Inside A Grierson Award Nominated Documentary
Waiting For Sunrise - Interview With Filmmaker Aneel Ahmad
Aneel Ahmad's film won the UNICEF award at Sheffield just one year ago. Now it has been shortlisted for one of the film world's most distinguished awards - the Grierson Award for documentary. This interview with Aneel Ahmad was made for Shootingpeople.org in July 2005. Having chosen to work in an extremely competitive industry where few British Pakistani people have so far made any headway, Aneel Ahmad perhaps faced more obstacles than most young filmmakers.
He has talent; his first serious film "A Man's World" about a girl involved in boxing was a film you had to watch, where you smelled canvas and leather and felt the trickle of perspiration across the skin. DV can do such wonderful things in good hands.
What impressed me though, was Aneel's absolute determination to succeed at everything he wanted to do, whatever it takes. Ahmed never takes "no" for a final answer. He treats it more like a holding point. A "no" is "no" only until he finally persuades you to that what you really meant to say was "yes." It's a bit like climbing into a ring with a prizefighter. Someone has to win and someone has to lose - and Aneel Ahmed is unbeaten.
THE SHOOTING PEOPLE INTERVIEW
This documentary is concerned with the extreme poverty, courtesans and prostitution located within the streets of Lahore. Children without parents, they live in slums, cold and unloved, and must beg to stay alive. Undergoing verbal and physical abuse to bring enough money to live each day as it comes. This film is about the underprivileged children of Lahore, Pakistan and child labour; also on how poverty and social class controls their environment. With all these elements brought together, we can observe the people and the lives affected by them. These issues are rarely dealt with on such a personal and emotional level. Lahore with its collection of people becomes another character within this short documentary. The children of Lahore, like us all, have their individual lives and dreams but they are burdened with extreme poverty. Waiting for Sunrise deals with the poor and dispossessed - and really, the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low in Pakistani urban society.
Your very first film was a documentary about Eid celebrations in Manchester ? What is Eid and how did that film come about?
It was in about ‘95 or ‘96 when a friend and I entered a competition for 10-minute short documentaries. We put an idea in about the Eid festival, the celebration of the end of Ramadan.
Ramadan's the fasting month for Muslims?
Yea, that?s right. In Manchester there's a very busy road, Wilmslow Road, in our area, where a lot of people go to celebrate. It's like Brick Lane in London, the sort of place Asians go to, but Eid is always a good time, so people celebrate. Ten years ago it was quite vibrant at that time, so we thought it would be a good idea to make a documentary on that. My friend and I wrote a synopsis and it actually got short-listed. From there we worked with a professional independent film company and produced a ten-minute short. It was screened on Channel 4 and it actually did quite well. It went to a number of film festivals, but I was quite young then, so we were just learning about how to make films. That's how it started, for me at any rate. My friend went to film school, but I haven't any qualifications so I couldn't, even though it was something I really wanted to do.
How did you follow that up then?
Well, that film did really well. I mean, I didn't direct it, we were just there to learn the process of making films. Afterwards though, I had nothing to do and making films was what I wanted to do. Instead of that I was on the street getting up to mischief, with no money and no opportunity even to get hold of a camera, so I was stuck, for a number of years. Then a friend got a Hi8 camera. A big brick! And we started - just making low-budget short films.
How have your family taken to the idea of having a filmmaker in their midst?
My parents wanted me to go to university, but at that time, I would hang round with a lot of bad lads keeping bad company, so they were happy that I had something I wanted to do. But at the same time, they were not happy because first of all, there was not a lot of Asian people doing film, especially Pakistanis and British Pakistanis. So they thought I would probably not get any opportunities? But I thought that I really would. They were not trying to tell me not to go into it, but they were really trying to get me to go into something else. My heart was in this though; it's just that there were no avenues for years and years. After three years, I was working with a guy called Andy Porter who had been an exec producer on the Eid film. He was involved with the Hi8us scheme with Maverick Television and with Jonnie Turpie, who is executive chairman. They were making digital films for television. I told them I really wanted to make films, but didn't have much experience. So, they said they would take me in as a trainee director for one of their films. That was about 1998, so that gave me more experience about drama and filmmaking. That one did well too, but since I was just a trainee...
No real credit!
That's it James! The problem with that is, people will tell you that you have got talent but if you didn't write or direct it, you don't get credit for your work, so then people think you didn't really get to DO much work on the film. I did shadow the director, so I managed to learn quite a lot. After that, I was applying for all kinds of film schemes between 1998 up to the present day and I still haven't yet officially got any money from anyone yet, apart from what I have just done recently, but you have to apply, don't you?
