The Middle East’s only dedicated short film festival is based right here in Bahrain and this year it’s set to be even bigger and better than ever before. We speak to festival directors Mohammed Maskati and Mohammed Bu Ali to find out what’s what.
Initially, the Naqsh Film Festival was born as a way to encourage more Bahraini filmmakers and put our little island on the world’s festival map. It’s already been going for the past two years and now, in its third installment, the organising team is focusing far more on the content. Which is why festival director Mohammed Maskati got notable Bahrain filmmaker Mohammed Buali involved as the festival’s artistic director. We speak to the both of them to get a better idea of what we can expect.
What’s different about the Naqsh Film Festival this year?
Mohammed Maskati: There are a lot of things different but initially I think the big headline for the festival is that it’s going more to the professional level.
Mohammed Buali: When Mohammed asked me to join I really liked the idea because this is almost the only film festival in Bahrain which is an opportunity for filmmakers. At the same time, if you look at the region, you’ll find there are a lot of film festivals so you have to have your unique identity among them. So I suggested to be specialised in short films and the categories that we came up with do not conflict with any of the other festivals.
You’ve introduced a few new categories this year. What are they?
MB: We have four major categories. The first is for the Bahraini filmmakers which is our main focus. Then we will have a section focusing on the cinema of the region where every year we’ll pick a country to celebrate their short films and achievements.
Last year it was the UAE and this year it is Saudi Arabia.
Then the other two categories will bring the international art of short films to the region - these are Asian films and animations.
The animation category is open to international filmmakers and we have a lot of very important animated short films from around the world. With the Asian shorts, we also have a lot of very interesting films that have won many awards.
Why have you decided to focus on the Saudi Arabian film industry this year?
MB: Well, in this last year there has been a lot of movement in Saudi Arabia especially in the filmmaking industry. They have their film ‘Wajda’ [by Haifaa Al-Mansour] which was almost nominated for an Oscar and won a lot of awards from all around the world. At the same time, they don’t have the cinema. It will give these young filmmakers a chance and will celebrate their art.
I think our job is to help and celebrate all the art around the Gulf. Content-wise, we saw that in Saudi Arabia they have a lot of good films and a lot of very good content that needs to be screened.
MM: Last year we opened the submissions so everyone could participate and we got around 11 short films from Saudi. So that big number of films gave us an indication that there is an industry happening there. Also the number of visitors from Saudi to see these films was very large last year. You have people who make films there and you also have an audience that wants to see these Saudi films. So this year we said let’s open it more, let’s get more films and let’s also celebrate it in a way that you open a platform for them.
We will also be having a workshop/forum where we’re inviting filmmakers from Saudi to talk about their experience, their challenges and how they improved their industry.
Why did you two specifically get involved in this festival?
MB: I am a director and filmmaker and have already done some events before. I worked with the Ministry of Culture for a period of time and my background is law. But mostly I’m a filmmaker.
MM: But of course Mohammed’s involvement in the festival is not only because he’s a filmmaker. Filmmaker is an added thing for him because he can help in understanding the content and the process but also because of his experience in organising other film festivals in Bahrain…
I think for both of us, we are into it because we want to have a festival that can really represent Bahrain and represent the number of filmmakers in Bahrain. We have a lot and they have won many awards outside the country. This brought up the question of why there is no film festival here that can really be a platform; a place to screen Bahraini films and also a place where you can see films from around the world.
It started very small and it’s going to get bigger and bigger every year.
MB: Especially this year. We’ve also opened the category for Bahraini films to all films made here even if they’re not made by Bahrainis. We want to support all the filmmakers or artists that like the industry and are making films about the country.
Our main aim and goal is just to develop the society or industry of filmmaking here. So everyone who makes films in Bahrain is welcome to compete for the award because it is more of a national goal than a personal goal for the country.
What directors should we watch out for at the moment in Bahrain?
MB: If you really focus on people who are working on a yearly basis for the last five years there are four or five names. They are all doing well and they’re trying to develop and make shorts. There are also some new filmmakers making good shorts.
If I say one name, I’d have to say all of them because they all deserve the spotlight.
MM: The nice thing about making a festival in your country is having the chance to screen your own people’s films for the first time.
So the majority of the Bahraini films will be premiered for the first time at the festival.
What takes a film from good to great in your opinions?
MB: The content. The storytelling. There are a lot of films where you might have the same idea – five filmmakers will do it but one of them will do it in a way that will blow your mind. If you have very powerful, emotional content and you tell it in a unique style, when you see the film you know it’s good or great. It’s how you introduce the film and how the film can affect you when you’re watching it.
MM: In the area we work, in short films or the films that normally participate in the festivals, they are different and they are not the commercial films we see in the cinema. They are supposed to have a great story.
Film festivals are different because the content is richer than others and that’s why you can quickly judge if this film is good or great by seeing it because the subject and content you select are very sensitive and different… even if they are overused, they have to be tackled in a very different way each time.
Tell us about the judging process for the competition…
MB: All the films will be screened by a jury. There are going to be some important names in the regional film industry. We have seven hours and whoever deserves the award, the jury will know and they will win the award [smiles]. It will be fair and square.
As you’re trying to open the platform up to filmmakers in Bahrain specifically, what advice would you offer newcomers on making it in this industry here?
MM: First of all, this festival is a festival we wanted to be a platform for them to show their creativity, to show their work, their films and their point of view. We want to show Bahrain talents and get the audience used to seeing Bahraini films. But at the same time, we want to educate people in Bahrain about filmmaking. We want to say this is what’s happening in the world and this is the latest trend.
I’m a person who normally goes to see the Hollywood films. Now I will have the chance to see a selection of the best films that have been produced in the last two years in Bahrain and nowhere else. This will allow people to be closer to film, admire them and also give the right support. I think the filmmakers in Bahrain have to be open to taking the decision to be in this festival or any other festival. And also to be available at the time – to see what the people think about their films, to engage with the audience, to understand what’s happening. It’s an opportunity because the festival will have a lot of people coming from outside Bahrain, from the industry, who can be very helpful in giving their point of view.
MB: I think any filmmaker should keep making films. Sometimes I know making films can be costly, can take time, but the end result when you see it on the big screen… that’s something that’s very hard to explain because it’s so emotional.
The Bahrain filmmakers need the courage to continue making films, even if there are financial problems, especially now with all the new technology available. There are a lot of ways they can make good short films with a very low budget.
Do your films, screen them to your family and try to show it to anyone working in the field as that might give you an idea and take you to the next step in becoming a filmmaker. As I said, the five or ten filmmakers alone can’t do anything. We need more to establish the industry in Bahrain.
Naqsh Film Festival runs from October 15 to 19 at the cinema in Seef Mall. Tickets are available online and in the mall. www.naqshfilms.com.
Made by Mohammed Buali
Over the years, award-winning filmmaker Mohammed Buali has garnered a reputation around the world for his shorts. These are three of the more notable works he’s directed...
Huna London (This is London)
Directed by Mohammed in 2012, this award-winning short film is a comedy that follows a couple’s mission to a send a photo to their son in London. The wife refuses to go to the studio and a resident rodent keeps getting in the way so the photographer has to get innovative.
This dramatic short from 2010 is based in Bahrain and follows the lives of three people touched by one canary as it passes from one pair of hands to the next. Each character is very different from the other but they all suffer the same loneliness which is given respite through their interaction with this silent, brightly coloured bird.
Al Bashara (The Good Omen)
This short film was made back in 2009 and depicts the Bahraini tradition of hanging a woman’s dress aka ‘Al Nashal’ over the roof of a house when a family member has returned from a long absence.