INTERVIEW WITH TARIQUE QAYUMI - WRITER OF OVER THE NEXT HILL
On a perilous journey as a refugee, eleven-year-old Zabi struggles to prove his manhood to his mother.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about Over the Next Hill? What it’s about and how did you come up with the idea?
OVER THE NEXT HILL is a project that I have been meaning to write since I was a small child on the back of a truck escaping Afghanistan as a refugee. The story is an amalgamation of my journey and talking to others about how they fled Kabul. I never told anything personal until recently when I have gotten to a place in my life where I feel more comfortable going inwards.
What made you want to enter it into the Short Film Fund?
First, contests are a great way to see if you’re headed in the right direction. Second, the money to make your film is significant since it’s hard to fund shorts. Third, the team behind it looked legitimate, and their past winners had made their shorts. So, taking these points into account, it was like a no-brainer to enter.
How did you feel when you found out that you were our second placed winners?
Wonderful. Amazing. Unbelievable. Thanks to the judges for recognizing my work – it truly means a lot.
Particularly in a year like this, where the pandemic has been a big blow to everyone everywhere. As well, it’s been four long years that I have worked on it, so it’s good to know that the script got better as I got more notes.
Also, sending out a congratulations to all the finalists. I hope to read all your scripts.
Are you looking to direct Over the Next Hill?
I would love to direct this film as it is a part of me. I dream about the texture of the sand as the wind picks it up off the desert floor and the area where rust and old paint meet on the body of the truck. So, I have to stop myself, take a deep breath, and wait until we go into pre-production.
Do you want to develop the script further? If so, what will you look to change?
Yes, there is more work to do. I believe it’s always best to keep an open mind in the development process. I want to develop a deeper subtext for the audience of who the father was and what happened to him. This could add another layer to the script. As well, I would like to tweak The Driver, he’s a bit of a caricature of a bad guy, but I would like to make perhaps him more nuanced – maybe it’s hard for him to push Zabi over the last bridge because he has a son at home the same age.
What do you feel will be your biggest challenge in terms of getting your script off the paper and onto film?
I believe that budget would be a significant factor. I must go to the desert and take a team with me, and the amount of work and funds involved is daunting.
Do you think about the practicalities of filming when you write? If so, how has that changed your writing process, or have you always thought that way?
I don’t like to think about the practicalities of filming because it inhibits creativity. I put the characters first and let them take me where they want to. When one goes to production – it’s about solving problems and making them happen. That’s the magic of production, and we lie and cheat our way to making it believable.
I know it’s early stages, but do you have any thoughts/preferences on camera format, aspect ratio, crew, location, and anything else for the production?
I would love to shoot on film if possible. I was recently talking to a DOP, and it seems that this option is very viable. Shooting on film will lend a grittiness to the film that the story requires and make it stand apart from what is out there. It feels to me as though digital films these days look too similar. And in the past, I have been such a big proponent of the digital revolution.
Where, in an ideal world, would you like to shoot Over the Next Hill?
In an ideal world, it would great to shoot it in southeast Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. Due to the political climate, it’d be unsafe to do that. One could always go to Turkey or Tajikistan to find similar terrain. Due to Covid, I may have to shoot it in Kamloops, BC, Canada where many films have been shot so it looks like Afghanistan.
I would love to use genuine refugees in the film to bring their own experiences to roles in an ideal world. In my second feature, BLACK KITE, which I shot in Kabul, I used many non-actors and improvised a lot. I like working in that way and using the character’s real experience to help create the fictional circumstance on film.
What are your aspirations for the film once it’s completed? Certain film/festivals? Help with getting a feature off the ground, etc?
I am working on a feature for this short as well. And hopefully, it would help to get funds for that as well. However, recently I have changed my mind on what short films mean for me. They are not a means to an end but an art form in themselves that should be celebrated. Festivals would be fantastic. As well, there is a market for shorts, so it’d be great to sell them.
Do you have any advice for upcoming screenwriters who are either looking to direct their own material, or find a producer/director for their short script?
You have to keep working at it. The work might suck at first, but keep going and slowly you will get better. It will take maybe five years. Maybe ten. Maybe more. But as long as you get feedback and get over your hurt feelings and learn from it – you will improve. Contests like Shore Scripts Short Film Fund are a great place to get feedback. Also, contests or film festivals or film schools/workshops are great places to connect and meet people. It’s hard in this art form to work solo – there is a community of filmmakers and an audience somewhere out there that is just waiting for you. You just need to go and find it by making films and getting people to watch them.
Are there any lessons you’ve learnt from your previous projects that will help you going forward with making Over the Next Hill?
Take risks! I don’t know if I took enough risks in my first feature. And that was a hard lesson, but if you ever go into production, do something that will push your boundaries. That’s the only way to grow. And the only way to be noticed.
Find out more about the current season of our Short Film Fund HERE.