VIFF 2017 Interview: ARMED WITH FAITH director Asad Farqui
By Jason Whyte
Posted 10/07/17 12:39:57
"The men of the KPK BDU unit defuse terrorist planted bombs in the region, often using just their bare hands. "Indispensable" gets up close and personal with two bomb technicians and their commander as they defend their homeland from terrorists spurred by the war in Afghanistan and drone strikes in region. Ironically, the KPK BDU battle men who look like them, speak their language, share the same faith, and even come from their villages. Our characters are a window into a larger investigation of the American led war that has raged on for nearly 15 years and claimed over 50,000 civilian lives. Viewers will have unprecedented access to the legacy of devastation the conflict has wrought in the region where the battle is taking place and from where the modern face of warfare originates." Director Asad Farqui on ARMED WITH FAITH which screens at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?
This will be my first time at VIFF, and I very much look forward to attending the festival and exploring the city. I like outdoors and Vancouver is such a beautiful city and so much to do. I'm really excited to exploring the city as well. Vancouver hosts many people from Pakistan and primarily the province where this film is set. Many of them have left their home in search of a better and a more peaceful lives for themselves and their children. Peshawar was once a peaceful city similar to Vancouver.
Wonderful to have you here! Tell me a bit about yourself and your background, and how you got into the whole filmmaking business.
I was always interested in producing images. As a child I was always most inclined towards performance and arts. After my high school I went to pursue an accounting certification that I quit midway to pursue films. In 2007, Pakistan was going through major political transformation. We could see democracy re surface after 9 years of military dictatorship. I wanted to be part of this change and I decided to do that by documenting it. So I took my film camera and started taking part in mass protests and photographing them. Soon I joined a local newspaper as a sub-editor and a photographer meanwhile pursuing a degree in film.
It was around that time, I met Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy who was already a very well known international journalist and a reporter. I was part of Sharmeen's first Emmy award winning documentary film CHILDREN OF THE TALIBAN (2009). It was during the filming of this project that I got a chance to go into active combat zone as a camera-operator. Our director, Dan Edge who was also the films' cinematographer wasn't able to go into Swat valley, that at that time was completely under the Taliban's control, due to a restriction placed by the UK High Commission. Luckily all this happened while I was still in my second year film school. I did miss most of my classes because of this but I did graduate on time. After graduating college, I shot most of Sharmeen's film including the 2 Academy Award Winning films, SAVING FACE (2012) and A GIRL IN THE RIVER (2016).
I have been working for the past 7 years as a cinematographer and Armed With Faith will be my first film as a director. It started when I came to Sharmeen while I was working at her production company in Karachi, Pakistan. I came to her with the idea and she told me I should go and make that film. I made my first trip to Peshawar in February 2014 where I identified Abdur Rahim, who is one of the three main characters in the film and Shafqat Malik, the Chief of the Bomb Squad. The characters were so compelling that I knew I had to come back again and so I did, kept making trips between Karachi, Peshawar and D. I Khan over a period of three years.
After the first few shoots Geeta Gandbhir, who is a co-director with me on this film, came on-board. Geeta was interested in knowing about their families that for me was the real challenge to gain access inside their homes especially around their wives. We hired another cinematographer, Nausheen Dadabhoy, to film with their families. Geeta helped with raising funds for the post production and set the overall direction of the films narrative along with Flavia de Souza, the editor of this film.
While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?
While I am working I am completely invested in my contributors life. I try my best to tell the most honest story without influencing anything due to my presence.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
The most interesting moment for me was the first time I went out in the field. We defused 3 IEDs and there was an explosion. You see this in the film and I was amazed how calm and casual the technicians were. I wasn't surprised as they have been doing this for a very long time. I had to overcome my fear pretty quickly. I think the most important aspect of filmmaking is to have the will to get through the process. Not just production but also post production. After this film, I want to be very selective with the projects I take on as a director. It is a lot of investment of time and energy and has to be worth it. For aspiring filmmakers, it's very important to believe in themselves and persevere. Talent, I feel, is supplementary to hard work.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences here at VIFF?
I want the audience, which I hope is a diverse audience full of people from the city and immigrant families especially those who chose to move here due to war.
Where is this movie going to show next?
We are still travelling with this film. Next stop is my current home, New York City at the DOC NYC festival.
There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews for inspiration. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?
To be a filmmaker you have to make your first film. Find a story, it's not very far from you and just go out and keep making films. Keep telling meaningful and powerful story. You will find your voice in the process. We all do.
This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 28th to October 13th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to www.viff.org.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte