After winning awards, and hearts, across the world, New York-based Kashmir-born, film director, Musa Syeed’s debut movie Valley of Saints is set to open the prestigious Hamburg International Film Festival in September. SHAMS IRFAN catches up with the young director.

KL: Valley of Saints will open the Hamburg International Film Festival in September. Who else is attending the screening?  
MS: I’m very excited that Gulzar Bhat and Afzal Sofi, two protagonists of the movie will be there to watch the movie.

KL: Isn’t it ironic that a movie on Kashmir has not been screened there, even eight months after its first US screening?  
MS: My goal is to get as much exposure, not just for the film, but for Kashmir as well. In order to do that, we have to abide by some protocols. To secure screenings at biggest film festivals, we promised a single premiere in each region. For example, we were able to screen at the Rotterdam Film Festival in Europe because we reserved our European premiere for them, not for a smaller film festival. This fall, Valley of Saints will be screened at one of the largest film festivals of Asia.

Had we done public screenings in Asia, we would have lost the opportunity to gain maximum exposure for the film and for Kashmir as well. I think the more the film is screened, the more Kashmiris will feel proud of themselves, of their homeland, their language. That, I hope, is worth the wait. I wish we could have shown it sooner in Kashmir, but, at the same time, I see an opportunity. We can now bring the film to Kashmir with international momentum. We have extensively planned its distribution and outreach in Kashmir.

As part of our outreach strategy, my team was invited to the prestigious Producers Institute for New Media Technologies to create a Facebook game for Kashmiri youth. We hope to get funding for that so that we can launch that game with the film. So we hope to bring the film to Kashmir this year. If anyone is interested in helping us organize screenings or other events, they can contact us at [email protected] .
The film wasn’t just created for only for foreign audiences but for Kashmiris too. I choose a subject that I believe Kashmiris would relate to. I am committed to bring the film to Kashmir in a big way. Many Kashmiri expatriates have seen the film, and I am very, very excited to screen it in Kashmir.

KL: Even the lead cast of the film has not seen it on the big screen so far?
MS: We had hoped that Gulzar, our lead actor, will make it to an earlier festival but he only recently got a passport. The process to get passports by Kashmiris is very cumbersome. I could have shown him the film on a laptop but that would not do justice to the great effort he put into the project. I really want him to see the film for the first time on a big screen, with a large appreciative audience. Hamburg will provide that opportunity. I am excited about his first trip abroad, and to see him watch a movie in theatre for the first time. I appreciate the organisers who’ve been very helpful to Gulzar in getting his visa. No other festival had extended an invitation to our cast before.

KL: Does the success of Valley of Saints mean that Kashmir issue has still got takers at international level?
MS: I believe the film has raised awareness about Kashmir because people are eager to know more about the place. I think our film is a good introduction to Kashmir for an international audience because we really tried to put a human face to the conflict. Hopefully, we can be part of a revival of interest and action around Kashmir issues internationally.

KL: Is it the political instability in Kashmir that is keeping Valley of Saints away from Kashmiri audiences?
MS: If Kashmir had a film festival that could organise the logistics and provide resources for a screening, it would have been easier for us to screen in Kashmir. While film festivals rarely pay filmmakers to screen their films, they do provide travel and logistics for screenings which we likely will have to organize on our own. The conflict makes creative expression and the arts all the more necessary. So we’re looking forward to bringing the film to Kashmir at the earliest opportunity.

KL: Kashmiris often feel cheated by filmmakers as Kashmir is repeatedly exploited as a subject and then abandoned?
MS: Not answered.

KL: Any new projects in the pipeline on Kashmir?
MS: As mentioned above, we designed a Facebook game for Kashmiri youth, to build on the film’s environmental themes. We need to raise some additional funds to make it a reality. We are hopeful that the film’s success will encourage people to support this project.


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