A few months back I came to know about a film Fatima, which was a take on politician Fatima Jinnah’s life by young director Zuhair Ahmed, better known as Sean Ali. Surprisingly, even though he is a new name in the market, the film’s fan page and the cast members of Fatima stated that Ali had earlier been nominated at Festival de Cannes, apart from already winning nine international awards.
Feeling proud of a fellow Pakistani and wanting to know more, I went to Ali’s production house on Abul Hassan Isphani road, Karachi.
The forged Festival de Cannes letter
Ali introduced himself as the “only Pakistani film-maker to be nominated in Festival de Cannes”. Unable to match his high achievements to his almost non-existent popularity and young age, I inquired why the Pakistani media is were still unaware of such a creative genius? To which he confidently replied, “I just don’t like talking about myself. If you still want a clarification, I can show you the nomination letter from the Festival de Cannes.”
The letter sent by Ali’s assistant talked about the director’s supposed film triumphstating, “The achiever has been nominated in the Court Metrage (short film) category.” However, the letter proved to be forged, as the reply from Christine Aimé representative at the Festival De Cannes press said, “You can consult the Short Film Corner website to search if a film is in the catalogues. I cannot find the film you mentioned. The letter attached is not a letter from the Festival de Cannes.”
BBC Radio 1 denies links
A poorly executed trailer of Fatima has been making rounds on social networking websites for quite some time now. Additionally, several posters have been uploaded mentioning the list of sponsors, cast and crew members and awards won by the 25-year-old director during his career.
Ali made many false claims, one being that BBC Radio 1 is an official media partner of Fatima. The Express Tribune shared the poster with BBC Radio 1 and the response received is, “To the best of my knowledge BBC Radio 1 has nothing to do with this project and we are not official radio partners of it,” says Chris the Content & Schedules Manager at Radio 1. “The logo they have used is not associated with BBC Radio 1 anymore. Quite flattered they have named us, it does seem a strange claim to make however.”
Universal collaborations with ‘Michael Ray’
Further elaborating, Ali professed that, “I’m also on the panel of board members of DreamWorks and Universal Pictures and all the films the two companies release go through the panel that includes me.” The Express Tribune was unable to contact DreamWorks and Universal Pictures to verify whether someone from Pakistan is a part of their panel of board members or not.
Ali, however, continued to speak about his concerns over the state of Pakistani cinema and how, after getting negative response from two big companies in Hollywood for his film, he decided to launch his own company.
Ali says he formed Universal Dream Pictures (UDP films) with his friend Michael Ray, whose name bears a strong similarity to film producer Michael Bay. Interestingly, UDP films exists only in the form of a Facebook fan page with 111 likes and no previous online record can be found for co-owner Ray. UDP company’s overview on Facebook says, “A company associated with Universal Pictures and Dream Works. Co-owners Michael Ray and Sean Ali have collaborated with John Jay, the two companies’ chief of operations in the US.”
Lionsgate comes in
In an earlier interview with The Express Tribune, the director had mentioned that Lionsgate films would be the exclusive distributors of Fatima. The trailer that is currently being shared on the fan page contains a custom-made Lionsgate logo animation with a warning from the Motion Picture Association of America. Even though Lionsgate did not respond to the official query by The Express Tribune, their official website that contains the list of upcoming releases till mid 2012 has no record of any film by the name of Fatima.
Ali is even conducting film-making workshops in Pakistan, with one of them receiving coverage by a private news channel recently. “I have come to Pakistan to teach the art of film-making,” says Ali. He has also contacted the dean of South Asian Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and TV (Saampt) Daniyal Ali Khan to collaborate on some workshops.
“Ali wanted to conduct a workshop on film-making but I told him that my students might be a notch above in skill. However, I asked him to explain them the process of participating in international film festivals; a request which made him disappear,” states Khan.
Sadly, people like Ali make the already fragile film industry look even less trust-worthy and make it difficult for those who are working hard to progress.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2011.