Abu Dhabi: This year's Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) not only showcased blockbuster and independent movies from around the world, but also ensured that films highlighting important issues were given their moments to shine.
One such movie is Kavi, a short film by Gregg Halvey, which addresses the issue of modern-day slavery, told through the eyes and experiences of the main character, who lends his name to the title of the film.
Kavi is a young boy in India who dreams about playing cricket and going to school.
Unfortunately, the circumstances that surround him seem to conspire to keep him from making his dreams a reality. He then has to find a way to escape his situation, in order to keep his dreams alive.
"I first stumbled upon modern slavery when I was working on a programme for National Geographic channel. I was shocked at what I had discovered and decided that I had to raise awareness about it," Halvey explained.
But there were many unforeseen challenges that lay ahead in order to ensure that the film remained as true as possible to its subject.
"I did a month of scouting, looking for brick kilns so we could shoot actual footage of what happens there. I met many children who said to come back in six months because it would be brick season then. When I came back with my crew, it was monsoon season!" he said, laughing.
Luckily for Halvey and his crew, a small window opened up so he gathered up the crew and off they went to the location site, only to discover that it was covered in lush vegetation. In order to achieve the desired effect for the short film, the crew were forced to strip down all the surrounding vegetation.
"Because we didn't know when the rains would start again, we condensed the shooting schedule to just seven days. And two hours after we wrapped, the rains started again! So we were very lucky to have been able to finish everything before then," Halvey said.
Another factor that added an interesting twist to this tale was the variety of languages that were heard on the set. The cast hired for the film spoke Marati, the crew Hindi and Gregg neither!
They kept both the dialogue coach and hired translator busy while navigating the cultural and lingual maze that was Kavi.
"When I wrote the screenplay, I tried to keep the dialogue as concise as possible. But when it was translated into Hindi, the phrases became very long so we had to find a way to make the cast say their lines as efficiently as possible," Halvey said.
"I usually like it when the cast improvises while saying their lines, but in this case it wasn't possible. So they had to rehearse their lines for two or three weeks in order to ensure that they improvise as little as possible," he added.
All their hard work paid off. Kavi has won many awards from the international film festivals where it was screened. But there are two awards that Halvey will always have a soft spot for.
"The first time I won an award for this film was when I screened it at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. It won the Audience Choice Award, which was wonderful because it meant that not only was I able to do justice to the story, but that the Indian community had supported my efforts," he said, wistfully.
"Another award that I was excited to receive was the Student Academy Award's Gold Medal in the Narrative film category. That means that it will be a part of among the films being showcased at the Oscars next year, which is very exciting. All of this really helps to spread my message and make people more aware of this issue, and maybe spur them into action to stop modern slavery from continuing," he added.
Kavi is competing for the Black Pearl Award in the Short Film Competition: Student Programme 2 category tonight.
"If I win, it would be fantastic of course. But my philosophy has always been: Hope for everything, and expect nothing. So we'll have to wait and see what the result will be," Halvey said.