Interview: Yousaf Ali Khan

Yousaf Ali Khan update Since we last spoke, Yousaf Ali Khan has been back to Afghanistan again to continue working towards the production of Fatima’s Journey, the story of one woman’s search for stability in a country in turmoil. We managed to catch up in a rare moment of quiet to find out how things are going with the lengthy but rewarding process…

What kind of stuff were you up to in your recent visit to Afghanistan? The main reason for this trip was further development of the script, which is now 52 pages; not bad for a first draft. We also need to raise money so one of the main focusses of this trip has been doing a promotional video. So we shot that and the next step is editing it which I‘m hoping to start next week.

So that’s a trailer? It’s really a fundraising video, so it’s asking for money with a very specific purpose and to be a part of the crowdfunding. So a lot of time was spent on that really, and a lot on developing the script. What was really good about doing the crowdfunding video was testing the crew and seeing how people respond in that environment, to see what we need and obviously there were certain things I learned in that process about what we need to actually achieve.

How’s the casting going? We did a big casting call for the video, which was effectively where we could look at potential needs for the film. We found someone to play the old lady, that was probably what I thought I was going to find most difficult. What‘s actually the hardest was the kids, largely because of support. You know, in order to get kids to do these roles, they need a support structure, and these kids that we’re looking to are often street kids. They don’t really have any support structure and if there is a parent at home, they are usually on gear. Once you start looking under the surface you see theres all sorts of problems. In  Afghanistan it’s much more difficult to get that support.

And that’s because of  infrastructure? Survival is really important over there. There is no safety net at all…for example, if you find a nice middle-class kid, then the parents will say look do this, it‘s good for your future. But you know, you find a young lad on the streets, his dad is gonna say go and get as much money as you can off them. It’s a different vibe. And so, I want to work with children from those backgrounds, but there are issues.

How is raising the profile on social media going? Well the Facebook business goes from strength to strength. I think that we have probably about 12 ,000 regular page likes. We put a post up and had 80,000 people liking it so there is obviously quite a lot of interest. We‘re now at a point where we need to move forward and start concentrating on crowdfunding. It certainly is generating a lot of interest in the project and even when in casting, we did an online casting, and it went out to thousands of people. We realised that the communication media in Afghanstian is often very much through Facebook and then onto word of mouth. And that’s been a very successful approach.

What’s the agenda from here on out? In theory, the gameplan will be the exhibition at Arthouse Cinema in Crouch End with an introduction to what we’re doing with a small crowd, and then onto Cannes for fundraising, then launch a crowdfunding project on our return at the House of Commons, in one of their rooms. There‘s a lot still to plan, but that’s the idea. And in the middle of this I have to do a production pack, I’ve got to finish off the script, generate things to do for the team and somehow keep my head afloat.

And Jawed and his team are still working on it in Afghanistan? Well he needs to be developing and scheduling the budget. Once he’s got the budget in place, I need to then generate the script so he can then update it. That’s the main task at the moment.

Going to Cannes must be a lot of work, too, and expensive? Making films is an expensive game. So making films like this which you wouldn’t call a Hollywood Blockbuster, is very demanding and the money is much less than it would be to make a Blockbuster. Sometimes, the small movies are more difficult. It‘ll cost around £100,000 to make this movie, which is a tenth of a low budget british feature film.

Was there anything that happened there that you found made you want to go in a different direction with the script? I I feel comfortable that the script is in the right direction. I suppose one thing that really struck me was the need for more heads of department and that obviously has cost implications. But it really is about what you offer, because we are making a film in Afghanistan and part of the remit of the film is training and bringing people forward in their careers. To do that we need quality training, so you do need good heads of departments.

In terms of the authority figures in Afghanistan, do you feel like you‘re making more headway there with community leaders etc? Afghanistan has been funded largely by the international community over the last 13 years. We‘re now in a situation where the main military presences are withdrawn, they‘re gone and with that a very large number of NGOs. So suddenly Afghanistan is now surviving on what income is left from it’s industries.You can imagine the drawdown of income in Afghanistan is masive. So the idea of raising money from Afghanistan is very difficult. Eventually when they start to see things happening and that there is an industry like in the UK, they‘ll start paying attention to it. But I doubt they‘ll be interested for a while. I did some teaching at the university while I was over there and the Americans have built a media centre. So it’s American Aid with lectures there. That was interesting, but again it was an internationally funded project.. it’s still very much a poor country.

Were you surprised at the kind of stuff that they were doing  with technology that had been left behind? Yes. It’s good stuff, it’s all very new, and there is a lot of space for development there. But it’s good to do a workshop and I got the message that they enjoyed it.

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