Jeevan Blesson sits down with Omani filmmaker Maitham al Musawi and learns a little about what it takes to make a movie.
Capturing significant moments in his life has been a passion for Maitham al Musawi. Firstly, it was still images. He used to carry a camera everywhere and began to capture every moment. By the end of high school, he had taken more than 50,000 pictures.
Later, he moved to shooting videos once he realised that a still picture has limits and cannot fully express what he wanted to convey through his pictures.
A graduate of Oman Medical College, Maitham began working for the Ministry of Health as an orthopaedic surgeon.
During his free time, he started filming and uploading clips onto YouTube.
“YouTube was just starting up at that time and I began to upload small, funny clips that I had made with my cousins and friends. That eventually evolved into my films being screened at film festivals,” he says.
For Maitham, the movie is the amalgamation of all the arts into one beautiful masterpiece.
“It’s a way to tell a story, which is something we all love to do. I just love to do it with camera and lights,” he says.
Maitham’s movies have garnered good reviews from critics, and have been enjoyed by audiences around the world. His work has been screened at several film festivals, and film fans have been fascinated by the uniqueness of his work as it comes from the Arab world.
Maitham always uses children to talk about social issues in the community in his movies. These include taboo subjects that few people talk about, such as child abandonment and racism in the Gulf.
He is a great fan of Quentin Tarantino (who directed Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, among others) and has received 17 awards in his filmmaking career.
“Three of my films have won Best Film awards locally and I won Best Young Director award for my film Popcorn in Sweden. Other awards I received were for best screenplay and best editing.”
So far, Maitham has written and directed eight short films.
His biggest break as a movie maker was with his short film Raneen in 2011.
“It was the film that transferred me from YouTube to the film festivals’ cinema screens,” he says.
And Maitham does consider Tarantino a role model. He says: “Just like me, he did not go to film school and became a filmmaker. He writes and directs all his movies, which is something I do. His films are my favourite but there is nothing similar about our styles. I would like to sit down with him one day. I could talk about his films for days.”
Maitham learned the art of filmmaking through practice and watching movies.
“Making films is like writing poetry. You can learn poetry by reading 10,000 poems and then forget those poems and make your own. With every film I try to reinvent myself and try something new. I also learned a lot from YouTube video tutorials on the basics of screenplay writing, filmmaking, cinematography, lighting and editing.”
He also says that filmmaking can throw up a series of challenges, which a director has to be able to handle.
“I think my strength is to be able to write, direct, shoot and edit a film, and my weakness is losing my temper during a shoot. That happens when the actors and the crew take too long for a single scene and I have to think about the next scenes and how the sun lighting will change if we delay it any more. I hate it when that happens.”
Maitham plans to make his first feature film in the coming years and he would like to produce films for young Omani filmmakers and to help them make their films.
His dream is to be nominated for an Academy Award.
According to Maitham, two issues make Oman impenetrable for the film industry. One is the minimal government support for local filmmakers and second is the culture of Oman.
“Government bodies should consider filmmaking as an art form and not just entertainment. Otherwise, we will never go anywhere in the movie world. Omani culture has generally not accepted going to the cinema and watching movies but maybe it has in places like Muscat. Also, most people don’t even know Omani films exist. These two issues need to be addressed first before we go anywhere with an Omani film industry.”
Maitham adds that Oman has the geography to attract international movies, and the Government should support these projects. Through this the Sultanate can promote tourism as well. The filming of his new project, A Piece of Land is scheduled for this year.
“It’s a script I wrote two years ago and I obtained funding from the Dubai International Film Festival to make it. It is a short narrative about an Indian man’s struggle with a bunch of mischievous Omani kids over a piece of land in Muttrah. The film touches on many topics including racism in the Gulf region, belonging to a place and time, and living together in peace despite our differences.”
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