So how did you get your first financial commission, as it were?
Well, years had passed and in 2001, some friends were organising a festival in Manchester I made a documentary for it, called Asian Invasion. They asked me to cover the festival with a documentary. I told them I had no money, but I was thinking if I could just get a camera, I could learn how to make documentaries with it. I made Asian Invasion just on my own and it cost £300-£400 to shoot. Then I went about trying to get help to edit it and eventually got a 50-minute documentary. Then, I applied for money to make a film. There were two films I wanted to make, one called Love is a Drug and the other called A Man's World. The year before that I had applied to an organisation called TAPS. Have you heard of that?
Television Arts Performance Showcase?
That's it. I had sent my scripts to them the year before and they actually got selected for performance, so I was delighted because it was sponsored by BAFTA and all that. So, in 2002, I went to North West Vision and the Screen Council and said I had this film I wanted to do, a 10- minute short and I applied for 10K. I honestly think that film, A Man's World, should have been made for £10K... and I got rejected. So, you know, take it on the chin. But I asked what money was available and they said "Next year - you will probably get it next year." But I kept asking what money they had available. You know there's a Virgin Shorts scheme in the North West that allows £900 per film. I had no camera or anything, but I knew where I could get one and I thought, well I could probably do this, like I did before, so I did. I made A Man's World for £900.
It's very good, but it is quite a surreal little film, isn't it?
Yeah, well, there's a reason for that. When you apply for funding to somebody like the Film Council, they have these criteria that they like you to stick to and they are printed in stone. The Virgin Shorts criteria was to "Cross the boundaries of the digital genre and filmmaking," A Man's World was a more normal narrative film, with one character and everything. If I had £10K, I would have made a very different film, but I had Virgin Shorts £900, so I had to cross the boundaries and make it more experimental.
It's a bit Lynchian in style, I think? How did you go about getting the £900?
Yeah, well it is experimental. Well, I got to thinking about all the reasons they might have for rejecting my application, so I tried to work out what their excuses would be and I worked out A) You haven't worked with actors; B) You have not really worked as a director; C) You have not worked with a crew. Those were all the excuses there might be for not getting funded, so I thought what I would do is make a very experimental film, but make it very professionally. I thought, well, I could just use one actor for this film. Then I thought, well, it's £900 so I might as well be experimentaI and show them I have got the ability to do all sorts of things in the film. It was hard to make, but I did it and edited it. I had applied for some money for my next film and I needed to show them I could make films, so while I was making A Man's World I made two documentaries at the same time; I thought I would make a trilogy...
I like your style! Man's World is set in boxing, is that what you chose for your documentary subjects as well?
Yeah, I love boxing. I did a "Making of " on how I made the film, but because I love boxing so much, I really wanted to do a documentary on boxing as well. I also had been given a lot of facilities and things free by the Manchester boxers and boxing organisations. So I made three films altogether costing £300 each. It looks more expensive, but you could make a film for £50 if you really put your heart to it and get a lot of things for free. I put all my heart into it because I wanted to show that I was a good filmmaker.
I think you made your point - because they are all pretty good films...
Ah! But I didn't get any funding after that, that was the funny thing. I sent Man's World out to a lot of big named directors and producers in a DVD package and I got a lot of good feedback. They were saying they could see it was low budget, but it was good and I had put a lot of work into it and it was creative. Well it was, because I had made it as a film that you can also watch backwards.
Backwards? How do you mean? The narrative runs backwards as well as forwards?
Well if you watch the film and then start at the end and follow the story back, then you'll see a girl, she's running, she goes into her bathroom and sees flashes of herself and then the story gets weird and than she gets raped and everything and then from there she's in a prison cell and all that stuff, so the narrative structure is running backwards. If you watch it from beginning to end it doesn't always seem to make sense, because it is a very complicated narrative, so some people watching it can't follow it too easily, like my mates and that, but generally I find that filmmakers can and I really did get a lot of good feedback from the names I had sent it to. So, I thought OK? and sent it to every film festival I could. It never got into one in 2004, not one, even in the experimental categories, even in the 300 quid film category! I didn't really take it badly, I just thought "Well, maybe there ARE some really good experimental films out there..." or maybe the people making selections didn't understand it. I thought well, the next film I make will be a normal narrative film. So I put an application in for another film - the one I am making now - and it got rejected. So I wasn't sure what I was going to do next, until I came to make Waiting For Sunrise and now the film I am working on, called Boot Polish.
