Filmmaker chats to Manchester Muslims

By Mike Dalglish

AN AWARD-winning director, screenwriter and editor recently visited Manchester Muslim Writers to talk about his career in film over a cup of coffee.

Faisal-Azam Qureshi visited the Kingsbrook Road group on Monday 21 December 2009 to give the aspiring writers some handy tips and share some of his stories.

The 33-year-old director-cum-writer, who has just won the Best Film Story award at the Brussels Film Festival for ‘The Footsoldier’ and the Best Short Script award at the Talent Circle/Super Shorts Film Festival for ‘The Screaming Phone’, also lectures in editing at Leeds Metropolitan University is a visiting lecturer at the International School of Cinema and TV in Cuba.

His career in writing stretches back 15 years and had an auspicious beginning when, in 1994, he came runner up in a travel writing competition for youngsters.

The next year he had a bigger break, winning the Channel 4 Film Challenge when he submitted an idea for a documentary about young Muslims street racing in Rusholme called ‘Movin as a Massive’.

He then went on to study a diploma in editing and sound design followed by a masters degree in film production at the National Film School in Leeds.

Since then he has had an enviable record of critically acclaimed films but has not been afraid of rocking the boat either.

His 2006 film ‘The Applicant’ caused great controversy in the UK and abroad.

It showed an Asian gentleman attend a job interview. He is invited to do a ‘practical’ test by a white woman. When he accepts she opens the door to reveal an Asian man bound to a chair and gagged.

The woman says the test will be based on results. The interviewee looks shocked but does not want to disappoint, so he picks of a number of items from a tray of torture weapons. He decides on one and steps purposefully forwards before the screen cuts to the credits.

The response from festival organisers was not warm, but Qureshi was not expecting it to be and said: “I was blamed for having a really hostile view of white people, especially white women.

“I then got a request from a New York magazine. They put it online and it caused quite a stir. People wrote angry comments saying that obviously I’m condoning terrorism.

“When I show it to an audience of colour they don’t have a problem with it. They see what I’m trying to do.”

When Manchester Mouth asked if he was happy with the reception of the film, he said: “I think if you’re going to do something mischievious you should just sit back and enjoy it.”

However, the film was not without success. The Tehran Film Festival snapped up five copies.

Qureshi is modest about his success, which is evident when you ask him to talk about his work.

When asked what he was most proud of he smiled broadly and said: “None of it!”

His success in the film industry is a far cry from the life intended for him by his parents.

“They had already mapped out my career for me,” Qureshi said, “I will study medicine. I will become a doctor. I will earn this much money this year. I will get married this year. And so on.”

Qureshi juggled his interest in writing and film with his parents’ advice, graduating from The University of Leeds in 1997 with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.

His advice to aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters is to send ideas to the BBC Writer’s Room and to enter competitions held abroad, such as withoutabox.com.

“You have to be persistent in this industry, so get on to their mailing list and pester them at functions.

“Try to avoid cliches like suicide, drug abuse, terrorism, homelessness. Do a short film idea that’s interesting to you.

“It’s best to apply to these competitions now before the Conservatives smash it up…and that is a legitimate threat!”

Qureshi remained tight-lipped about what the future holds, but is looking forward to the upcoming film festivals in 2010.

If you would like to find out more about Manchester Muslim Writers, a local literature circle, visit www.r-squared.org.uk.

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