Tariq Al Kazim is a man who doesn’t mince words. The young Emirati filmmaker has ambitious plans and a creative thirst to quench — be it through his written prose or his crafty camera work that unspools this week at a cinema near you.
The 24-year-old is a proud filmmaker of A Tale of Shadows, an English-language film that serves up a spine-chilling premise that Al Kazim says offers glimpses of his own demons lurking out of the darkness.
Speaking to Gulf News tabloid! Al Kazim steps into the light and lifts the veil on his new project, the first in a trilogy of horror films.
What was the inspiration behind A Tale of Shadows?
Two years ago, I was enlisted with the UAE National Service as a trainee. At the time, I was personally going through a very stressful period in my life, which eventually led to my exemption from the service on medical grounds. I would suffer from hallucinations and during one such episode, the seed of A Tale of Shadows was sown.
While a story always existed, this dark period of my life somehow set the perfect premise for my last and final draft of the film.
How would you best describe the film?
A Tale of Shadows is about a down-on-his-luck man who is hired as a gardener on a remote, isolated farm where he reports to a psychopath boss. However, all is not what it seems at this farm and he and the audience is left wondering whether what he sees is a hallucination or something menacing that is lurking in the shadows.
How many drafts had you penned before you settled upon the final plot of a horror-thriller?
At least 10 [laughs]. The very first draft was about a writer suffering from brain cancer, who goes to a secluded farm to write his last and final book. Suffering from hallucinations of his own, he takes pills to keep his demons at bay. However, he forgets to take a pill one night and sees things, which he isn’t sure is real or a figment of his imagination.
I literally wrote 10 different stories before hitting upon the final one that you will see in cinemas today. Once I knew what I wanted, I spent another year writing it up before we began filming.
How difficult was it to raise funds for the project?
We knocked on several doors before my father ultimately paid me the sufficient amount of money needed to put the film together. With the limited money available, we rolled out with a crew of four people and I pretty much doubled up as needed to handle the odd jobs.
Surely, that wouldn’t have been easy...
Ask my actors. I fainted twice on the sets due to the heat. I spent many a sleepless night [over] the film. My daily routine was literally drive one hour to the location, film all day, drive back home and copy everything to a backup and manage a four-hour rest before the routine started all over again.
Would we recognise the places where you shot the film?
I doubt it. The filming was literally in the middle of the desert between Dubai and Al Ain, on my great-grandfather’s creepy old farmhouse. The place has been in the family for generations.
After my father took over the running of the farm, I remember visiting the place and just looking at the dark shadows that enveloped the place. It was when the idea of shooting her took root.
Following A Tale of Shadows, are you planning to work on other films as well?
Well, A Tale of Shadows is the first film in a trilogy. Without giving much of the plot away, the movie ends with an unanswered question, a mystery that needs solving. I would like to take this forward into the second and third films. But there are things that need to be considered.
Do you mean in terms of funding? Why not knock on doors of the several government-backed initiatives that are available to promote the local film industry?
You think we didn’t try? I was not satisfied by the red tape and the terms and conditions laid out for filmmakers before a project is green-lighted. The biggest problem with my film was that it was in English. The funding would only be available to me if my film was in Arabic.
Look around you... we are living in a metropolis, cosmopolitan place where hundreds of different cultures live together. Agreed I am an Emirati, and I maybe at an advantage to understand both languages, but not everyone gets Arabic or enjoys watching a film with subtitles.
If I want to reach out to a bigger a market with my movie, it had to be in English.
The local film industry is still in its infancy. If you have the platform as an Emirati filmmaker to lead this growth into adolescence, what would you bring to the table?
I want to make the process a little more transparent. Of course, nobody is perfect and I am not sure whether my ideas would bring about a positive change to more like me. But I think it is imperative to back projects that have the potential to elevate the industry. Why spend Dh20 million on two to three decent films, when you can over Dh2-3 million to 10 filmmakers and have several good projects in hand?
We need to create films that people can identify with in a language they understand. And once we have a viable project in hand, we push the distributors into bringing such a project into cinemas.
The film will play in UAE cinemas for one week, with a possibility of a second-week run. Are you nervous or worried how it will fare?
I am eager to read what critics say. The movie has gotten a lot of mixed reactions from those who have seen it. And I have 10 pages worth of changes I could make to my film even today [laughs].
Don’t miss it!
A Tale of Shadows is currently playing in UAE cinemas.
Chuka Ekweogwu plays The Gardener in A Tale of Shadows, a film that the young Nigerian national says allowed him to explore one of his childhood dreams.
“I always wanted to be a detective, even as a child. When I was invited by the producers to audition for A Tale of Shadows, there was something about the story that immediately drew me to the project,” he revealed.
For Ekweogwu, who chooses not to reveal his age saying he ‘grows younger with each passing year’, working on a movie is not a new thing.
His list of films include names of co-stars including Brad Pitt, Chris Pine and Bollywood’s Shah Rukh Khan.
Before you wonder, Ekweogwu laughingly explained: “I have worked on War Machine, Star Trek and Happy New Year, but each of these roles were limited. In War Machine, I was a stand-in for a marine, while I played an extra in Star Trek.
“In Happy New Year, I played a close aide of Jackie Shroff, who was a villain in the film.”
As a budding actor in an industry that is still very young, Ekweogwu admitted his moments of frustration have been plenty.
He said: “We don’t have real casting directors here, so auditions become an open house calls for all — be it a serious actor, a model or walk-ins. I understand we can’t compare to Los Angeles or Hollywood, but I do believe it is time to develop other segments of the film industry as well.”
Quiz the actor whether we will be seeing him in the other two films of the trilogy and he said: “Hopefully, if Tariq [Al Kazim] hasn’t killed me off by then.”