Movie on Kashmir will be shown at Sydney Film Festival on 8 and 10 June
(Community news to Sada-e-Watan by: Mr.Iftekhar A.Hai and Mr.Zahid Jamil)
The Valley of Saints will be shown at 6.30 pm on June 8, Friday and June 10 at 4.00 pm on Sunday at Australian Film Festival in Sydney. Details about the Festival are on their website: http://www.sff.org.au/public/events/musa-syeed/
Q&A with Musa Syeed, director of Valley of Saints
Describe your first experience with filmmaking
My first experiences with filmmaking were trying to recreate the special effects I saw in sci-fi or action movies. It was a lot of bad stop-motion animation and camera tricks. While I kind of moved away from that, I realize now that I was onto something. I was drawn to what makes cinema unique, to the magic of its visual language. Even now, I'm still learning how to make and use that magic.
What initially led you to the material for Valley of Saints?
I always wanted to make a film about Kashmir, my parents' homeland. For me, it was kind of a mythical place, since I only went once as a young child--I had no real direct knowledge of the place. I did know Kashmir was where my parents were married, but it was also where my father was jailed as a political prisoner. My parents reminisced about the beauty of the place but also remembered the danger. So after an absence of about 20 years, I went back to Kashmir to find a film to make. I was struck by Dal Lake, the pristine, unique water-world where thousands of inhabitants row themselves around island shops and villages. I discovered that the lake was now under serious threat from pollution and overdevelopment; some predicted it could disappear entirely. I realized that it was the perfect symbol not only for Kashmir, but for all human resilience: beauty surviving in the face of destruction.
Could you please describe your film for us?
Set in the beautiful valley of Kashmir, Valley of Saints is the story of two best friends who try to escape the conflict in their homeland. But then they meet a young visiting female researcher, setting off a competition for her attention and threatening their dreams of escape. It's a story of friendship, romance, and finding one's path home. The setting may seem 'exotic', but the themes are very familiar.
Which parts of the filmmaking process do you enjoy the most?
For this film, my favourite part was doing on-the-ground research. I spent a summer building relationships with a community of boat people in Kashmir, figuring out how to honestly represent their lives. Everything in the film is an attempt to recreate the magic of that time we shared. By gaining the community's trust, we became collaborators in making the film on every level.
What were your biggest challenges and surprises whilst filming Valley of Saints?
Just a few weeks before we were set to go into production in Kashmir, a cycle of killings and protests spurred the military to put the whole region under curfew. Protesters and soldiers exchanged rocks, tear gas, and bullets. Stores were closed, transportation was halted, and people had to stay in their homes 24/7. We thought about calling off the production but decided that the situation may only get worse, and to instead move forward as quickly as possible. I dropped the original script and wrote a loose outline that incorporated the ongoing violence and curfew into the story. Each night we would develop the outline into a script for the following day's scenes - figuring out where we could shoot safely. We decided not to bring our full crew so we could work under the radar. Ultimately it was just my producer Nicholas Bruckman (who also recorded sound for the film), my DP Yoni Brook, and me. We had no choice but to embrace the limitations, and we worked through all of them: bribes, blackmail, stone-throwing protesters and army intimidation. It was difficult dealing with unpredictable conditions and letting go of my original script, but it helped me live in the moment and trust my intuition. The film is now more powerful because of it--it's an authentic expression of a time and place.
Which films/directors do you think have most influenced your filmmaking process and work?
For this film, I was most influenced by filmmakers from the neo-realist tradition--from Italy to Iran to India to the US. The immediacy of these films, whether from Satyajit Ray or Rosselini, was what I was after. I wanted audiences to know and feel that what they're seeing actually exists: the beauty, the destruction, the resilience of the people. A big part of the realism comes from the performances, and so I wanted to cast non-professionals whenever possible, to give the characters and the location legitimacy. The star of the film, Gulzar Ahmad, had never acted before, but he had great intuition and set the tone for the rest of the film.
What do you feel your responsibility is to your subject after filming has finished?
For Valley of Saints, I tried to make a film that international as well as local audiences in Kashmir will appreciate. For the local audiences in particular, I feel a responsibility to go beyond screening the film and raising awareness. So, with my team, we've created an interactive engagement tool that we hope Kashmir youth will be able to use to organize around the themes of the film.
When audiences in Sydney leave the cinema after watching Valley of Saints what do you hope they will be thinking/feeling?
I think audiences will be excited to have experienced--through the film--an area of the world they don't often see, or may never visit. The unique way of life on Dal Lake and the beauty of the place, drew me in--and for audiences I think it'll be the same. This isn't a bleak film about a war-torn region--it's a film filled with colour, vitality, and humour. I think audiences will feel a sense of hope and will consider their relationship to wherever they call home.
What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming trip to Sydney?
I'm just excited for my first trip to Australia!
Can you give us one prediction, hope or fear about the future of cinema, cinephilia or the cinema experience?
In this age of new media, I think we filmmakers need to be a bit more open-minded about the platforms that we will consider producing work for. Theatres probably won't disappear, but there are a lot of opportunities elsewhere. I'm excited about the prospects of non-linear, collaborative storytelling in helping us rethink the conception, production and distribution of films. As old institutions give way to the new, I think we'll start to see a fuller representation of our world.
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