Mian Adnan Ahmad, an award winning film-maker from Pakistan, began making films when he was only 11-years-old and never stopped. The young film-maker was a finalist in a screenwriting competition held by the Royal Commonwealth Society and has had the honour of receiving the Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a graduate programme in film production in the US, where he also received the Leo Freedman Award for his work.
He talks to The Express Tribune about his film, Heal, which has screened at more than 20 film festivals worldwide and has won 18 awards to date. Heal, which is set in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is also being screened at this year’s Comic-Con as part of the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival (CCIIFF).
Very few films emerging from Pakistan seem optimistic. Your film’s title is Heal; tell us more about the film and what it hopes to accomplish/heal.
The reality is that a way of life, a culture, is slowly eroding away to conflict, war and nothingness. Through Heal, I want audiences to relate to the human side of this conflict which is rarely focused upon. As a film-maker, I have also always wanted to explore the supernatural genre and so Heal tells the story of a boy with a gift who lives in the conflict region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The healing aspect of the film eventually serves as a metaphor for what people living in conflict areas need — they are scarred and their wounds are deep; they need time to get back to a normal way of life.
Has the film managed to break stereotypes about Pakistan and Afghanistan whilst it was touring around the world in film festivals?
While it is hard for a short film to bring drastic change, the film has done really well wherever it has screened — especially in the US. People have come up to me after the screening, emotional and thankful for having seen a story about the people from this region. On the other hand, some audience members are also more fascinated by the supernatural aspect of the film
What do you want your audiences to take away from the film?
I want them to be able to connect at a human level with the civilians living in regions of conflict while at the same time be taken in, and believe the supernatural aspect of the film as well.
When and where will it be screening in Pakistan?
Although we have had small screenings at some private venues in Islamabad, I hope that we can eventually screen the film to a larger audience in Pakistan through more screenings around the country in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, etc or perhaps even through television. There are no dates at the moment though, as I am still working out how we might be able to show the film to more people in Pakistan.
What were the challenges of making this film?
Just like any film, there were numerous challenges during production and I would like to pay tribute to the key crew that helped make this film possible: Marcus Metsala (Producer), Dani Sanchez-Lopez (Cinematographer), Prajakta Ghag (Production Designer), Yukako Shimada (Editor) and John Kenneth E Brady (Sound Design). From recreating Pakistan/Afghanistan to working with ‘Billy’ the goat, things were tough, but they worked out in the end.
Casting was a challenge, and we were lucky to find actors that could speak the language in a setting like California. Navid Neghban was a seasoned actor having worked in numerous films and on US television shows such as “24”, and he dedicated himself to the project. The child actors, Ameer Zhowandai and Hannah Sher were working in their first film, but the maturity in their performance can be clearly seen. Fereshta Kazemi and Walid Amini were also great additions to the cast.
As a young Pakistani film maker, what kind of films do you want to see emerge from this region?
Good films essentially. They could be of any genre or type but at the bare-bones of it, there should be a good story to tell. Since I have come back, I have seen that Pakistan has all the facilities it needs but it does lack financial backing which is why it is very hard to make a film here. Having said that I have also seen that we tend to fast-forward the most essential part of making a film and that is the process of writing a screenplay. I hope that films coming out from Pakistan give importance to story as well as compared to others aspects of production.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2011.
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