|Guillaume Giovanetti and Cagla Zencirci with Noor (C)|
Presenting taboo subjects without ruffling the sensibilities of the public is an art in itself. Guillaume Giovanetti and Cagla Zencirci — French directors who make short films and documentaries — have co-directed the film Noor, their first feature film which they shot in Pakistan and which is based on a true story with the real-life character of Noor playing himself in it. Having moved away from his community, Noor now works as a painter at a truck decoration workshop and hopes to marry a girl. However, societal stigma and stereotypes dog his steps.
It took some years for the film to be completed, due to issues pertaining to the sensitive subject and budget problems, which were overcome ultimately. Both the directors were in Pakistan recently to show the film at the Alliance Francaise and took out time for an interview.
What was the response to the film in France?
Guillaume: The response was good and the critics were positive. But we had a tight budget as it is difficult to get a good budget when making a film on countries like Pakistan, because sponsors don’t give money for films that focus on realism. They’re more happy in projecting the negative aspects. It took us eight years to make Noor because of lack of funds. It is really difficult to get sponsors who have the same thinking.
What made you choose this region to base your film on?
Cagla: We were going to Delhi from Turkey some 12 years back and made a stopover here. The beauty of the country and the friendly atmosphere attracted us and we decided to do a story based on this area. When we showed the script to the sponsors they turned us down saying ‘there were no Taliban in it!’ They freely gave money for films on Iran after the earthquake some years back, showing the poverty and the begging. The sponsors never give money to film makers for showing positive things such as music, traditions and art of the country. But we eventually found people who were interested in this topic, though it took us a lot of time to convince them too.
Noor is the culmination of five years of hard work by two French directors aiming to highlight the troubles faced by a Pakistani transgender who wishes to live a ‘normal’ life.
What audience are you targeting for Noor?
Cagla: Ideally, we want an audience on a broad level and so we try not to make complicated films. Noor was shown in Brazil, Morocco, France and other countries and people were able to understand the topic.
Guillaume: If the film is good your audience can be young or old; it doesn’t matter. Usually producers ask that question because of the budget — they want it to be viable and emphasise on compromising the story, which we can’t do, such as cutting scenes or the number of artists etc. I had to let go a film because the budget was small and the topic would have changed due to the cuts, so I refused to do it as it was not my cup of tea. You have to be strong and put your foot down.
What kind of message do you want people to learn from this movie?
Cagla: Let me give an example; my father is a conservative person who is very clear about his views. But after seeing this movie, , he relented and hugged Noor on whom the story is based, when he met him. To create empathy towards such people, to let people know of how ‘certain’ people feel, is the realism we aim for in our films. Noor was a specific subject, he went on a quest for an identity and normal life in his society.
Would you come again to South Asia to make another film?
Cagla: Yes we would because it has been good here. We would also like to know how people react to Noor.
How do you find the film makers here?
Guillaume: When we came to Pakistan 12 years ago, there was good work being done but in 2006 the situation wasn’t good, we couldn’t get CDs or technical help. In 2012 when we came here we saw a new batch of film makers who were young, so I am more optimistic now. The TV industry is strong here but the working process is different for films so it is difficult to find the right technical people for filmmaking, and while TV technicians are available they can’t do what is required in films. There should also be depth in work to achieve success and the younger generation is not that hardworking anywhere now.
Any favourite Pakistani films?
Guillaume: Khuda Kay Liye, Waar, Jinnah but that’s all because the film industry is not thriving here. Pakistani movies are not available in France as Indian movies are. Films from Taiwan, Korea, China etc. come to Cannes and other festivals and are released in France and many other countries. Indian films and directors are more known because their films are shown around the world regularly. But I believe some new local films now are making their mark here.
Did you have problems in making this kind of film here?
Cagla: No we didn’t because we had official support from the Ministry of Culture, and the local people were also helpful and very enthusiastic. We only had a problem at a cemetery scene, and that was because the crowd which had swelled wanted to see the shooting and the police had to step in.
Was it difficult communicating with the Pakistani cast?
Cagla: We used local artists along with non-professionals. Most directors do this all over the world. So you will have a good actor or bad actor and the director has to bring out the best in them, and therefore casting is important. We had our local assistant directors looking for the right people. Hard work, research and directing and acting make a film. We have translators to help us, so there was no communication problem either. The artists do try to understand and do the best as we guide them at every step. In the beginning these people were worried about the image abroad. When they discovered that the good side was going to be shown they became enthusiastic. We were very comfortable here (except for the climate!) and plan to come again.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 7th, 2015