KARACHI, Feb 27: Internationally acclaimed film-maker Jamil Dehlavi urged aspiring local auteurs to worry about the logistics of distribution and other such details later and primarily focus on making films.
“Establish a parallel industry. Persuade the many local TV channels to show your films. But first of all, you have to be driven to make films. Think of the distribution later. You don’t need studios. You have brilliant locations. Why would you want to recreate these in a studio?” he said in response to a question, when asked what local film-makers short on funds and facilities can do to pursue their projects.
Mr Dehlavi was speaking at the Aga Khan University Hospital’s auditorium on Wednesday. His lecture on ‘Guerrilla film-making,’ was part of the AKU’s Special Lectures Series.
“Forget 35mm film, forget studios. Be a guerrilla film-maker. Thirty-five millimetre film is on its way out. In five years, it’ll all be done digitally,” he said in response to another question, sounding the purported death knell of analogue film-making and hailing the age of digital.
Before the Q&A, Jamil Dehlavi extolled the virtues of guerrilla film-making in his lecture and walked the audience through this filmography using clips from his standout films.
A self-described guerrilla film-maker, Mr Dehlavi, a qualified lawyer called to the bar at London’s Lincoln’s Inn, said that guerrilla film-makers were the new breed of independent film-makers.
“Independent film-makers may be short on money, but not on passion and vision. They break the rules and also work creatively within them. Independent film-making comes from oneself. Film-making is an expensive proposition. However, guerrilla film-making uses technology to its advantage,” he said, praising the role digital video cameras, editing software and internet-based tools have played in levelling the field somewhat.
He likened his own career to that of a guerrilla fighter, claiming that “I have spent life as an individual acting independently, taking part in unconventional fighting against large, conventional forces.”
The clips from Mr Dehlavi’s films were an absolute delight, which he interspersed with running commentary. Most were magnificently shot, with stunning cinematography that carried the visual narrative forward admirably. However, many contained violence, nudity and coarse language. But to be fair, the director asked those in the audience who might take offence to such elements – of whom there were a few – to “keep your eyes and ears firmly closed if this offends you.”
Though a film-maker cannot be judged by viewing snippets of his work, Jamil Dehlavi’s corpus of films, which remain largely unseen in Pakistan, seemed to be visually rich and incredibly imaginative, as far as the clips screened were concerned. Interestingly, he himself said that “the irony of fate is that my country is the one in which I have experienced the greatest number of problems.”
Towers of Silence, shot in black and white over 25 years ago while he was studying for his Master of Fine Arts degree at New York’s Columbia University, was a slice of surreal life, inspired by Zoroastrianism, with unforgettable shots of salivating vultures.
Mr Dehlavi told the audience that with him, art imitated life as The Blood of Hussain, which he began in 1976 and which told of the rebellion of the righteous against state tyranny, was almost scuttled as a few months after he started work on the film, General Ziaul Haq took over the reigns of power in Islamabad.
“My passport was impounded. I was prevented access to film stock and could not earn my living. I was accused of engaging in subversive activities prejudicial to the interest of Pakistan and to Pakistan’s relations with Muslim foreign powers, of creating sectarian hatred and of inciting people to revolt against the armed forces,” he said.
Luckily, the director managed to escape to London, which was another adventure as his passport was still with the authorities. “If I were to disclose how I left the country, I would be giving away the script of the film I may make one day,” he said.
‘The true revolution’
Countering the claims against his film, Jamil Dehlavi said that “The Blood of Hussain is a statement about the true revolution which began with the birth of Islam. It is a eulogy of Imam Hussain (AS), whose martyrdom will forever remain a powerful symbol for the struggle of all oppressed people against illegitimate and tyrannical rule.”
Coming to Jinnah perhaps his most celebrated, controversial and commonly known work, he said “the people who controlled the film had a hidden agenda, which was to use it as a way of promoting themselves. None of them were professionals and therefore incapable of handling its proper distribution. As a result, Jinnah is in the hands of a liquidator in England.”
Dehlavi, however, added that he was proud of the film and that it was a tragedy that a film which was part of the country’s heritage was sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
‘Talk to your enemies’
As for Infinite Justice – loosely based on the Daniel Pearl case – he said it was a film with which he wanted to explore the roots of so-called terrorism. “The message of the film, which is expressed by one of the main characters, is: ‘if you want to make peace, don’t talk to your friends, talk to your enemies.’ I wanted to emphasize that if one does not address the grievances of Muslims, the world will become an even more dangerous place.”
Clips from the visually ravishing Born of Fire, shot on location in Turkey, and Passover, a short film described as a “flamenco passion play,” as well as Immaculate Conception, were also shown.