Young film-maker Muhammad Danish Qasim talks about his short film The Other Side which has won the NFFTY award. GRAPHIC: SAMRA AAMIR
While seasoned film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy made us proud with an Oscar award this year, it seems young film-makers are not far behind as they are working on interesting and unique projects that are garnering attention and recognition for Pakistan. One of these talented minds is Iqra University’s Media Science student Muhammad Danish Qasim whose short film The Other Side has created a buzz in Pakistan as well as at international festivals.
More than even the film itself, it is the subject that the film tackles which has helped Qasim get people to sit up and take notice. The Other Side revolves around a school-going child in Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan. The child’s neighborhood gets bombed after the people of the region are suspected for some notorious activities. He ends up losing all of his loved ones during the bombing and later becomes part of an established terrorists group who exploit his loss and innocence for their own interests.
On the reasons for picking such a sensitive topic, the film-maker said, “Most of the films being made right now are based on social issues, so we picked up an issue of international importance which is the abrogation of our national space by foreign countries.”
When asked how this film on terrorism will be different from all the others that have been released since 9/11, he said, “The film takes the audience very close to the damage caused by drone attacks. I have tried my best to connect all the dots that lead to a drone attack and have shot the prevailing aftermath of such attacks in a very realistic and raw manner.”
The film has already won the Audience Award for the Best Movie in Across the Globe Category of the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) in Seattle, Washington this year. However, despite this, Qasmi was denied a visa to attend the festival. “I believe the most probable reason for the visa denial was the sensitive subject of my film,” says Qasim. He recalls that when the visa officer asked about the subject matter of the film, he suggested making changes in the letter issued by his University upon hearing that the film dealt with terrorism and drone attacks.
“Although I made the changes to the letter according to the visa officer’s recommendation, they still rejected the visa and did not disclose the reason for it,” says a disappointed Qasim.
According to Qasim, “NFFTY is considered to be the biggest event for young film-makers of the world. Film schools as well as potential Hollywood producers attend the event in order to interact with young, talented film-makers. I’m disappointed that my team, especially my crew members Atiqullah, Ali Raza Mukhtar Ali and Waqas Waheed Awan, who made the film possible with their hard work and support, missed out on a major opportunity to represent Pakistan on an international forum.”
Problems along the way
Although the film’s plot is set in Miranshah, the shooting had to be done on the outskirts of Quetta city. “On the second day of our shoot, a tribal war started between two different clans of the area. We were on the brink of losing our lives as well as the footage for this film, fortunately things worked in our favour,” recalled Qasim.
After his final thesis film, Qasim plans to pursue a Masters in Film. However, the limited number of film schools and the lack of structured film programmes in Pakistan have been forcing youngsters to study abroad. He believes that film-makers in Pakistan end up pursuing other careers instead of film-making as the business is not lucrative enough as a primary occupation. He suggested that the government should form a committee to monitor the film school curricula as well as the placement of graduates. If this is asking for too much, he recommends that there at least should be a film-makers union.
“If someone from Hollywood wants to contact a Pakistani film-maker, he or she should contact it through a society, maybe a guild or a department of a certain ministry that facilitates and looks over such issues,” said Qasim.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2012.