September.
Follow Trey Taylor on Twitter here @treytylor