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Views from the Film Industry - Iqbal Mohammed

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

We carry on our focus on independent filmmakers as we talk to Iqbal Mohammed, director of shot in Sheffield film, 'Tasbeeh' and award winning short 'Three Minute Warning'.

Q1: Can you tell us the background to Tasbeeh, what is the story and why did it resonate with you to make this film?

I came up with the story of Tasbeeh back in 2018, but left it on the shelf for a little while before re-writing it. The film is about two young men who meet after many years apart to discover their lives are now very dissimilar.

It’s loosely based on my life over the past few years. Part of me feels as if I want to go out into the world and make films for a living and then there’s the other side of me that tells me that I belong in Huddersfield with my family, working my 9 to 5.

In 2016, my mother was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer which halted my filmmaking progress and for the next two years I seemed to watch all my friends do so well for themselves.

In 2018, after my mum entered remission, I wanted to tell a story about why some people can judge others unfairly. We never know what’s going on in other peoples lives.

The first draft of the film had a very dark theme before I met with Amy O’Hara, the Film Hub North BFI Talent Exec and she asked me what I was trying to tell and my answer was; “not all is what is seen”. This meeting for me was an eye opener and I had to be extremely honest with myself and tell my own story rather than something that wasn’t relevant.

Q2: What was the most challenging part of producing the film?

The writing part for me is always the most gruelling stage of the process. Only because I’m never truly happy with everything and feel I need to continue re-writing. It is however the nicest feeling when you present a draft that the team loves. The writing phase took a little over 18 months and 19 drafts, only because I didn’t know what the film really was until draft 12.

It felt as if every time I presented a draft to the producers they hated it. That can take a lot out of a writer. But as writer/directors, we need to understand that the producers are excellent when they give you honest feedback and this is what Hugh and Gabriel were.

The storyboarding and directing come naturally to me only because this requires good communication which I feel is a valuable strength of mine.

Q3: Your films incorporate social messages into the narrative, why do you think film is an important medium for this?

Since I was a child, I’d always watch films above of my age range. I had two older brothers and an older sister. They’d put a rated 12 or 15 and occasionally an 18 film on (after convincing my mum its a 15 of course whilst forwarding the rude bits). One thing we learned quickly was that there was always a deeper connotation to every story.

Film changes attitudes whether we like to believe that or not. My aim as a filmmaker isn’t to give answers but rather raise questions.

It’s to make the audience think about a certain situation differently even if it’s for 10 minutes. That’s when you know you’ve made a good film.

Q4: There is a severe lack of Muslim characters in films, in particular ones portrayed positively, I know this is something you’re keen to address. Where do we start with making film more inclusive for Muslim characters?

This is a necessary discussion we need to have. I can’t remember seeing one positive role model on screen growing up and I remember when we thought we did, the whole family would sit around the television glued only to be disappointed by the ghastly portrayal.

Take the 1991 film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner. His friend, Azeem is a Muslim…that was praying incorrectly.

It’s obvious there wasn’t a Muslim on set during that shoot.

It’s the main reason why I wanted to tell ordinary stories with Muslim characters.

The way we change this is having more Muslims on screen with the stories being told by Muslim’s behind the camera. Let’s have more Muslims in writer’s rooms.

Let’s have a Muslim superhero, or a female Muslim who doesn’t need to take off her hijab to feel liberated. How about a Muslim father who encourages his daughters to get educated and not want to marry them off? How about we have a Muslim man who isn’t misogynistic? And how about we don’t have a Muslim terrorist trying to blow something up or hijack a plane like the film I watched with Joseph Gordon Levitt just last week (which was only made last year).

We have a long way to go but I’d like to think we can change the industry one film at a time.

Q5: What is some advice you can provide filmmakers working with limited resources?

First of all, I didn’t go to film school. My first film wasn’t a student film made on an Arri. I remember making short clips on my phone and eventually my Canon 60d when I finally got some money together.

I would recommend budding filmmakers to team up with people who have the same interests as them and just shoot the hell out of a film.

Choose one location, with one or two actors and write something one or two pages long. Continue to do this until you think you can get a decent budget for what you want to do.

I’d say the toughest part is networking. Start to go to more events and if you’re shy like I was, try your best to meet just one person. That person will then introduce you to another person and so on.

You’ll quickly build a network of people in the same boat as you. Some might have editing software, another may have a camera, someone else may have Final Draft. Very quickly you’ll understand the process.

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