Well let's talk about Waiting For Sunrise. It's a good title - how did you come to choose that?
When we first got off the plane in Lahore, there was a really good sunset. We did so much research on kids in Lahore and poverty and everything and the reason why I called the film that is because all these kids are waiting for a new day. I come from poverty myself, my family has come through some real hard times, but when I saw poverty there.... Well, it just made me feel embarrassed, because all these kids are living in shanty towns. I asked one of these kids once what they were looking for and he just said "A new day" and I thought yes, they are waiting for sunrise. Everyone who comes from poverty is waiting for a new dawn. So it's a bit sentimental in a way, but that's why I called it Waiting For Sunrise.
How did you get the idea of making Waiting For Sunrise?
I went to Pakistan with my family, when my brother was going to get married. I saw this kid on the street at the time we were leaving and he was cleaning shoes. He wanted to clean our shoes, but being from England, that seemed a bit strange to us - we don't ask other people to clean our shoes. I said to him I didn't want my shoes cleaned, but I would give him whatever rupees I had in my pocket. My dad joined in and said the same, because we were leaving and we couldn't spend rupees in England. So my dad said, "If we give you this money, will you give us a brush and some polish and we will clean our own shoes." The kid looked at us amazed and you can see he was thinking we were mad and they just cannot be from Pakistan! I had about fifteen or twenty quid in rupees in my pocket and my dad had a bit more than that. So we all stumped up and altogether that kid got about £80 in rupees! My uncle told me that this kid would probably not earn that in five years, because in Lahore these kids are living on 2 rupees a day, which is not even one of our pence. Anyway, he looked at me and at my dad. You could see the tears in his eyes. Then he put the money in his pocket and he just ran. That touched me, that did. I just thought as a filmmaker... "That would make a good story!" He looked at us like we were angels come to save him! That was in 1998 and I wrote a script called Boot Polish, a film that I wanted to make about this kid. You know, we live in our own little worlds, even our own worlds of poverty. I mean I live in Longsight, which is a council estate in quite a poverty-stricken area of Manchester, but you go to another country? It's only eight hours away... and it is a different world!
So, How did you come to make your documentary, Waiting For Sunrise?
Well, as I said, I wanted to make Boot Polish, but I got rejected; you know? Rejected; again! They said, "You could not make this film." I don't know why, because I could. So I thought well, I'll go there and do some research and so they asked what I would do there and I said I would make a documentary about these kids. We had ten days to make the film. That was hard. There was a feature documentary called Born in Brothels, which was very good, but they spent eight months or a year filming it. We had ten days; five days shoot, five days research, which made it very difficult.
Where was this money from, Aneel?
Well I had applied for ten grand to make Boot Polish and they had rejected me on that. It is the same thing as before; I said well, I will make Boot Polish for two and a half and they said, "Well no, you can?t do that, the production values are too high." But I said "I can do it, look at what I did with £900 when I made A Man's World." So I said, "Well look, I'll do a six and a half minute documentary then." They gave me two and a half grand. It cost me a grand to book tickets and £700 to edit it when I came back, so virtually, we made the film for £800! It is not bad for an eight hundred quid film, especially going to another country when we didn't know exactly what we were going to get.
Is anyone in Lahore working to help those children?
I did a lot of research before I went to Pakistan and got full details of hospitals and other organisations, NGOs - that's Non Governmental Organisations - and everything. The internet is marvellous for that. I spoke to an organisation in Lahore that helps with drug abuse and homeless kids, but it is mostly drug-related work they do. We went there and we did some research there.
I'm not being disrespectful to any one here, but when Sir Bob Geldof goes to Africa and takes a BBC film crew with him, they are all in touch with a local organisation and it is all set up, you understand? Well, it was a bit like that. But as a documentary filmmaker that wasn't what I wanted. So, I went to the prostitute area of Lahore and decided to work there. Now here's a funny thing. There's a guy there - apparently he's from Manchester - who is really big out there, you know, big time dealer and that. It is a really bad area and of course because we used to run around with some really bad people in Manchester, we weren't too worried when they said "You can?t go and film there, you will get shot."
We soon ran into some people like that and they said we could not film there and we had to go and meet the Da-Da, the boss. "He wants to speak to you," they said. And it was this big Punjabi guy, with a big white shalwar khamees, gold rings, big hat and everything. I thought, you know, "Look, we might get hurt here!"
