Faraz Waqar is finding his voice in Abu Dhabi
The Pakistani filmmaker Faraz Waqar lives, earns and studies film in Abu Dhabi. By day, he works in marketing for the UAE office of the British Council; by night, he makes films with a multinational crew and cast including Emiratis, Indians, Palestinians and Europeans.
Meanwhile, the press back in his native Pakistan has recently leapt on his latest short film, Peko the Cat & World War 3, and proudly proclaimed it as Pakistan’s first silent movie.
With such a multicultural background it’s not entirely surprising that a prime subject in many of Waqar’s films is differing cultural perspectives.
Waqar began studying at the Abu Dhabi branch of the New York Film Academy (NYFA) in 2011, finally realising his life’s ambition to make films. “I’d been working in corporate roles in Saudi, Qatar and here in Abu Dhabi for years in order to fund myself through film school,” he explains. “When the time finally came, Abu Dhabi was the obvious choice. I already know the area, and the NYFA offers a really intensive one-year programme using all the very latest equipment.”
Waqar had no practical experience of making films when he started at the academy, so it’s impressive that at the end of the year, his thesis film, 9.11AM, was selected to be screened as a UAE entry at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film offered an early hint of the wry social commentary that would remain a feature of Waqar’s future films: it tells the story of a campus shooting at an unnamed Gulf university and how the students and authorities go on to single out American students for harassment and increased security checks – since they consider the United States to be a country where gun-toting students are found. It’s a striking inversion of western attitudes to people from the Middle East in the wake of terrorist attacks such as September 11. The film was well-received at festivals in Canada and Pakistan.
Following the success of his debut, Waqar was in no doubt that Abu Dhabi was the best place to be in to launch his blossoming filmmaking career.
“I have access to the facilities at NYFA and the twofour54 Creative Lab,” he says. “All the post [production] for my film was done at Creative Lab. Where else would you get that kind of opportunity?”
Following a short music video dedicated to the memory of the Pakistani pop star Nazia Hassan on the 13th anniversary of her death last year – the video achieved some success on Pakistani TV – Waqar completed Peko late last year.
The film stars the Emirati actor Ibrahim Al Khemeiri and has already screened at two international festivals in Pakistan. He is currently waiting to hear from festivals in the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as October’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
The most striking reaction to the new film has not come from festival audiences, however, but from the Pakistani press – the “first silent film from Pakistan” tag causing a bit of a frenzy.
The epithet is, in fairness, selective. Lahore has had a film industry for around a century, but by the time the actual modern country of Pakistan came into being, in 1947, the era of silent movies had passed it by, so in that sense Waqar is filling in a missing part of his homeland’s movie history.
“I was inspired by the golden age of Hollywood silent cinema,” he says. “But I wanted to make a statement on Russia, Ukraine and Syria, and how the Third World suffers while the superpowers play their games. I consider it an Abu Dhabi film but it’s great how the Pakistani press has responded. It’s further proof that I’m in the right place as I was able to do all this in Abu Dhabi but still have an impact in Pakistan.”
Waqar is already working on a new short, dealing with perceptions of the world’s major religions, to submit for the Dubai International Film Festival in December. But his current priority is a full-length film: “I want to self-fund the feature,” he explains. “There is funding and sponsorship out there, but you can lose control if you take that route so I’ve gone back to work to fund it and I’m also in talks with Aflamnah about crowdfunding. The script is written and the casting is half complete.”
This film is also very much a product of Waqar’s life in Abu Dhabi. It deals with a family from the subcontinent, living in the capital, who begin to question their perceptions and cultural expectations, thanks to their multicultural home and meeting those from different backgrounds.
At risk of sounding like a spokesman for the local tourist board, Waqar has one final Abu Dhabi-related coincidence, which could help the film achieve global success: “I’ve been in talks with ARY Films, one of Pakistan’s biggest movie distributors, and there’s the possibility of distribution in Pakistan, the UAE, India, and maybe even Europe and North America.”
How did these fortuitous talks come about? “It’s another sign of what a vital film hub Abu Dhabi is becoming,” Waqar says. “I met the younger brother of the head of ARY’s film division as he was studying at the NYFA at the same time as me.”