“It’s not what you are; it’s what you do that defines you.” When you take a look around yourself, you realise how true this is. Today, we see so many young people putting in their bit to represent our country on various international fronts, and subsequently reaping rewards and public appreciation for it.
A group of filmmakers from Iqra University, Media Science Department, just did that recently when they won the Audience Award for the Best Movie in Across the Globe category in the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY) for their movie – The Other Side in US of A. Mohammad Danish Qasim from Bahawalpur has written and directed this project.
It has always been his passion to make meaningful films; hence, Qasim came to Karachi and got into Iqra University to fulfill his dream. Qasim and his friends have always been active participants in dialogues regarding the current affairs. Having found a soft spot for the issue of drone attacks, which has picked up steam for quite some time now, Qasim found the theme for his short film and started working on it. His friend Atiqullah, who hails from Quetta, joined in as the producer, and they decided to take this project to Quetta for shooting. Us got in touch with Danish Qasim and asked him about The Other Side and his journey…
Us: How did you come up with The Other Side and how difficult was it to complete the project?
Danish Qasim: Well, it was a group effort; an individual can’t do anything. Here, the credit especially goes to Atiqullah. It was purely through his connections that we were able to go to Quetta and shoot without any hurdles. The people over there completely supported us. Anything that we needed was instantly provided to us, be it transportation or any equipment. Of course, we took basic shooting equipments with us since we couldn’t completely rely on things we hadn’t seen before. Besides, the situation of the city was turbulent as well, but thank God, we passed all those difficult situations with ease.
We had to hire actors from the area to give the movie an authentic look but when we asked them to do dialogues in Urdu, they were unable to speak clearly. So we asked them to do it in Pashto and then we later added subtitles to it. And, we are glad we made that decision as it came out with better results. All this was during our shooting period. Later on, it took us eight to nine months for the post production that involves V- effects, music, motion and graphics.
Us: Tell Us a bit about the crew that worked behind the movie?
DQ: Oh, The Other Side became possible due to the efforts of a team of highly dedicated youngsters. The cinematography is by Ali Raza, editing and V- effects are by Waqas Waheed Aman, motion graphics are by Aamir Bhagat and background score is by Ahsan Raza Naqvi. All of these people worked really hard to produce something original, like Ahsan who is mostly into rock had to familiarise himself with some Pashto film music. So he fused his already possessed knowledge with the newly equipped know-how of music to create something fresh, and the same goes for the V- effects; Waqas first searched for different models of drones before setting himself to work. What I want to say is that it was a group effort and it took quite some time to complete it because we were in the middle of our semesters, preparing for our exams, and it was quite a task for us to manage both. But then the LUMS Festival was coming up and we were determined to showcase it there for the first time, hence, we worked day and night to complete it on time. We didn’t get any awards but the response was good.
Us: What is the story of The Other Side, and how close is it to the people of Pakistan?
DQ: Well, the story of this documentary is very relatable. We believe that the drones are spreading more extremism. The Other Side is the story of a boy whose entire town gets blown up due to these attacks. His family, his friends, his neighbourhood, everything is destroyed and they had nothing to do with terrorism. Due to this traumatic incident, he goes to ‘the other side’ and gets involved with the terrorist groups. The activists exploit his loss and use his anger by making him vengeful. This is actually happening; the people living in the war zone are frustrated, they don’t know what to do and often under such desperate situations they succumb to the weaker side of their character. They start believing that their ability to destroy makes them powerful enough to change the world.
Us: How did you get selected for the NFFTY? And why weren’t you able to attend it?
DQ: We were on the look out for some international festivals to showcase our work and that’s when we got to know about the NFFTY. We sent our movie and got selected. Then five of us applied for visa and our college gave us a sponsor letter. When we went for the interview, they rejected our visa applications, claiming that that the sponsor letter wasn’t justified. Later, NFFTY sent us a sponsorship letter and even provided us with accommodation. We reapplied for the visa but again got rejected. It was disappointing. We followed the events and workshops that happened there on the internet and it was heartbreaking to see what we missed just because of the visa problem. But then we won the award and the sense of achievement that came with it overcame all the grief and disappointment.
Oh, and by the way, it is also nominated for the New York Peace Film Festival 2013, so we are hoping to make it there.
Us: So what is in the pipeline now?
DQ: I am working on another short film based on the water dispute between India and Pakistan. It’s a part of my thesis. You see, I am from Bahawalpur and the Satluj River flows through it. I have got friends who have their lands in these areas and they harvest crops for a living. These lands go barren due to water scarcity. While, whenever the flow is very high, they let all the water come to our part which causes flood and destroys the crops. Eventually, they are left with nothing. So, I want to make films highlighting the real issues confronting a common man in our country and not just the problems we see in a metropolis. We have seen so many electronic reports and short films about pick-pocketing and cell phone snatchings that it has become clichéd now. The city spoils us; there is so much to see in our villages … how people are living in harsh conditions, the conditions we can’t even think of while living in big cities. I want to portray a different image of Pakistan. We can’t deny all the wrong doings in our country, but at least we can justify our position and inform others that all of it is not our fault.
After completing my studies, I plan to go for a Master’s degree in film making in Czech Republic at Pisek Film School so that I can continue making films that portray Pakistan in a positive light and are closer to us, too.