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
As I traced Amina’s artistic venture,
I was intrigued to ask her more questions and she kindly agreed to
- 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
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
- 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)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRlAd2-iQhA and "Before
Breakfast" (2014), as well as five music videos.
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
- 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
-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
- 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
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
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,
- 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.