Spotlight On: Maryam Hamidi

Filmmaker Maryam Hamidi opens up about the importance of team work and her personal connection to her Sharp Shorts funded supernatural drama BAHAR بهار (Spring).

Pictured: The team behind Maryam Hamidi’s’ Sharp Shorts funded project, BAHAR بهار (Spring)
Credit: Kevin J. Thomson

When did your interest in filmmaking start and what were you doing before you became a filmmaker?

My interest in storytelling began in childhood. We didn’t own the home-video camera lots of kids start out on, but consuming TV and film was the way my family adapted to life in the UK, and so it’s deep rooted for me. I trained as an actor, but I’d always written – collaboratively in theatre, sketches and wee plays. I also worked at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, when I was a young adult, surrounded by artists and filmmakers. This was the first time I got my head around the idea of filmmaking as a career and starting at shorts. Those notions of filmmaking were still just gestating in me though – really, it was through acting on screen that I first fully learnt about film and TV production. Being on a film set, with a passion for visual storytelling really pushed me to bring my own stories to screen.

What made you want to apply for Sharp Shorts?

I had mothballed this short film idea. It had some development through the previous funders Scottish Film Talent Network’s Scottish Shorts programme in 2017, but, it was a competitive round and we didn’t get the funding. On the other side of that I decided to concentrate on writing for TV and parenting my two kids. Something about the new energy of Short Circuit made me and producer, Alysia Maciejowska, feel we were ready to unearth the project – it’s a ghost story that was still haunting us both.

Tell us a bit about your Sharp Shorts-supported film.

BAHAR literally translates as Spring from Farsi, but it’s the name of the central character, Narges’ daughter, who died 10 years previously. The story explores old grief – when the public face of mourning has faded and you’re left alone with private, long buried loss and regret. Narges’ son has also left for university, so there’s also an examination of the loss of identity some women feel when their “nest” has emptied and life begins again. The film plays with genre – it’s a psychological drama with supernatural elements. I like to play with the allegorical ambiguity of the supernatural as it opens up Narges’ interior world.

What did you learn through taking part in Sharp Shorts? How was your experience working with the Short Circuit team?

The short list development stage was really helpful for us all I think because of the peer to peer support. We’d read each others work and get feedback from the other teams. It was informal and super supportive. We also had some valuable masterclasses – including with Ben Sharrock, and all of these unlocked something in our own creative process. I learnt loads from the other shortlisted filmmakers.

Working with the short circuit team was good for me. Mar and Alice, and later Brian Coffey were really invested in the project. One crucial element the Talent Executives facilitated was getting me a mentor who has really gone above and beyond in supporting me navigating this process. He is an Iranian/British filmmaker and this brought a valuable angle to both script development and story logic from a Farsi language perspective.

“I want the film to rock [the audience] sensorially but to also ask questions about the amorphous quality of grief and the pressure to move on/move forwards when the anchors of our identity – family, motherhood, nationhood – have slipped, particularly as women burdened by generations deep projections of gender roles.”

What was your creative process? How did you get ready to make your film?

I guess everyone has a process, but it feels like a dirty secret. For me – as a writer/director – I had to work hard on the script, going deeper into the heart of the themes to help economise (and get that page count down). Then work the script as a director. Then develop my shooting vision as a director. Then collaborate with my awesome DOP Laura Dinnett on our shot list.

Then I had to tear it all up because of budget, COVID and confirmed location. By then, our brilliant central cast were in place – Nathalie Armin and Armin Karima – and them inhabiting the roles interrogated and elevated the writing.

Crucially, compartmentalising my two roles as writer and director saved me some headaches. On relaxed days, watching films to spark me was always helpful – as was exploring colour and light on ShotDeck.com.

Why do you feel stories like this are important?

Because they’re intimate, private and in the living rooms of people most often marginalised in mainstream stories.

What are you hoping for audiences to get out of your film?

I want the film to rock them sensorially but to also ask questions about the amorphous quality of grief and the pressure to move on/move forwards when the anchors of our identity – family, motherhood, nationhood have slipped – particularly as women burdened by generations deep projections of gender roles. As a bi-lingual Farsi/English film, I also hope it offers some insight into homes where families speak/listen in different languages simultaneously.

What was the greatest hurdle you encountered whilst shooting, can you tell us how you overcame that?

Unsurprisingly – the weather. Our 1st AD Ted Mitchell helped steer that – but our DOP Laura had a brilliant idea to adjust the action in one rained-on scene, which meant a dialogue change for the previous scene which we thankfully hadn’t shot yet. Our very experienced Script Supervisor Kirsty Auld helped keep those threads together.

We also had the added complexity of SFX and VFX mould both on the walls and on skin in the film. This we mitigated for by planning the heck out of it. With support from Dawn Elrick, our pre-production ‘mould coordinator’ – we researched a lot and spoke to a mould expert. Then our SFX make up artist Michelle Watson, Mould Art Director Kieran McCruden and VFX artist Scott McCartney collaborated to develop a coordinated a mouldy shared vision and plan. I’m really proud of how producer Alysia, production designer Grace Edge, production manager Marcy Paterson and I integrated this design so early on to ensure we were on track for the shoot and post.

How easy was it to navigate the COVID-19 situation? What support did you have?

The COVID situation was one slippery eel. We just kept moving along to keep up with it. Short Circuit secured some contingency budget and this meant we had the funding for COVID protocols – but testing in early December was still expensive. We had an excellent COVID supervisor/Production Assistant Rosie Gallagher on the shoot – but we all had to learn to be responsible for ourselves and our colleagues.

The majority of the team were already so experienced in best practice from different productions so everyone was willing to adhere to that. But it’s exhausting – long days, sweating behind a mask trying to navigate small spaces and give each person access to the set. I’m so grateful to the extraordinary crew and cast who grafted in this climate to make our film.

What piece of advice would you give to someone applying for Sharp Shorts?

I am someone who has applied and been rejected so many times by various schemes, schemes, schemes. The main thing is apply. Rejection is part of this industry – don’t fear it, it will hold you back. It always stings but it will always be there, wherever you are in your career.

The second main thing is – can you distill your story down to a single sentence? What is at its heart? Application word counts are brutal but they help you interrogate and articulate what you are trying to say. Try not to use vague terms in your application. Your idea will almost certainly evolve as you develop your concept – let the readers feel secure in what you’re starting from.

And the third most important thing – as naive as it sounds, apply with something that means something to you. Whether it’s a personal story or something that ties into your lived experience – short filmmaking is long, hard work, and if you get the funding you’ll be living with that story for a long time – make sure it’s something you love and believe in.