In Reel South's newest short documentary, "There Was Nobody Here We Knew," a Pakistani family in northern Virginia, left to their own imaginations and reflections in early 2020, believe they've found extraterrestrial life. After the premiere of the short on Reel South, digital producer Heather Leighton connected with the filmmaker Khaula Malik to speak on what it means to be home and life in America as an immigrant. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.
Heather: What do you hope people get out of watching your film?
For me, the film served as an exercise in getting to know my parents and I hope audiences will get to know them, their personalities, and their relationship. I hope people can see a bit of themselves in the story, as well. But most of all, I hope it sparks curiosity and discussion.
Heather: It seemed like it was a family affair during the filming. What was that like?
It was fun and challenging. We were filming during lockdown so in some ways, it gave us all something to do and look forward to. At the same time, there were instances where my parents got annoyed by my questions.
Heather: What did you learn as you were filming?
I learned a lot about my parents that I didn’t know! I think the big moment for me was realizing that my mom never thought she would end up living her life outside of Pakistan. That wasn’t something I grew up hearing about, so when I asked her about moving here, I was surprised to learn that being here long-term wasn’t always the plan.
Heather: Can you describe your favorite off-camera moment you had that you wished you caught on camera?
I wish I was able to capture my parents watching the news when the announcement of the declassified Pentagon files happened. Their reactions were priceless. I thought about recreating that moment, but it was never going to carry the same weight, so I let it go.
Heather: Were there any moments you wished you included, but couldn't for whatever reason. If so, what were they?
There are two moments that I wish had made it into the film but didn’t. The first was filming the end of Ramadan with my family while they were making calls to relatives around the world. My uncle in England was actually the first one to see the UFO with my mom while he was visiting so they had a conversation about that. I filmed it, but I couldn’t find a good place to insert it into the film. The second was filming at the local mall where my parents would go for walks when it was cold outside. There are some great shots of them walking through the mall that I tried to include, but they didn’t quite work visually with the rest of the material so I left them out.
Heather: Can you describe what you thought the film would be and what it actually became?
In all honesty, I thought the film was going to sit on my hard drive and never see the light of day. I was shooting on an iPhone so I think I felt some hesitation about putting it out into the world, but also wasn’t sure if we people would connect to the subject matter. My initial intent was to film a comedic doc about the unexpected alien enthusiast, but it ended up evolving into a larger story about identity, alienness, and belonging. I had filmed my parents' stories but wasn’t sure if I wanted those included. My editor, Laura Kulik, really encouraged me to bring that material into the narrative and I think that really helped add the dimensionality and layers that I feel the film has now.
Heather: Do you have any updates on your parents since the conclusion of the film?
My parents called me a few days after I left Virginia and told me that the UFO had disappeared and it hasn’t been seen since. Even so, they remain believers.
Heather: What's next for you as a filmmaker?
I have a couple different projects in the works, but...it’s funny you ask. Now that the film is out in the world, I keep getting questions about the ending. I wanted to leave the story open-ended and I think if all goes well...there might be a sequel in the works. The 75th anniversary of the Roswell incident is coming up in the summer of 2022, so you never know, you might see my family out there next!