Freedom Sound is flawed- Sheban Zaidi.
Since the teaser was aired by city fm 89 last year the film has been creating quite a buzz, so we at Mazaqah thought it was about time we catch up with the Sheban Zaidi the creator of the film to check on how are they getting on with the post production and get to know him as an individual and a film maker.
Tell us a bit about yourself a brief biography?
I was born in Karachi and undertook my primary and secondary election there. My heart truly belongs to that city. My family has moved around a bit. I graduated from Oberlin College with majors in Cinema Studies in Cinema Studies & English and attended film school at NYU/TISCH. Working in production is my calling and what I feel is the best method to serve, my passion, however is football. It has always filled me with pride to play for Karachi United. Above all things I am a secularist.
Tell us a bit about the work you have done so far.
My first major project after graduating from school was working as an editor on the theatrically released and critically acclaimed documentary Any town USA (Released by SIRK productions in New York). I went on to direct the short films Kyaari & Pariah that screened at multiple film festivals (including the Kara Film Fest). In 2005 I was commissioned by the Visible Collective to direct a film for the Disappeared In America project. I directed commercials (Bank Al Fallah Cup etc.) and corporate documentaries (for Engro)… boy’s got to pay the bills. I directed some commercials pro bono at cost for the Young Leaders Conference and worked closely with Director Nadir Shah on a number of projects. I was part of the production crew of A Mighty Heart directed by Danny Boyle. In the last year I have directed some corporate projects in Chicago and am currently working on a documentary project for five% Sessions, a jazz music organization. I just finished a short film for a British project about identity. And of course there is Freedom Sound.
What is Freedom Sounds all about?
Well Freedom Sound was a lot about freedom of expression in Pakistan. City FM 89 has worked harder for free expression in Pakistan than any other radio station. I have always been appalled that the constitution of Pakistan does not allow free expression. And Freedom Sound is meant to be about how inspirational the ability to listen and the ability to inform are. Albeit it a flawed attempt on my part but that is what the essence of the piece is meant to be.
He admits there are a number of reasons although he admits budgetary reasons and his own lack of experience that contributes towards it.
What brought about the concept?
Nadir and I had been talking about using a fantastical setting through which to address real social and ideological problems. Fictional and engaging storytelling being the method to make these ideas most accessible to people and since the nature of the project was in keeping with the quest of City Fm89 we were fortunate to have their support.
How would Sci-fi go down with the wider audience do you think.
I think Sci-Fi would be brilliant for Pakistan… I think it’ll push our imaginations further. There might be a real appetite for that and perhaps an amalgamation of Sci-Fi with some of the brilliant Indus imagery. People are welcome to steal this idea from me if they can do a better job with it… the goal is to get quality entertainment out there regardless of the source.
I came across the director’s notes and felt that the concept behind the movie is spiritual and political, am I right or have no clue what I’m talking about.
You absolutely have a clue. But I’m careful to use the term “spiritual” I think it is too easily misinterpreted. And more than anything I am a secularist. But definitely an attempt on my part at least of making a political and social statement. It’s a very simple message… perhaps a bit too simple and trite in some of it’s elements.
When is it set for release?
We are still struggling through some semantics and I can’t in honesty offer an exact release date. The support, excitement and peoples’ desire to see the final piece is very encouraging. I personally think it’s a very flawed project, and if we could Nadir and I would do a lot of things differently with it.
After getting the scoop we decided talk about how arts is perceived the Pakistani society and what does he think the future holds for lollywood.
Is the revival of Pakistani cinema possible?
It’s possible. But too many people don’t take the responsibility of filmmaking seriously. Much of what is offered is disingenuous and exploitative. I look at the subjects for some of the films about to be released (even by people who I have worked with) and they seem to orientalise the subject matter. Some of it reflective of how people see cinema as a means to gain fame and not so much as the social tool it is meant to be. I am not suggesting Freedom Sound is a pure or perfect endeavour. Also cinema won’t be revived by the petite bourgeoisie; it has to be embraced by the masses. And thus a cultural awakening of the masses, which should in part be caused by cinema, will in return bolster the industry itself. How education spreads through Pakistan in the next decade, how safe people feel going to the cinema and all people not just men… all of that has a lot to do with how well cinema will do in Pakistan in the near future. And at the end of the day any of us with a camera in Pakistan we have a responsibility to be documentarians and storytellers but also guides. And for that we must not be too hasty to put out films before we have developed our vision.
Is Art a luxury or a necessity?
It is an absolute necessity. And true art. War is the measure of expanding civilization but art is the measure of a flourishing civilization. It is the mark of bravery and the assurer of progression. With art we learn to expand our perception and thus understand. I think so many societies achievement grows out of art. The Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe, the part that Blues played in the Civil Rights movement in America… or how the Mughals used art and architecture to ensure peace and mark prosperity. No people prosper without art. I think we treat it like a luxury sometimes because we want it to remain exclusive and keep it away from the common people to maintain oppression. Part of Pakistan’s affluent society has been terrible for art; they’ve suppressed true art and promoted faux-art to maintain their own relevance.
Would we see you directing music videos or commercials?
I think I might stay away from music videos… unless there is a song I truly like and think I can truly indulge in some fun storytelling. I’ve already worked on commercials… I’m working on a viral commercial for an apparel company in Chicago. I worked with Nadir Shah on some of the commercials he directed in Pakistan.
Oh tons… my life are filled with figures of inspiration. My father… one of the strongest people I knew… my grandfather… he was a graduate of Aligarh University a huge proponent of education and just the gentlest person I have known. Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, Martin Luther King Jr, Jean Luc Godard, John Quincy Adams, Jinnah… this list could get a bit long. I think humanity has been fortunate to have so many figures that remind of the best of what we can achieve.
Mighty heart how was the experience.
I was a huge fan of Michael Winterbottom’s style of filmmaking so it was a thrill to get to work with him so closely. I liked In This World and Trishtam Shandy much more than A Mighty Heart, but working with him and his crew was a wonderful experience.
Which director would you like to assist, from anywhere around the world?
I would love to work with Abbas Kiarostami from Iran… he is a truly special filmmaker who has developed his own cinematic language. Danny Boyle… I love his work… I’d happily hold his coffee. And Shermeen Obaid is a friend of mine and has been wonderfully supportive and because of a number of reasons I haven’t been able to work with her yet. And while I think she’s still working on perfecting her voice… I think a lot of what she has done is admirable.
Sheban Zaidi certainly sounds like someone with a sensible head on shoulders. Good too see that he realizes the important of cinema that entertains people rather then just using it as a means of education. We at Mazaqah wish him all the best and look forward to all the cinematic brilliance he has to offer.