• It all began in a small video rental store in a slightly rundown suburb of Sydney. (iStock Unreleased)Source: iStock Unreleased
Some kids grow up in a family business and leave it behind, but for Amal Awad, her father’s video rental store sparked an enduring love of cinema.
By
Amal Awad

15 Oct 2020 - 8:51 AM  UPDATED 15 Oct 2020 - 10:39 AM

There are many pleasant things I associate with childhood: lollies you could buy for two cents a pop, 80s fashion, 80s music videos and 80s movies. The last item in particular claims the greatest chunk of my affection. Since I was a child, movies have been more than an entertainment staple. They have been like a language that tells me things only I can understand, no matter how many people are fluent in it. A portal of possibility into unknown places and experiences, featuring people always far more interesting to me than the ones in the real world.

It all began in a small video rental store in a slightly rundown suburb of Sydney. A small house that my father converted into a video rental store, each room featuring a wall of beta and VHS tapes, each room an exciting offering. Cartoons, comedy, adventure, romance, family dramas – I had Hollywood on tap, and while I enjoyed my fair share of Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears, the mystique of Tinseltown sunk its golden claws into me and I was lost to its charm.

Cartoons, comedy, adventure, romance, family dramas – I had Hollywood on tap, and while I enjoyed my fair share of Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears, the mystique of Tinseltown sunk its golden claws into me and I was lost to its charm.

My youthful innocence was one of plenty – no matter my current limitations (being five years old has its challenges), I held tightly to the belief that the world would one day break open for me and I would experience true freedom. That’s what movies suggested to me, with their moods and tricks, their clever conversations and overblown love stories. Movies represented possibility – and some kind of promise I had no capacity to unpack.

Watching films was like pouring gasoline on my uninhibited, unbridled imagination. But rather than causing a destructive explosion, it lit me up in the best possible ways.

This was my world. While I credit myself with being a good school student, I was not the sporty type. I was the bookish nerd who thought winning the spelling bee was as important as getting a ‘Well done’ sticker on a piece of kindergarten art. But what I never lacked was an imaginative mind that somehow seemed older than the body in which it inhabited.

For as long as I can remember, I have had an inkling, some unwavering sense that while real life must necessarily have depth and meaning, it is through stories that we understand these truths more clearly. It is through these tales that we can escape ourselves long enough to return, perhaps, a little different.

For as long as I can remember, I have had an inkling, some unwavering sense that while real life must necessarily have depth and meaning, it is through stories that we understand these truths more clearly.

It’s an idea that persisted. Even as I attempted stable, disciplined career paths – law, in particular – stories were never far from my mind, and movies remained relevant and significant to me both at a personal level, and as a writer. As a teenager, I was an avid reader, but between standard teen fare, I devoured biographies of actors from the golden age of Hollywood.

While I consumed films happily at home, I loved going to the cinema. Even though I can credit my father with introducing me to Hollywood, I wasn’t allowed to go a whole lot. So every visit meant something to me.

At university, I first tasted the freedom that we yearn for as teenagers; the ability to experience life at a different, less structured pace. University days that stretched out into the night meant empty afternoons I could spend in the cinema. At university, I suddenly found it was easy to make time for screenings, often blissfully alone, and even more beautifully, at times when the cinema would be a quarter or half full.

I am not always sure what this pull is; how being in a cinema can quieten and still me, open up something inside of me I had no idea was waiting to burst out. But there it is, a luminescent reminder of how stories move me.

Nowadays, we arguably find greater communion with television characters. After all, some consider this the golden age of television. It is indeed a glorious time of artful and evocative television. However, the cinema, sadly, seems mainly reserved for blockbuster superhero films. It’s not that I don’t see any potential for joy in these offerings; but they’re not films that speak to us like no one else is watching.

Films aren’t dead. Perhaps the more significant shifts lie in who is producing them and where they’re viewed – globally, and seen on smaller screens, at home. We have access to more diverse stories as this shift occurs, no longer focused on Hollywood’s output, and even streaming services online vary in the films on offer. While I have a fondness for the video rental store, we are better off with these expansive streaming services that give us access to voices that expand our understanding of our great big world, and the universality that runs through our personal storylines.

Films aren’t dead. Perhaps the more significant shifts lie in who is producing them and where they’re viewed – globally, and seen on smaller screens, at home.

Growing up in the 80s, it didn’t occur to me as a minority kid that my existence was excluded from the wider narratives. I didn’t quite understand how my path would diverge from the people whose lives were generally depicted on screen. As I grew older, the differences that once fascinated me would become more jarring.

I am highly attuned to it now. As an author and screenwriter, my desire is to normalise that which has been exoticised or used as a cultural prop. I want to write characters who don’t see themselves as different, even when others around them do.

In a way, I am relieved that I didn’t have that awareness. Because, quite simply, watching films gave me so much joy and created an enduring love of cinema. And it has led me here, to this exciting place where fresh voices will offer up stories that explore what it means to be human. 

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