|Pakistan Street Children Documentary Shortlisted For Grierson Award|
|Written by North West Vision||Monday, 07 August 2006|
Aneel Ahmad’s short film Waiting For Sunrise has been shortlisted for the Best Newcomer award at the prestigious Grierson Documentary awards. Waiting For Sunrise first came to wider attention at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, since when where it won a UNICEF award. The final four Grierson nominations will be announced on 9th October 2006.
An outspoken extrovert with an all-consuming passion for making films, Aneel Ahmad started off his filmmaking career by making low budget zombie films with his mates. He was recently selected to make the Northwest’s first ever Core Digis film with a budget of £18,000, and he has come a long way. In fact he has been all the way to Lahore, Pakistan.
You have just been out to Pakistan to make your new film as part of North West Vision’s Core Digis scheme. How did it go?
Really well. I applied for funding from North West Vision to make a short film entitled Boot Polish. It was shot in Pakistan and the post-production is being done in the UK. It is about a boot polish kid and a courtesan. People from England came with me to work on the film and we had a really good crew in Pakistan.
I had a fantastic time. The budget was a lot but it’s ambitious to try and make a film abroad. There was a dance sequence in the film, which we had to shoot in the Himalayas, we drove about 17 hours to the Himalayas, it was a nightmare trying to get up there.
We pulled it off and it was probably the best experience I’ve had. You learn all the time when you make films anyway, and I’ve learnt more now.
Overall, I’m very pleased with how the film has come across.
You are the first person to make a Core Digis aren’t you? How does that feel?
I’d been trying to get funding (about ten grand) for about four years and never got it. I finally applied for the Core Digis scheme and I was successful. I’m very honoured my film got chosen for that scheme.
Did you write Boot Polish yourself?
Yeah, I sent the script around to some big filmmakers and got some really good feedback from them, so I knew the film was good enough to make. I think the UK Film Council’s worry was that I wouldn’t be able to make it in budget. I said, ‘I’ll make it for £5,000 never mind £18,000’.
I had already made Waiting for Sunrise (North West Vision Digital Short film) for £2,500 including the tickets so I knew I could go out with the same crew to make Boot Polish. I went to them and said, ‘I’ve got this much money and I need to make this film’. They believed in the film as well.
What made you choose Lahore? Pakistan?
Mainly because that’s where I did Waiting for Sunrise. I wanted to do a documentary about street kids, so Waiting for Sunrise was kind of like a research project for Boot Polish.
With Boot Polish, I wanted to make a film that pushes the boundaries. I wanted to take a risk, so we were at multiple locations shooting this film in seven days. We travelled a lot, and I was determined to make it work.
What are you going to do next?
My whole aim is to make a feature film, maybe not this year, but in the next two or three years I’ll probably be ready to do it.
I did a Mini Digital Short last year and I did a Virgin Short, so I followed the whole process of making films with North West Vision. They (NWV) helped me out a lot; they gave me the opportunity to work with the funding from next to nothing (like a grand) right up to the £18,000 for Digital Short Plus.
Has this process developed your skills?
Yeah. All of my films are different. My first film, A Man’s World, I did it all on my own really, working with mates. Then when I did Waiting for Sunrise, I worked with an independent crew. Now with Boot Polish, I worked with over a hundred people on set. It was a big epic film, I wasn’t scared of it because I knew what I needed to do, but for a guy who’s only made a couple of shorts and documentaries, jumping into a massive film (even if it is a short) is a big experience.
The help that I got from the UK Film Council and North West Vision, has given me the tools to go on and work on a feature film or work with different people. I’ve warmed to working with people instead of just trying to work on my own and trying to be a control freak.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m one of those filmmakers who has got no education, no qualifications, I think I’ve got one GCSE in Art and Design. I learnt from getting small cameras and making films that way. I never got the opportunities because people just thought, ‘Well you didn’t go to University so maybe you don’t know what you’re doing’.
I’m honoured because I know there are lots of filmmakers who want to get their film made, but I know this script is good.
I always wanted to be a director and a writer.
What is your advice for people starting out in filmmaking?
The first advice I give people, whoever they are, regardless of colour or what qualifications they’ve got. Everyone gets rejected and it is a hard life.
I got rejected for probably the first five or six years but I never gave up hope. Believe in yourself and your work and believe
I would say for any filmmaker who is genuinely serious about making films, try and make some short films and then from there try and apply for some schemes in your area. Make your film with a grand if that’s all you are offered, just make it better than the ones that took more money to make.
When you are making a film, be very professional, – don’t swear, don’t hurt people’s feelings and don’t be one of those idiot directors that get so absorbed. Making films is not just about working on your own, if you work in a team and you are respectful to everyone on your set, then they’ll do good work for you.
What is your technique to get the best out of actors?
Our actors were non-professional actors; we worked with proper street kids. We were in one the poorest areas in Lahore and we hired a hall out and then we did a lot of workshops with the kids. The only advice I give to any director is to make sure you that you prepare your actors. As long as you work honestly with them and you tell them what you see in the film, and they tell you what they see in the film, then you’ll make a better film.
What motivates you?
My happiness is in the process of making films. When you’re in the thick of things there’s a romance in making a film. If I make a film and someone likes it or can relate to it, or the team has worked really hard in the film and they get something out of it, then that makes me happy.
Because I got money from North West Vision and the UK Film Council, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to make a cheap film with Boot Polish. I wanted to make a film that looked like it cost about £50,000 – £60,000 to make. So when I was on set, I was thinking I have got someone else’s money, and I’ve got to make the best film that I can make. That’s what kept me motivated.
If you continue working harder and harder you’re always going to make a better film.
Who has influenced you?
Well I have a few role models – Mike Leigh, Ken Loach.
Satyajit Ray (the Indian director for Boot Polish) is a great influence in my life. For me, his films show an ingenuous authenticity for the portrayal of his characters. The reality of poverty, escapism and fantasy.
I also love Stanley Kubrick. Stanley Kubrick always says that when you make films, you should always try make a miniature film (of two or three minutes) and figure out the mechanics. Later on the process is always the same. So if you’re working on Titanic, and you’ve got, god knows, about 10,000 people on your set and then you’ve got a film that you’re making with 50 people, the principals are still the same.
I love loads of directors; I like loads of period dramas, and romantic films. Funny enough I’m making a serial killer film after this.