Maverick Against the Machine / Azel | Edition XV

Azel is a rebel without pause, he is also a young burgeoning film director from New York City’s Lower East Side. His creative process is wild, but it’s his guerrilla lifestyle that makes his life the best movie of all.
“Yes, I am alone,” I announce upon my arrival at his apartment for this interview, which must be quick and to the point, as Azel has an appointment with the justice system in Boston that evening. After four flights, I am greeted with a firm handshake attached to a wiry frame and a big smile. “Come on in! It’s messy, I got shit all over, but you know, that’s how it is. Let’s go to my room, go on, sit down.” I enter the artist’s domain. The bedroom barely has one square foot of empty floor space. Clothes and equipment are strewn about. The walls sport layers upon layers upon layers of graffiti. Azel kindly brings me a glass of water.

What’s in a name?
“Oh I’ve had this name since junior high school. It’s my graffiti name. It just came to me a while ago, around 8th grade, I thought it sounded ill. I started writing it on walls. It’s kind of like my superhero name.”

The 24-year-old New York City resident was born and raised in the Bronx. His completed projects include, ‘Inside Azel’s Mind’ and ‘Azel Loves the Kids,’ both of which can be viewed on vimeo.com. His current project is titled ‘The Secondhand’, shot with his preferred “VX1000, with the mega-fish eye lens.” He had the following to say of the short film:

“We really went in on this movie. It’s about New York City kids. It’s got drama. It’s got undercover cops, handcuffs and everything. I’m editing on Final Cut Pro now. Check it out, I got a clip.” Azel exits the room and a moment later returns excitedly to play the clip for me on his iPhone. “We got these actors from Craig’s List. For free. Right off Craig’s List. Check it, there I am, in the American Flag jacket.” Immediately I think: his superhero outfit. The cuts are smooth and precise. Skillful editing is instantly recognizable. This young man knows what he is doing. “I’m going to get this into Tribeca [film festival] and IFC Theater. I’m going all out on this. Going around, promoting it on the streets. That’s what I have to do.

What schooling or training do you have?
“I’m self-taught. A bunch of my friends went to film school. They helped me, too.” Autodidacts have it right. The city is Azel’s classroom.

What are the advantages of Guerrilla-style filmmaking for your purposes?
“I like going on the streets, throwing DVD’s like menus. I’ll put DVD’s, CD’s out anywhere…someone’ll pick ‘em up. You going to take any photos today? Because I got this idea, this glove I want to wear, because I’m a director, you know. Here it is, check it out.” Azel retrieves a glove from the pile of clothes on his bed that is certainly the alienated member of a once complete werewolf costume. He pulls the brown hairy glove snugly over his right hand as a maniacal smile spreads across his face. “This is what I want for the photo shoot. This, and my American Flag jacket.” Immediately I think: a more complete superhero outfit.

Which stage of the filmmaking process do you most enjoy?
“Editing. You got to be nice with it, get in there and be real nice with it. Someone can go out there and film anything going on in the city. You could film anything. But editing, that’s different. When you get in with that, you’re nice, and you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Are you influenced by Larry Clark?
“Nah, man, I got a different style. Graffiti, wylin-out style. “Kids” is alright, but there’s a lot more out there than Larry Clark. Listen, I’m all about getting in trouble, and somehow at the end of the night getting out of it. Getting out of death.”

What message do you try to send out in your films?
From what I’ve seen, it seems clear you want to upset the established order of things. I can’t help but be reminded of The Dark Knight’s Joker as I sit here talking with you. He laughs. “Yea, the joker! My message? You could do anything you want. You don’t have to worry about people thinking you’re crazy. Just be you! Go out and do whatever it takes. Smack a fucking stick against a wall and scream out, and who cares if people are standing by thinking, ‘that guy is crazy’? Just be wild.”

Artists need a creative space. What’s yours?
“Sometimes my room. This graffiti’s been going on for layers and years. I wish you could see what was underneath. I’ve just been painting over it. The Dominican Republic is a creative space for me, too. My mom was from out there. I go out there once a year. I think a lot. I write a lot. I get my shit together out there. I have a beautiful mind, I can go back to every memory, to every detail, and I just write.”

What do you hope to bring to the film scene that may differ from your artistic peers?
“I want to get people to see things they normally don’t see. Things you wouldn’t even imagine. Drugs, girls, money, cars, life, everything in a way you haven’t seen before. People want to see the dark side.”

Who do you have in mind as an audience when plotting out your ideas or scripts?
He says a name without hesitation but I miss it and ask him to repeat it. He murmurs, “Blublove.” “Your muse?” I ask. Azel smirks, “Nah, man. This painful thing, man.” “Your muse gone awry?” He nods in agreement, “my muse gone awry.”

Words: Neal Curtis


  • http://twitter.com/GregNF Greg

    Azel is amazing. I love watching his films. Can’t wait to see this next one!