x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE-based director has cold feet for latest horror film

A specialist platform for shorts and features is what the UAE needs, says local filmmaker Faisal Hashmi, who recently put up his second horror short film, Cold Feet, on YouTube.

A still from Cold Feet by Faisal Hashmi, featuring the actor Christian Martin. Courtesy Faisal Hashmi
A still from Cold Feet by Faisal Hashmi, featuring the actor Christian Martin. Courtesy Faisal Hashmi

The local filmmaker Faisal Hashmi has just released his latest short film Cold Feet on YouTube. Depicting the creepy events of a strange night after classes in Dubai’s Murdoch University, it is his second horror drama in a row, following last year’s Scrambled.

Hashmi isn’t looking to be the next Wes Craven or Clive Barker and carve out a career exclusively in the horror genre, though.

“I want to work in as many genres as possible. It was just coincidence that I ended up making two horrors in a row,” he says. “Cold Feet was actually made as my entry to a film festival last year and that just happened to be the genre I was given. Horror is a good genre to work in. There’s a loyal audience and although as a genre you don’t get too much horror at the big international festivals, there are a lot of smaller, specialist festivals you can enter.

Scrambled has already played at about seven festivals around the world, from the US to Germany, and picked up over 40,000 views on YouTube. I’ve taken a different approach with Cold Feet. It has already screened at the 48 Hour Film Project in Dubai, where it won the audience award, and I had submitted it to the Gulf Film Festival, but when that was postponed I decided to just put it online and see how it’s received. I’ve literally just put it up, so it’s a bit early to judge, but I hope it can follow the success of Scrambled or my earlier film Bubble, which has about 70,000 views.”

Hashmi says he first became interested in filmmaking as a teenager. He was initially interested in becoming a writer, but gradually noticed that his work was well-suited to screenplays, and began to write in a way that he would be able to film his writing on a minimal budget, with as few actors as possible and, ideally, a crew of one – himself.

“My first film, in 2009, was a sci-fi short that was actually much better than I expected, considering I was just using a cheap SD camcorder and had minimum equipment. I shot a couple more shorts that year. This period was my film school, as I haven’t studied filmmaking academically. I was shooting as much as possible and learning what works and what doesn’t until I felt like I knew what I was doing. I did it all as a one-man show.”

Things started to pick up in 2011, when the Abu Dhabi Film Commission took his one-minute short Perfect Living to screen at its pavilion at the Cannes International Film Festival, but the real breakthrough came when DSLRs became affordable enough to begin working with one. “That year I also shot Bubble. It was the biggest thing I’d done to date and thanks to DSLRs, was finally of the sort of quality I wanted.”

One frustration for Hashmi is the lack of available channels for local filmmakers.

“In Europe and the US, there are lots of small art-house cinemas as well as subscription channels and online platforms. We’re really lacking channels here. There are the festivals for the dramas, but even a lot of those can’t get into cinemas, where it’s all biased towards Hollywood blockbusters. Even a critically acclaimed film like Grand Budapest Hotel recently had its release put back because of Spider-Man 2.

“It would be great if some of the local VOD outlets like OSN, du or ICFlix could create some kind of platform for screening local films. It would mean there was an opportunity for filmmakers to make money back. The only time I’ve ever made any money on a film is when I won the cash prize in a competition.”

He adds: “Over the last couple of years, I’ve got to know a lot more filmmakers, as it’s a close-knit community. There are a lot of people making good short films but they rely on festivals for distribution. I think if more channels opened up and more funding for features became available, the industry would really take off.

“It’s pretty daunting getting people to commit for the week or so it can take to make a short with no money. It’s great bringing stuff like Star Wars here, but it would be even better if the same incentives were available to local filmmakers. I’m sure it will happen and that’s why I want to get writing now – I’m working on two features that I want to have scripted by the end of the year and start looking for funding next year.

“Unlike Hollywood, if you do good stuff here you get noticed now, so as it takes off, I want to make sure I’m at the forefront.”

• Check out Cold Feet and Hashmi’s other work at www.youtube.com/user/hashmichousefilms

cnewbould@thenational.ae