Well, when we met him, he asked where we were from and we said Manchester. He asked if we knew who he was and he gave us his name. And yes, we knew then, who he was. And then he said, "Right, you can go and film." He owns a lot of the property in that area like houses used by the prostitutes, so he is really a kind of pimp. So it was a kind of a fluke that we should have known who he was from Manchester and so he then let us go and film in this other area in Lahore.
We went there with one of these organisations, using a very small camera to film. It was very dangerous though, especially if you are not from Pakistan, so we had to be very careful about what we were doing, who we were interviewing and so on. So it was very difficult and dangerous and I can see why it takes these other people making documentaries so long to get to know people and build respect with the research, because it just is not easy to make a film like that.
Things just happened for us and that is how we got to film in the areas where we wanted to. It was quite difficult for us James, but to be honest, I just refused to fail. I knew that if I went all the way to Pakistan and did not make a good film, all I would get from it was a load of embarrassment for myself. But I have worked very hard to try and be a decent filmmaker and I thought, no, I am just going to work as hard at this as I can. We were scared though. We were filming in an area where people were abusing drugs on the streets, you know, injecting themselves and all that. We got to thinking "What if one of these people puts a needle into us? We could end up with hepatitis C or something." I realised it was quite risky stuff that we were doing here, filming in these areas, especially since we are not from Pakistan, but because we had some kind of security provided by that gangster guy, we didn't have any actual problems.
How did working under these kind of pressures affect the film?
Well, like I say, we could have had a hard time filming there. It was only a six-minute film and we made a lot of mistakes that you don?t actually see in the six minutes, but if we had had enough to stay and make a longer film, people would have been able to see much more of the kind of film that I really wanted to make...
How did you decide to approach the subject?
The stories there, are endless. Now, when I look back, I think we should have done this and we could have done that, but when you are there...
So you picked up the location material that you were able to get, in the short time you were there, with no structured plan ? is that right?
No, I structured it. First of all, I did some research before I went. Then I went to a couple of NGOs within the first couple of days and did more research there. Then I picked specific areas where we should go, because we wanted to do a lot of interviews with courtesans, but a lot of them would not talk to us.
So it was structured, but when you get there, a lot of it goes out the window, because you just don't know in advance what you are going to get. I mean it was structured, I had people I wanted to meet, but when you film in countries like Pakistan or India, there's not good timekeeping there. If you say to somebody I'll meet you at ten, they'll be there at one, you know? It's one of those nasty nightmares, because you just never know what's going to happen there. I also had crew as well and there were all sorts of technical problems, so you were just hoping for the best, in a way. We did alright with it though, despite the problems, but I wouldn't advise anyone to go there and just try it, because of all the problems. I planned it well before I went and we still met problems.
What crew did you hire in Pakistan and how did you go about it?
e had a fantastic crew. I did a lot of research before I went and I contacted a number of production companies in Lahore and we worked with one production company. We paid a fee to them and for that we had a DoP with three or four assistants and the cameras and lighting, all inclusive as a package. We worked with one of the best DoPs in Lahore who has probably done over a hundred feature films as well as documentary experience. It was weird, because when I had applied for schemes before, they always said to me , "Well, you haven't worked with a crew." So how difficult is that then? I mean you go to Pakistan, you work with a load of crew that you haven't met and people say that? I worked with a full professional crew, researchers and everything.
How did you get across to them what you were after for your film?
We gave them a brief and we talked about the film. Don?t forget I had done five years of research on it for Boot Polish. I clicked with the DoP straight away. I knew we couldn?t make a kind of Born in Brothels film because we didn?t have any to shoot in, but we had a structured plan for a narrative kind of documentary with general shots and some interview material.
What were you shooting with?
We shot on Beta SP and later transferred to digibeta. It was a good format to use for the camera, but it was a big camera, so it felt strange. I mean, I had made documentaries before, but this was all very structured and all these crew and it felt a bit strange, more like making a feature film, with a sound recordist and everything. I mean I make my own sound usually because I have got a little DAT recorder.
Would you have felt more at home shooting it with a camcorder perhaps, instead of all this crew?
That is the question, isn't it? I mean when I did A Man's World, I did all the camera work myself, well, did everything, virtually. Instead of that, you have to delegate your work, with the DoP with the sound technicians, a whole crew of god knows whats.
But suddenly, here you were and you had all that - was it easy this delegation?
Yes, it's true I had all that. But you know, none of that changed the way I thought as a director. Even when you are making your own film and say, you are acting as DoP, you are still the director. I know people say you shouldn't do both, but then sometimes it's the only way. Well it did mean on this film that it freed me up to concentrate much more on directing the film, which was still difficult, because we had a limited amount of time and a limited amount of money.
