FILMMAKER'S INTERVIEW

AIFF "BEST FIRST TIME FILMMAKER" Spring 2016 Award Winner Conor Ibrahiem's movie "Freesia" secured a theatrical release. 

1. Tell us about your movie "Freesia".
Conor:
Three worlds collide during a racist attack, leaving a Muslim scholar fighting for his life. Now they must face the storm before the calm – and they call it ‘Islamophobia’*

*Freesia is a response. A response to a problem faced by today’s Muslim communities that has become known as Islamophobia. Why do it? Why subject mayhem on a majority due the ill actions of a minority? It makes no sense to me as we are meant to be educated people and can surely tell the difference between good and bad people. Unfortunately some of us choose to remain ignorant and vent our frustrations in the worst possible way.

Thankfully there are plenty of forces that work towards positive change and one example is the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (York, UK). In 2012 they launched a fund to tackle 2 issues: Racial Injustice and Islamophobia and as the Artistic Director of an Islamic theatre company, Arakan Creative, I felt well placed to apply as I really wanted to make to difference via the arts. On successfully gaining funding for a 3-year delivery, it was the second year that Freesia was born, first as 3 short films and then evolving into a 91-minute movie. Yes I wanted to achieve the primary goal of looking at anti-Muslim hate crime but as I had always wanted to produce my own feature film, I knew this was the opportunity I could explore. With the blessing of the funders, I went about expanding on the 3-shorts idea and managed to pull off a minor miracle with the feature on a budget of only £27,000. The stories are fictional but based on real issues; one looks at women’s rights and how they bear the brunt of attacks,

the second looks at the role of mosques and the last address far-right aggression. So the short films still existed but were now linked via the inciting incident and then interweaving throughout the feature narrative. The title comes from the flower, ‘Freesia’, which my research tells me are what florists recommend for those who cope well under pressure. It’s not an obvious title for the subject matter but perfectly reflects the struggles of those in characters in the film.

2. How and when did you get interested in filmmaking?
Conor:
You can thank Christopher Reeve, aka Superman. I would watch his movies at Christmas and was mesmerised by what could be achieved in the movies. I wanted in. It took me a while but on leaving college in 1999 I finally became a professional actor, my first passion. For the next 10 years I had small parts on various TV programmes, theatre work, short films etc but always missed out on the big breaks. I then started to write scripts in my spare time as I wanted to see if I could make any progress and do what Stallone did. Being self-taught in both disciplines meant I had to put in the hours and motivate myself but the love of story telling compelled me to achieve. For me there is no greater buzz than thinking of a story concept and surprising myself as to what will happen next!

Freesia trailer - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-B0CClN2DQ

3. What kind of genres do you like directing? Do you want to stick to one genre or open to directing multiple genre of movies?
Conor:
Well this is a debut film and it’s social realism. I didn’t have much choice about the genre as I can’t imagine Islamophobia in another context really and being taken seriously. I do like this genre and want to explore it further with Muslim stories being a focus, at least for the foreseeable future, but I also love comedy, action and historical films so if I could do a pick and mix I’d be very happy. I’ll only stick to what I’m good at and happy doing, I won’t ride any fashion trends or be lured by dollar signs into a any project I can’t connect with.

4. Who are your favourite movie directors?
Conor:
Ridley Scott, Frank Darabont, Robert Rodriguez

5. What are your future projects?
Conor:
First thing is to produce (write and direct also) a sequel to Freesia and then a third instalment, giving us a trilogy on Islamophobia. At the same time I’m due to start penning a comedy-drama that I’ve had in treatment form for about 9 years! I’m also due to release a new comic book (part of the Rowntree project) called ‘The Abrahamix’, which is about 3 Abrahamic superheroes – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – who collectively fight injustice.

6. Are you a writer director who prefer writing your own screenplays or you like directing other materials?
Conor:
I would welcome the chance to direct another writers’ work as Ihave only directed my work till now. Up till now I have had to do both (and more) due to funding restrictions and whilst I enjoy writing, it would be nice to approach a project with a fresh perspective from that of being writing/director.

7. What is your message to upcoming filmmakers?
Conor:
Don’t do it until there is a passion inside you. If you do, it is likely to be half-hearted and great things don’t happen without passion. If you pick up a pen to write your idea down and it won’t let you go, you know you have to see it through. So that’s the internal bit – now the external/commercial bit. Zoom out and look at the film landscape and see what works/what doesn’t. What are commissioners looking for? If your passionate story is a popular theme then your chances of being noticed increase. You have to ride both in tandem – ideas that have a realistic shot at being greenlit, that distributors are likely to want. If it’s the DIY-VOD route, make sure you have an audience for your film. If the idea is only your cup of tea then I would suggest holding off on that, find something that ticks the above boxes, and come back to your pet project further down the road when you can be afforded the choice of making your own film by Warner Brothers because you earned them £1billion when you directed Iron Man 12.

8. Tell us your experience with Auckland International Film Festival.
Conor:
I was honoured with my third award by the AIFF and I am so grateful for it. To be recognised from either end of the globe on your first film is humbling and the staff at AIFF have been excellent. I hope this is just the first film I come to submit and hope they go from strength to strength as indie films need all the help they can get.

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