P.O.V. No.21 - BAWKE

An interview with Hisham Zaman on Bawke

Richard Raskin

Could I ask you to fill me in on the development of this project? How did it begin? How did it unfold? Is any of Bawke inspired by your own personal experience?

Bawke was actually an idea for a longer film, with more action and more characters in a broader universe. Economic and time factors resulted in our going for the short film format. The film is not autobiographical, nor is it based on a true story. But the script is inspired by real events, as recounted in interviews I did with people who had experienced the difficult flight we see in the film. And I have used some of my own experiences in the film, since I have been a refugee myself. The father-son relationship, traveling, escape, sacrificing yourself for the sake of something that means a great deal to you, all of these things have been an important driving force for me. Besides, a father's love for his son is a universal theme that everyone can identify with.

Was the film storyboarded?

We had a shooting script, but no storyboard. Except for a single-sketch storyboard for one of the scenes, when the father and boy are lying under the truck and the boy has to pee. The sketch was important for showing the crew how we intended to manage the scene under the truck in visual terms.

May I ask about the choices you made in casting? And also about the ways in which you directed your actors?

For me, casting is an important part of the filmmaking process, maybe 50% of the whole film. If you have the right cast, half of the job is done. I chose amateur actors in order to get an authentic and true-to-life feeling. Two faces that could represent any refugee in the world. I have a number of means for helping them to forget that they were standing before a camera. Like asking: "What did you have for lunch at this time three days ago?" "I don't remember." "Yes but think." And while he is trying to think of it, I ask him to say his line, and we film him without his realizing it. In that way I get the expression I am looking for in the actor. We filmed the actors only when they were psychologically in character. From scene to scene, we went right into the emotional without seeing the building up of the emotional. We all understand it through what they say to one another and are thrown right into the midst of the situation.

In making this film, were there any particular storytelling qualities you were striving for, and any others you deliberately tried to avoid?

I'm not sure I understand your question. I tried to make a fiction film with a documentary feel. Early in the film you are told that this is a fiction film and not reality because the opening credits are there and make this point clearly. Slowly but surely we proceed to the boy's shout and to his lethargic face under the truck. Acting, makeup, costume, photography all tell that this is a real person, and we go over to the documentary. This was an attempt to explore the boundaries between fiction and documentary without allowing one to be at the expense of the other. It was important for the film to have a meaning, but I was also concerned with creating suspense and with entertaining the viewer.

The viewer is beautifully prepared in a number of stages for the final separation of father and son. Could I ask you to describe that aspect of Bawke?

It was important to capture the interest of the viewer in the opening seconds of the film and to establish the father's dilemma as early as possible. For them to be able to remain in the country, they would have to be separated. My intention was to show that love is not about being together. It is also OK to promise the audience something at the start so that they have some expectations, but important to manage things in a way they least expect, so that there is drama and suspense.

The ending is of course both moving and rich in resonances of many kinds - the finding of the Zidane soccer card playing an important role in that context. May I ask you to describe your thoughts about managing the closure of the film?

The son alone and abandoned to himself - this was an image I had in my mind for a long time. It is a kind of homage to Truffaut's 400 Blows, when at the end of the film, the main character Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) makes his escape, but stands alone in the world. When the film is over, the story continues in the mind of the public. My hope was to make the public care about these people.

Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) at the end of The 400 Blows (1959).

The son (Broa Asol) at the end of Bawke (2005).

I wanted to create a feeling of emptiness and loneliness in an unsentimental way. It is toward the end that all feelings flow, because we understand the difficult choice the father has made, so that the son can remain in the country. Any father under sufficient pressure would do the same to give his son a better life and future. I also wanted to give a sign of hope in the closure of the film. The card with Zidane is what represents the hope and dream for the son. He gets it back near the end of the film, but at what a price!

Is there anything else you might like to tell me about the making of Bawke or about any of its qualities?

The two main characters are representatives for a backdrop of people and human destinies we all know more or less. Victims of war, who flee from horrors, chaos and insecurity toward the unkown, which for them represents an image of freedom and a dream of a better life.

It is strange to think about how the story of Bawke became a reality after the premiere of the film! The man who played the father had lived in Norway for seven years without obtaining a residency permit. He had left five children back home whom he hadn't seen in seven years. He gave up the dream, having sacrificed seven years of his family life without fulfilling his dream of a better life. The biological father of the boy in the film also doesn't have a residency permit so the family faces an uncertain future. What happens in the film also unfortunately happens in reality.

Do you see the short film as an art form in its own right? And do you believe that the short film has its own kind of storytelling or involves essentially the same kind of storytelling found in the feature film?

For me the short film is an art form independent of the feature film. It is not just a gateway or a learning process for making feature films.

There are many filmmakers who have never made a short film and who made their debut in feature films without any problem. The short film is more free in form and action than the feature film, a genre in itself.

What makes the short film so exciting is the way it draws us into a universe. The short film doesn't have many characters, events or turning points as does the feature film. One writer described the short film as simply as this: Put a man in a tree, throw stones, get him down from the tree. The plot should be very simple and yet quite intricate. In contrast, some feature films use almost 10 or 15 minutes just on the title sequence and opening credits.

Some people go in for a three-act structure in the short film with a beginning, a middle and an end, roughly the same principle as in feature films. I think the short film should be able to tell a story independent of acts. It should manage to draw the public into a universe and create an atmosphere or mood. The short film has a stronger visual language and more precise narrative imagery than the feature film, because there is so little time to establish and tell everything.

Is there any advice you might give to student filmmakers about to make their own first short films?

I don't feel that I am in a position to give anyone advice. But maybe I can share a few thoughts.

All stories have been told before, it is the way you tell it that is new. Believe in your project, give it time, carry it out with passion and love. Be honest with what you tell. Put your soul into it, be dedicated. Have a single idea that is exciting and has some meaning for you. Don't accept too many compromises, don't make a film to order, but also for yourself and the people around you. What you find exciting can be exciting for others as well. The film is your calling card in the business. Don't be afraid of failure. If the film is a flop it is not a catastrophe. The next film will surely succeed. Travel a lot, talk to people, do solid research on subjects that interest you. Always imitate life, not other filmmakers and their films.

29 November 2005
Translated from the Norwegian by the editor

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