A lean shoot then - how much footage did you actually manage to shoot in that limited time?
I didn't shoot a lot, because it was structured. It was the same when I shot A Man's World. It was carefully structured and rehearsed with the actors, so we did everything in two or three takes and we only used four or five tapes. When you make a film, the stupidest thing you can do is shoot and shoot and shoot and - well, you don't know what the hell you are doing! So we were structured and I think in total - the beta tapes - they carry about 30 minutes - we had only seven or eight beta tapes of material. I think if you can prepare well, you can make a very good film and not waste too much footage on tape. Waiting For Sunrise had a production schedule and a shooting schedule, but sometimes the poor timekeeping over there caused us problems with the schedule. You know, if you arrive at somebody's house, you may have an appointment, but they will keep you waiting for hours before they will talk to you, which is what happened with the courtesans. They made us wait hours and hours, which was no good at all on our schedule.
Too busy perhaps.- So how did you approach the edit for Sunrise?
When I came back, I knew I had the footage to make a much longer film than six minutes. I tried to battle with the Film Council and said will you please let me extend the film? - and they said, no-. and I was really upset about that. So then I thought well, OK then, it will just have to be edited to six minutes.
Any plans for the remainder?
Well some of what we haven?t used I can use in another film. Because I have a lot of footage of making the film as well, showing how hard we worked in the time we had. I could include some of the dropped footage in that. I'm just hoping that some rich person will come along and give me some money to go back and get more footage so I can make a documentary feature out there.
How long did the edit take you?
The difference between Sunrise and Man's World is that I had some money. I had left about four or five hundred quid in the bank account in England, so I was able to go into a studio in Liverpool FUBAR Post Production and talked to Phil and Colin there and asked them if they could help, although I didn't have much money. I had learned on Final Cut Pro and Adobe and that and they said they had Avid symphony, was that alright? I looked at it and I'm quite technical, so it looked quite similar and I knew already in my head what I was going for, so I said, yea, that's OK. So I did a fifteen minute cut, cut it down to ten minutes, then a six minute cut and then on-lined it. They were pretty good because that should have cost me loads of money, but they thought it was a good project, so helped me out, which was great of them. I did it in two weeks, including reviewing and logging all the material. It was all right at six minutes. I had to keep cutting it down to six minutes because of all the notes I kept getting from the Film Council. I would say, yeah, it's all right, but I know it could have been longer and better.
You really would like to go back and probe deeper into the lives of these children, wouldn't you?
Oh, yes, I would. When you watch Waiting for Sunrise it is like a taster, a six minute taster. I mean, you can see there's a story there. A lot of people have said to me, you know you should have followed a kid like Waheed - you should have followed Waheed... The trouble is you can't do that in just five days. They are very difficult to find, these kids. They don't trust people, so it is very difficult to build trust with those kids, that's the first thing.
The second is, it is virtually impossible to completely have cameras on a kid and follow his life, unless you do it like a docu-drama, which I thought might have been a way to do this. I know I could work with this kid, but I need to be there for a longer time. And then I am a filmmaker more than a documentary filmmaker. I would like to have made it a bit like Touching the Void, have a lot of fact in there. The problem with Waiting For Sunrise is that it is like an information type of documentary. I mean it's powerful, but I think that as a filmmaker, I would rather work on a narrative, but that takes time and you just can't do that with two and a half grand.
You often compose your own music for your films - any tips you would care to pass on about composing film scores?
Well I do think that music is one of the most important things you can bring to a film, whether it is fiction or documentary, because it brings out the power and emotion in a film. I am quite creative and I do work with other creative people as well, like musicians. But making a score for a film is bit like creating a song. You have images and you have to create music to go along with those images, but it is much more than just fitting some music to those pictures. It is a creative thing and maybe you have it, or you don't, to be honest. You can spend a fortune on buying software - I have quite a bit myself - but you also need to know musicians and as I have got to know more of them, that makes it much easier to create the right moods with music, so I can put my work much more on the back burner now and go with people who know the instruments well and what they can do and produce some really good music. I?m less dependent on having to create my own music now that I know quite a few musicians.
Well, you have had quite a long haul to getting some recognition Aneel - any tips for new filmmakers as to how they should prepare for that long haul?
