Amina Zhaman:
With  God in soul and with Che Guevara on red beret


Recently, I came across a photo taken at a 2014 cultural event in Adyghea. My attention was drawn to one young woman with an unusually happy expression on her face. She could pass for an American movie star, yet there was definitely something Circassian in her outlook. I turned out to be right – Amina ZHAMAN is a Circassian actress who grew up in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardian Republic, and pursued her career in New York.

Miss Amina Zhaman is a singer-songwriter, theater and film actress, social activist, independent film producer, director, writer, and critic. She is the author of 70 songs in English and 5 instrumental compositions, Winner of Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival 2013 ("Contribution in a Debut Film" Award), Winner of Loutraki International Film Festival 2013 ("Brightest Debut"), Winner of International Rights Film Festival "STEPS" 2013 ("Best Script", "Best Actress", "Best Music Video Against War"), Winner of Albanian Film Week International Festival in New York 2013 ("Audience Award for Best Feature Film"), Winner of TOP-SMKBR Awards - 2014 ("Best Original Song in Foreign Language"), Winner of VI International Festival of Circassian Culture 2014 ("Contribution in a Feature Film "Right to Love”).

As I traced Amina’s artistic venture, I was intrigued to ask her more questions and she kindly agreed to answer them.

- Amina, for most artists, success is critical, but the idea of success can vary greatly. What is your idea of success?

For me, international acclaim of my art is success. Touching people's hearts overseas through my work is success. Giving master classes to the students of every race, culture, ethnicity, and religion is success. Working with artists who I listened to as a kid is success. Inspiring people is success. Directing a theater production with talented actors twice my age is success. Full concert halls everywhere I performed including Russia, China, Canada, Greece, USA is success. For an independent artist like me, all of this is amazing. Still the best is yet to come. InshAllah.

- You appear to have a multi-faceted personality. How do you view your broad interests and strengths contributing to your success? Which one of your skills do you think is your strongest suit?

I blossom as a person and as an artist every day. Each form of art in which I work helps me grow in my spiritual and professional life. The varied genres make me richer, smarter, and wiser. My strongest skill is composing music and writing lyrics in English. I don't control this process. It feels like a gift from God.

- Lately, the label “talented” has become somewhat routine while there are also such terms as “capable” and “gifted”. In your opinion, what are the criteria for being talented compared to being capable or gifted?

I don't divide these three concepts. They all mean the same to me. There is only a difference between genius creator and talented/capable/gifted performer. The creator can do everything in his project on the highest level from A to Z, while performer can only do A or Z brilliantly.

- It is no secret that in Moscow and in Russia, in general, one cannot make high ambitions become real unless they have powerful financial support to promote one’s endeavors toward success. Cinematography in America also appears to be a monopolized field closed for outsiders. Describe your experiences of opening doors in New York to express your artistic pursuits.

Despite a large number of outstanding Russian artists, the closed doors in the Moscow film industry preclude the growth of contemporary art in Russia. This is a very sad fact considering how huge my country is and how much we can culturally contribute to the world. One of the reasons I could make an international feature film in New York is that making a film in America on a low budget is possible. Though, it is true that a modest budget will not afford production of a historical, super action, or animated feature with special effects studio work. Nevertheless, a young filmmaker in the US can make a contemporary movie with a limited budget. There are a lot of professional artists in New York who love cinema and want to make something new. This abundance of independent talents makes it possible to find a great crew and create an independent film. New York is a Mecca of art. The best musicians, actors, directors, and painters are here. New York is the most competitive and, at the same time, the most inspiring city. Working with crews in this city I have made two movies, "Right to Love" (2012)  and "Before Breakfast" (2014), as well as five music videos.

