x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

IWC award-winner talks about the progress of her film, Nothing Doing in Baghdad

With Cate Blanchett heading to DIFF to head up the jury for the IWC Filmmaker awards for a second time, we spoke to Iraqi director Maysoon Pachachi about how her film has progressed since winning last year.

Maysoon Pachachi. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Maysoon Pachachi. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

Much of the flash photography at last year’s Dubai International Film Festival was directed towards Cate Blanchett. The multi-award-winning actress stopped by Dubai in between promoting the first instalment in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy to head the jury for the festival’s inaugural IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Award, which gave US$100,000 (Dh367,300) to one of four nominated film projects being developed by Arab filmmakers.

And according to the final winner of the award, Blanchett’s presence on the judging panel, along with that of Olivier Père, the general director of the Paris-based cultural TV network Arte, and DIFF’s creative director Masoud Amralla Al Ali, gave the project a huge status lift.

“Cate Blanchett is a wonderful actress and is in a position to judge whether a script is actable,” says Maysoon Pachachi, the London-based Iraqi filmmaker who walked awaylast year with the $100,000 cheque for her project Nothing Doing in Baghdad. “The prize itself was obviously fantastic, but it really was the people who gave it to us and chose our film that gave it the biggest boost.”

Moving forward

A year on and Blanchett is set to return for the next round of the IWC award, and Pachachi’s Nothing Doing in Baghdad is slowly progressing towards actual production.

“We’re inching forward,” admits Pachachi. “We always knew it would be a long haul, but our current idea is to try to shoot towards the end of 2014, in roughly a year’s time.”

Loosely based on a true story, the film is set during the tail end of 2006, one of the most volatile periods in the Iraqi capital’s recent troubled history when intense sectarian violence was dominating the headlines. Amid multiple intersecting stories, a writer living in one of Baghdad’s neighbourhoods of mixed religion and class searches for creative ­inspiration.

Since the IWC prize was awarded, the script has gone through several rewrites. “It’s still the same basic structure, but some of the characters have changed,” says Pachachi. “The main change in the story is to do with the relationship between the central character and her daughter, who has been brought more to the foreground now. There’s also more action in it, but still quite a lot of dialogue.

Pachachi describes the film as like a piece of cloth. “It’s got a lot of strands in it. You take one strand out or change its colour and it changes the whole pattern. It’s layer upon layer.”

Funding talk

Aside from script changes, the biggest development since winning in Dubai has been regarding financing, with the film having been awarded a development grant from the EU and with several more applications being submitted soon.

“It was quite substantial and not many other people got it, but it was a hellish application,” says Pachachi, who adds that the project now has two French producers and is looking towards Germany and maybe Sweden for more. Pachachi and her producers have also attended numerous workshops, such as the European Producers Workshop run by EAVE, European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs.

But much of this was only made possible thanks to the IWC award which, aside from a small development grant from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, was Nothing Doing in Baghdad’s first real piece of funding. “It was extremely useful because it raised the profile of the film. It’s an unusual project and I think people were quite hesitant. But the IWC award really kick-started everything and made people think there must be something in it, especially because of the jury.”

Journey continues

Despite the victory last year, Pachachi remains very pragmatic about winning the award and advises those competing for the prize this time around to approach it in a similar manner.

“I was under no illusion that getting this award meant I’d written the best script in the world,” she says. “I was very grateful for it and really didn’t expect it, but the point is that it’s just a tool that enables you to do something. Of course, it depends on your film and where you are in your funding. For us it was a tremendous encouragement, but we had and still have a long road ahead of us. You can be buzzy for a while, it makes people take interest, but there’s still a lot of hard graft.”

artslife@thenational.ae