Filmmaker Nic Askew

Interview by Ekaterina Khaletskaya, based in Moscow

Filmmaker Nic Askew Profile Pic
Nic Askew, 47, is a self-ascribed “poet film maker.”For the past eight years, he has travelled the world to feature human stories on love, death and more. Nic says his black & white films are best watched full screen and with the world “switched off”.
Nic Askew Official Website

Nic Askew, 47, is a self-ascribed “poet film maker.” For the past eight years, he has travelled the world to feature human stories on love, death and more. Nic says his black & white films are best watched full screen and with the world “switched off”.

It takes us a while to finally set a time for the Skype interview. I couldn’t hear Nic at first. His dog apparently unplugged his headphones from the computer – “My 4th child”, Nic affectionately calls his dog, Joey. Nic Askew currently lives with his wife, three children, their cat and dog in Minneapolis.

Almost three decades ago, 18-year-old Nic travelled to the Congo, across the Sahara, and other destinations in Africa. He was inspired and curious. Nic wanted to see the world through his own eyes. But after returning from his African trip, Nic was under pressure to be pragmatic with his career. He ended up taking his parents’ advice and started working at an advertising firm. After many years of diligent work, he was promoted to managing director.

The life of an executive kept Nic busy but also kept him reminiscent of his youth, traveling to the world’s end. Nic says working in the corporate world made him miss genuine conversations with people who are not so result-focused. So one day, he took a camera and went on the busy streets of London to film ordinary people. That is how his career as a professional filmmaker began.

Now Nic Askew runs his own film production business, Soul Biographies, commissioned by several foundations and companies advocating for humanity and leadership. Nic seems warm and honest. He says, “turning up and witnessing is at the heart of everything I do.”

Art Zeen: What do you mean by the state of “witnessing”?

Nic Askew: You don’t prepare for the filming by just reading an article or drinking a rose tea for half an hour. You just go with your curiosity. There are moments like this in everyone’s life. Imagine you get on the road, cars passing you by and you just stand there doing nothing. Filming is a similar experience for me.

ArtZeen: Any epiphany moments in your career?

Nic Askew: I wish but… no. It has, however, made me more observant of my own feelings.

ArtZeen: You said that your films provide ‘soul shaking experiences’ for some audiences. Is that your experience with the films too?

Nic Askew: Yes. Sometimes the guest might talk wisely but appearing wise may not be equivalent to being the real self because the words come out of the conscious mind. It is when my guests start speaking naturally (it may not be anything significant), I start to see the real self opening up. That would be a soul shaking moment for me as a filmmaker.

Art Zeen: Your films deal with some really personal stories. “Don’t Turn Away” tells the story of a dad coping with his son’s death. “A Life Beyond,” features the Spanish lady Olga, who is losing her mother gradually to dementia. She talks about her shifting role in her relationship with her mother, from the protected and the receiver to the protector and the giver. How do you get them to share these stories, which sometimes involve revisiting their deepest fear and greatest pain?

Nic Askew: It is all about the ability to be with people where they are comfortable. For “A Life Beyond,” I spent three days wandering around Spain with Olga, her mother and friends with no plans of when the interview might be. We went to her mother’s nursery one day, and at some point, we just sat down and she suddenly opened up to me.

Art Zeen: It must be harder for people to tell their personal stories especially with the camera switched on.

Nic Askew: Actually no. People stop being afraid after two minutes. They just stop noticing the camera. You have two people in the room, all quiet. And we start talking. Sometimes there are terribly long moments of silence. My guest might look at me with fear in their eyes, as if saying “get me out of this”. But I’ve learned to deal with it by sitting there quietly. And then something will come out of that silence.

Art Zeen: What themes are you exploring next?

Nic Askew: I am particularly interested in the concept of ‘beauty’. Some may say ‘it is inner beauty that matters, not the outer beauty’. Everyone knows this right? But how do we really perceive and experience beauty in everyday life? I have already made a few films featuring people who do not consider themselves beautiful or are perceived beautiful by traditional or typical standards in society, but they are very beautiful in many other ways. I want to challenge the notion of beauty.