Dubai: A conversation with Emirati writer and scriptwriter Mohammad Hassan Ahmad is filled with passion for the cinema and the hopes for a thriving local film industry. Ahmad is a dreamer, with a curious soul that is ever in search for discovery and creativity.
Speaking to Gulf News, Ahmad talks of his script written for the film Sea Shadow — recently screened in cinemas across the UAE and the Gulf — and which has just been officially selected for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Gulf News: Why have you chosen the title Sea Shadow?
Mohammad Hassan Ahmad: Sea Shadow is like the shadow of love. The shadow of the sea is deep within. If you go under the water and see a boat floating above, you see its shadow underneath and that's love. I have faith in love, in the sea. And love is not just a love between two people. It's the love you have for everyone and everything. For example, I love the simple small things in life. I don't really love big things, because a lot of people love and share them with you. Small things though are very personal.
The entire movie was filmed near the beach in a neighbourhood of Ras Al Khaimah. A lot of Emiratis have left the area because labourers have started moving in. It's a very old place and only few nationals still live there. This was actually the town that I lived in as a child. And my childhood memory is the smell of the sea.
Is Sea Shadow a personal story then?
No, it isn't. Every story does not have to be based on a true story. But every character must somehow relate to someone — that's what makes it real. What is personal about the movie is my memory of this place: the design of the door, the sea, and the sharbat (fruity red coloured drink). It was basically the story of people that I remember as a child. The role of a movie is also to document and not just tell a story.
What is your best memory writing it?
I remember how happy I was during the first two shows of Sea Shadow, seeing so many people sitting in the cinema watching the movie for which I have written the screenplay. The most important thing about a long movie is that it stays in people's memory while short movies don't really reach everyone.
What other movies have you worked on?
I've worked on many long movies but the Sea Shadow is the first to be produced and screened in theatres. Thanks to Image Nation Abu Dhabi, as it was their first production of an Emirati movie.
The most beautiful thing about this movie is that it was shown in theatres all over the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. And it's such a big step for us, to actually have people go to the movie theatre, buy a ticket and watch an Emirati movie.
Do you think Emirati movies have a better opportunity now?
Thankfully, Emirati movies are starting to emerge slowly. You can make a movie in your own environment, speak in your own language and any person from any nationality can watch it because it is subtitled. So many were encouraged to start making movies without fearing who can and can't watch it.
So what does producing Sea Shadow stand for?
I remember a few years before production of Sea Shadow I went to the cinema with a friend. And as we were standing outside looking at posters, I told him: "In five years you are going to see the poster of my movie up there". Four years passed — not five — and my friend called me and said: "I'm in the cinema and do you know what is in front of me? Your movie poster". That was such an important achievement for me.
When did you get your first camera?
In 1989, when the digital camera hit store shelves in the UAE. I had my very first digital camera as a gift, and I kept capturing everything regardless of whether it made sense or not. I also remember how my family, neighbours and friends would borrow the camera to tape their weddings or trips.
Do you remember the first movie you watched?
My dad came into the house one evening holding a tape recorder and a VHS tape of an Indian movie. I still remember its story as I lost count of how many times I had watched it. It was titled Aashiq — and it was truly a whole new different world to me; I was so blown away.
Why film writing?
Cinema to me is an open door. It gives me the ability to write down every detail, how characters feel, what they say and how they say it, not to mention my poetry which I also include in the script. A movie can reach everyone.
Where do you find yourself the most?
I feel more at home in writing film scripts. I am one of only three Emiratis who are in the profession and to me that is a negative point. Many writers have moved to directing and in fact, I am the only one who is dedicated solely to writing for movies.
Who is your role model?
None. As children, we have been told to select a person to look up to and hope to become like them some day. I believe we have people in our lives that we admire, deeply respect and love dearly, although not as role models. I think everyone has two sides — the normal and the remarkable.
With Sea Shadow seeing the light as a production, do you see it as your achievement or dream?
To be honest this was not a dream. I knew I was going to achieve it. And the most important thing is for it to reach the different viewers and for it to continue.
It's nice to achieve something different. That everyone can share with you, especially when our society is all about a fixed job, having the best car and so on. But until now there isn't a single person who thinks to himself and says: "I want to do something personal that belongs to me."' A person must have faith in what they do that's how they can achieve a lot.
What is your dream then?
To be honest, I would love to sell oranges. Not apples, not bananas — just oranges. When I was abroad, I would always pass by a gentleman who sold only oranges. It surprised me how much faith he had in selling only oranges. I found that so beautiful and simple.
What is your greatest fear?
If you ask anyone, they'll tell you that they've never seen me cry, yet one thing can make me just drop everything I am doing and just leave the set. Scene 17, is my true fear. The frustration could lead to tears as I try to perfect that scene, so yes I consider that definitely my true fear.
Any more movies coming up?
Yes, the next movies will have more action and fun, and less drama. These are Al Feel Al Abyad (The White Elephant), and Messi, which is a comedy about a child who loves the football player Messi.
Are your works available in the market?
Silent Light is a book and a CD which is coming out soon, which will have my writings and all my movies in it.
Tale of a journey into adulthood
Sea Shadow is a story of small seaside neighbourhood and the journey of a teenage boy and girl to adulthood and the transformation of their environment. Directed by Emirati filmmaker Nawaf Al Janahi, it is the first large scale Emirati project that is produced and distributed by Image Nation Abu Dhabi.