If I was to say only one thing, it would be don't give up hope. The second thing I would say is, if you have applied for money to some scheme or other and been rejected, don't give a s**t what anybody says. I mean, yes, get upset about it, but do it yourself, try and make it for yourself. With DV, anything is possible. We even have HDV now. At one time, everyone felt they had to make films on 16mm film, but you don't have to do that now. I mean, Brown Paper Bag was shot on digibeta and it won a BAFTA, so you don?t have to worry about format any more, worry about what you are doing in your film: how to structure the film, how to make the film, either documentary or drama and shoot it on anything.
Ultimately people are going to look at the content, as well as how you made it, so do it professionally. Rehearse, work with your actors, work with people, be nice with people and people will want to work with you. So first, you have to learn everything you can about making films from the shooting right through to the editing. Then, later on, you can go working with producers and writers because you understand then, you understand the system: how the DoP works, how the editor works and so on.
Now, I feel prepared for working with other people, other crew members, because I have learned about all this myself. Do not let money stop you. I made three films for £900. You might not like those films, but anybody watching them knows they are high-quality low-budget films. You may not like the story, but no-one can say they were not shot well, or were not edited well. So rent a G5, buy a G5, get Final Cut and make short films. A lot of people make DV features and I understand that, but if you make a 10-minute short film, there's bound to be one person in the world who says "You know, he's quite good." Sooner or later, you probably will get your break. It is all about not giving up hope - and I have never given up hope on making films.
So how do you see Waiting For Sunrise - what's its purpose for you?
It is about trying to sell the idea of making a drama documentary. The filmmakers I sent it to sort of grasped that idea and said it is a good film, and it should be made longer. One director (J McG - It was Alan Parker!) said it was a powerful piece, but it shouldn?t be made longer because extending it might lose its power. That didn't mean it wasn't a good film because the full response was that it was powerful, it had messages there, it had impact...
But isn't that what Alan Parker was talking about in his comments - that extending this film might loosen its impact?
Yes, that?s it, because several of them said "No don?t extend this. You could probably make another film, but don't extend this one because it is more powerful like that."
So maybe, the Film Council - and Alan Parker for that matter - were right about this one, that you wouldn't want to extend it, that it would be a very different film you would want to make?
Well I have taken their advice and left it like that! Actually a lot of people are surprised that I made it for such a small budget to be honest with you...
You just mailed it out as a DVD then did you?
Actually I mailed it out with A Man's World and got feedback on both. One director said he was amazed that I could make such a weird film as in A Mans World and then go out and make something completely different from it like Waiting For Sunrise. He liked that. He said it showed I wasn't going to be restricting myself to just one form. I suppose I want to do a Kubrick really and make lots of different sorts of films. I don't want to pigeonhole myself in any one category yet.
Can you bring us up to speed on Boot Polish - is that the one you want to make?
Yes. It's a romantic, emotional story about a kid who cleans shoes and a courtesan. I wrote it before I made Waiting For Sunrise, so of course everyone thinks I got the idea for it from Waiting for Sunrise, but really, Boot Polish came first. It's set in the 1920's in the British Raj times. It is a normal narrative, call it a romantic short film. It's quite powerful and that's what I am working on just now.
Winning the United Nations UNICEF Award from the film festival at Sheffield must have been pleasing - how did they react to Waiting For Sunrise?
I don't know for myself, because I wasn't there. It was an honour to win that award, but to me filmmakers should be seen behind the camera. I mean I know I had to go to see the Film Council people when trying to get money for a film, but that's a different thing. My friend Hussain, who helped me to make Waiting For Sunrise and another friend Jemshiad Ashraf who helped with the edit, had gone along and they accepted the award. We were really pleased that it was being screened and we hadn't expected to win an award with it. They were honoured to accept it because it was the UNICEF award, which means that the film touched the hearts of a lot of good people.
One of the jury members gave a statement I have here, it says: "We found this film very hard-hitting and touching. It reflected real life issues which captured our attention and gave us an understanding of the disturbing lifestyles which some people of Lahore are forced to live in."
I was already very pleased that it was liked by a lot of professional filmmakers I had sent it to, who all said it was a powerful piece of work, but they were filmmakers. The UNICEF award shows the film has an effect on a much broader audience, so it is like a confirmation. Recognition is important to me personally as a filmmaker, but I also want to do something for Asians as well.
Will it be screened anywhere else?
We have just done a deal with the British Council who will help us get it seen in a lot of other places, I hope. Independently I have entered it in a number of festivals between now and the end of the year. It has so far been selected for Raindance; UNAFF 2005 at Stamford in the US; the International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival and Brief Encounters at Bristol.
The Shooting People interview can be accessed in full here
More info on Shooting People