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Pogus Caesar premieres his Aaliyah movie in Birmingham

A Birmingham-made film about the fast-rising hip-hop star Aaliyah is set to be premiered in the city this weekend – just weeks before the tenth anniversary of her death in a plane crash.

Pogus Caesar
Pogus Caesar

A Birmingham-made film about the fast-rising hip-hop star Aaliyah is set to be premiered in the city this week – just weeks before the tenth anniversary of her death in a plane crash.

But what is remarkable about the previously unseen footage is that it was shot at the start of her career in 1995 when the then 16-year-old Brooklyn-born singer was appearing in Amsterdam.

According to city filmmaker Pogus Caesar, even in the internet age, no other footage of its kind exists anywhere else of a singer who had sold 24 million records by the time she was killed.

Having sat on it for 15 years, he finally decided last year to start editing.

Although her father, Michael Haughton, features heavily talking fondly about Aaliyah’s talents, Pogus has not contacted the family to say the film, Aaliyah Live In Amsterdam, is now ready.

When Pogus met Aaliyah – whose uncle Barry was once married to Gladys Knight and with whom she’d performed at the age of 11 – the precocious teenager had already put her ‘marriage’ at the age of 15 to R Kelly behind her.

“I was alerted to the fact that she was this young singer and child prodigy,” he says. “So I flew out to Amsterdam to try to catch that leg of her tour.

“What struck me then was how lucid she was for someone so young, talking about people like Barbara Streisand in terms of both acting and singing.”

Aaliyah was one of nine people killed when their plane crashed shortly after take off in the Bahamas following a shoot for her Rock the Boat video.

By then she had already made the leap into movies, starring in Romeo Must Die with Jet Li.

Scene from Aaliyah Live In Amsterdam
Scene from Aaliyah Live In Amsterdam

And, as Queen Akasha in the vampire film Queen of the Damned – posthumously released in April, 2002 – she was a decade ahead of the Twilight series.

Pogus says: “After we met, Aaliyah’s career really went upwards.

“You connect with people at the time because you know they have something at the time but you don’t really know what it is.

“Had she lived, to get the kind of access today that I had then would be impossible.

“She would have gone in to The Matrix film and could have been doing something like headlining Glastonbury this year.

“Instead of Aaliyah, it was Beyonce performing who is just one of many girl singers who have followed in her wake.

“Every time I look at them, I see Aaliyah’s influence.

“Having seen Roger Shannon’s film about music in the city last year, Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra, I felt it was time for us to be proud of another music project. Birmingham is my home town and it’s always been good to me, so I wanted the film to be seen here first.”

The future for Pogus’s film is not clear. It will be screened at the MAC and he’ll let the public pass their own judgement on what they see.

After that, he may try to secure a distribution deal, though he knows how fraught with difficulty that side of the industry can be.

For similar reasons, Pogus shied away from asking any film bodies for funding.

“I just wanted to make this film off my own bat. It’s possible the family could ask for the film not be released simply because it’s about their daughter.

“But I think it’s a feel good movie, about a girl with talent and not somebody obsessed with new cars, furs and Rolex watches.

“It just brings back to me good old fashioned, entertaining music and nothing about the products which are supposed to enhance hip-hop life.

“There’s a lovely moment where her father says she’s ‘too young to get into trouble’ and she giggles as if to say ‘You don’t know, dad!’.”

“To have put this footage out after Aaliyah had died would have been very exploitative but I think it is footage that will stand the test of time.

“I asked myself whether there was anything in there that would be upsetting either for her family or friends because once you’ve made something like this there’s no going back and re-editing it.

“It just shows the importance of having an archive.

“We were shooting on tape in those days so I kept it. Had it been on digital, I might have said ‘that’s not good, that’s not good’ and wiped it off, but each tape ran for 30 minutes and I kept them.”

* Aaliyah Live in Amsterdam is screening at 8pm on Friday July 22 and Saturday, July 23 at the MAC Cinema, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham. Tickets: £8 (£5). 0121 446 3232. www.macarts.co.uk

 

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