Artist to Watch: Aqsa Altaf

Artist to Watch: Aqsa Altaf

Born in Kuwait, Aqsa Altaf is a Los Angeles based writer and director. She has garnered attention for her short films, which have been featured at festivals such as South by Southwest and the American Pavilion at the Cannes film festival. In March 2022, Aqsa became a recipient of the Pillars Artist Fellowship, a fund that seeks to support up-and-coming Muslim filmmakers behind the camera. Thanks in part to the support she received from Pillars, Altaf is currently working on her first feature film in addition to various TV projects. In anticipation of these new releases, here’s a look back at three of Altaf’s directorial credits that show why there’s a lot to look forward to from her upcoming projects.

One Small Step (2017) 

One Small Step follows Dasani, a 9-year-old girl who loves school and is looking forward to her class field trip to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor. However, Dasani has to balance her own interests with her responsibilities to her two younger siblings and their single mother. Even veteran directors have struggled to tell stories centered around children (and therefore carried by child actors), but Altaf rises to the challenge and demonstrates her maturity as a filmmaker even at an early stage in her career. The camera is focused on Dasani for much of the film, even amidst other action, allowing the viewer to sit with her and take in her reactions to what’s around her. This child-centric storytelling technique would develop Altaf’s ability for similar stories in more recent projects.

The Long Farewell (2018) 

Sticking with youth-focused narratives, Altaf provides in The Long Farewell a brief but touching look at two friends spending their last day together. The film has no dialogue and there’s not much in the way of plot, but it isn’t really about that anyway. Rather, Altaf uses atypical yet engaging angles and skillful shot composition to take the viewer inside the hearts of the two characters, creating sympathy for their unique experience.

American Eid (2021)

Altaf’s biggest project to date, American Eid, is a part of the first season of Disney’s Launchpad Presents series. It tells the story of Ameena, the youngest child in a family that recently immigrated to the US from Pakistan. Ameena wakes up on the first day of Eid and is distressed when she finds out that she does not have school off that day. The film is centered around and carried by Ameena’s attempts to get her public school to celebrate Eid. However, unlike Altaf’s other films, she also gives the audience an impression of the other characters’ feelings as well. For example, Ameena’s parents can be seen trying to balance their own sadness that their child will not be able to celebrate Eid with their attempts to push Ameena to accept their new American reality. The result is a thoughtful and heartwarming film that engages themes of assimilation, isolation, and belonging in a way that’s digestible for a young Disney audience but also resonates with older viewers.

Check back on to hear about Aqsa Altaf’s upcoming projects!

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