I'm New
Let Me
Oriental Pearl
You Still Love Me

I won the most prestigious Audience Award for Best Feature "Right to Love" at Albanian Film Week in NY in 2013 and gave a master class in English at New York City Independent Film Festival 2014 where my debut film was successfully screened during the closing day. In 2014, I performed my songs at the United Nations during Tatyana Peter's fashion show and at Jim Caruso's Cast Party/ Broadway at the legendary jazz club, Birdland. All these facts prove that New Yorkers sincerely love and value art. I know many talented actors and singers from different countries who work hard, become famous in one city, then in one country, getting connections and money, but later they don't succeed internationally. They often ask me: "Amina, how do you take over the world?" My answer is always the same - I work 24/7, pray 5 times a day and with God's help conquer the world.

- How does your experience in your ascent to musical Olympus compare to the competitive challenges of film making?

My methodology in both fields is the same; non-stop growth, hard work, and prayer. No matter what kind of performance I did in show stages, theater, or film, I express myself in every aspect of the production. Each song is a mini theater creation and every movie is a story with my music in the soundtrack. For me, acting and singing are always together, and I intend to keep it that way.

- To write in a foreign language can be challenging. As English is not your native language, what kind of editing support do you use to complete lyrics in English?

As I said before, it is sent by God. Lyrics come to me in a perfect version.

- The drama of unhappy love is often referenced in all forms of art. And, as they believe in America, to make your work prominent, you have to do it better than anyone else. So, what is peculiar about the love story in “Right for Love”?

 It is truthful. It is pure. "Right to Love" is a unique film with the strong message that "peace is the answer". Through the love story of Tony and Amina, we also introduce Circassian and Albanian cultures to the world. And the movie has a surprising real ending which I don't consider unhappy.

- For your script, why did you choose the main male character to be Albanian versus any other nationality?

Because Albanian culture is very similar to Circassian. I wanted to portray how prejudice can easily destroy a mutual love of people with similar traditions and common interests.

- In one of your interviews, you said that the relationship of the couple in “Right to Love” had no future. How do you think the strength of tradition compares to the strength of love?

Having the same cultural background might make a relationship easier, but there is still no guarantee that a couple with common ties will live together happily ever after. Strength of tradition should combine people of same and different backgrounds, rather than separate them. If we all look at each other closely, we will see that all religions are one religion; all traditions are one tradition. We all honor our parents. We all want to be respected, to love, and to be loved in return. My heroine follows traditions and fights for the man she loves at the same time. Why can't a man do the same today?

- Is there a message that you are making as you wear a red beret bearing the image of Che Guevara?

Yes, there is a message. I admire Ernesto Che Guevara. To me, he is a symbol of spiritual freedom and revolution.

 -You state that the primary characters in your movie are educated and strong Muslims. I understand what “educated” means in this context, but what do you mean by a “strong” Muslim?

A strong Muslim is an open-minded person who believes in one God, has an opinion, knowledge, dreams big, aims high, listens to his heart, makes his or her own decisions, loves sincerely and, regardless of circumstances, does not compromise his or her moral values. Many people incorrectly think that art is forbidden in Islam. They haven't read the Holy Qur'an, thus it is no wonder that they don't know what is really written in this amazing book in general and about a person's activity in particular: “do what you can do best”.

- What was the response to the movie in the Caucasus where traditions are still rather conservative?

One part of the audience was shocked while others were thrilled.

- As you seem to have an optimistic nature, did it take you much effort to portray the character of Mrs. Rowland in the screen version of “Before Breakfast” by Eugene O’Neill?

This role was a great challenge for me, but I have great memories of this incredible journey.

- You won an award at the International Rights Film Festival “Steps”. Say a few words about the festival. Also, please describe your nomination for the “Best Music Video Against War”.

The Rights Film Festival is a wonderful event that promotes human and animal rights. The festival is held in Kharkov, Ukraine and is supported by the United Nations. I won 3 awards there last year for "Best Script", "Best Actress" ("Right to Love"), and “Best Music Video Against War” ("My Religion"). It was my first music video and it is still my favorite. The message of the song "My Religion" is world peace. It includes real footage of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

- How do you cope with disappointments? What helps you stay positive?

Philosophically, I know that when doors close in front of me, God will open a huge gate. And with His help, I will make my dream come true and be fulfilled on a higher level than I expected. Absolute confidence in my artistic mission is the conviction that keeps me positive at all times.




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