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Joyland: At Cannes, A Pakistani Film That Tackles Taboos Makes History.

Al Jazeera speaks with director Saim Sadiq about his film Joyland, Pakistan’s first entry at the Cannes Film Festival.

France’s Cannes

As his debut film, Joyland, received a lengthy standing ovation at the Cannes International Film Festival on Tuesday, Pakistani writer-director Saim Sadiq said he just kept crying.

He wasn’t sure how long the clapping went on amid all the emotion.

“Someone gave me 10 minutes, and another gave me 7. I have no idea what to believe. Sadiq stated to Al Jazeera, “I know that I had enough time to hug my entire team of 40 people twice.”

Thunderous applauses are a practice at Cannes, and every moment is a proportion of the crowd’s adoration for a film. Joyland is the first Pakistani film to be selected as an official entry at the world’s most prestigious film festival, which ends on Saturday. This makes debut films by young directors even more special.

At the festival, Joyland is up for two awards, one of which is Un Certain Regard, or “a certain glance,” which honors emerging filmmakers and films with marginal themes.

Alina Khan, a transgender actress, plays the lead role in Joyland, which addresses taboo gender and sexuality issues in Pakistan.

“There are very few moments in Pakistan’s cinematic history of which we can all be proud. Joyland is pure joy for Pakistan. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a Pakistani filmmaker and two-time Oscar winner in the best documentary short category, spoke with Al Jazeera over the phone. “I know that in 2012, when I brought the country’s first Academy Award home, the nation united in its understanding that we too can be champions of cinema,” she said.

“Also, I think Tuesday in Cannes was one more such second for Pakistan.”

According to Sarwat Gilani, a well-known Pakistani actress who stars in Joyland, Pakistani cinema, which has been affected for decades by political intervention, religious commandments, and bureaucratic apathy, finally had its glorious moment on the world stage was “magical.”

She stated that the extended ovation at the premiere, which included hugs and tears, was not only an expression of joy but also an acknowledgment of the difficulties artists in Pakistan face.

She stated, “We could not have dreamed [that] we would be here and represent Pakistan with a debut film.”

Joyland’s travels

Joyland is a fictional story that takes place in Lahore and is about a middle-class family with a wheelchair-bound, elderly, but strict patriarch who has control over the lives of his two sons and daughters-in-law. Everything changes when his younger son, Haider, becomes a background dancer for a transgender dancer, Biba, played by Alina Khan, and they fall in love. He wants his sons to give him grandchildren.

Sadiq, 31, told Al Jazeera a day after his film’s Cannes preview that he was still processing everything and had not yet called his parents.

He stated that “patriarchy, gender constructs, and the idea of identity” have long piqued his interest. During his time earning his master’s degree in fine arts at Columbia University in New York, Joyland worked on the concept for his story.

Darling, a short film, was produced as a result. It was nominated for the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. It starred Alina Khan as a transgender dancer who is struggling.

“One makes shorts only because one can’t make a feature,” Sadiq jokes, adding that he always wanted to make a full-length feature film.

Although they ultimately secured the majority of funding from backers in the United States, Sadiq’s friend and one of Joyland’s producers Apoorva Charan, who is based in Los Angeles and is Sadiq’s friend from their time together at Columbia University, claims that funding was difficult to come by.

“I think the difficulties were: she stated to Al Jazeera, “first-time feature director, first-time feature producer, non-English language film with a Pakistani focus.”

Sadiq claims that the journey of Joyland has been lengthy, but the film is “blessed.”

Joyland is also up for the Caméra d’Or (Golden Camera), an award given to first-time directors, in addition to the Un Certain Regard prize. Friday night will see the announcement of the outcomes.

Sadiq does not express any signs of nervousness.

“Whatever happens is just the cherry on top.” With a grin, Sadiq said, “We already have a cake.”

despite the odds

On her way to the United States to promote her co-directed Ms. Marvel series, Obaid-Chinoy stated that Pakistani filmmakers face a daunting task.

She stated, “To make a film in Pakistan is to make a film on your sheer perseverance and stubbornness because the infrastructure and ecosystem in this country do not support cinema.”

Pakistan lacks not only funding and infrastructure, but also a cinematic heritage from which young filmmakers can learn.

Sadiq claims that, “like almost every Pakistani kid,” he also grew up watching Bollywood movies, but he only discovered world cinema in his late teens. He cites the Three Colors trilogy by Krzysztof Kieslowski, American director Paul Thomas Anderson, and Iranian filmmaker Ashgar Farhadi as significant influences.

He states, “I had a relationship with almost every country’s cinema except my own because there was no [Pakistani] cinema when I was a teenager.”

Urdu commercial cinema has struggled for a long time, despite Pakistani documentaries on topics like women, honor killings, acid victims, and terrorism being recognized at international film festivals and having a large audience on domestic television soaps.

At regular intervals a film arises that steps the crowds back to film corridors, reviving expectation that more movies will follow. It was Khuda Kay Liye by Shoaib Mansoor in 2007. It was once more Mansoor’s Bol in 2011. Farjad Nabi and Meenu Gaur’s Zinda Bhaag, released in 2013, became Pakistan’s first Oscar entry in 50 years.

However, the enthusiasm never lasts, and the Urdu-speaking middle class of Pakistan has little tradition of going to the movies with friends. Furthermore, it is not a smart business decision for cinema owners to rely on Pakistani films.

Pakistan’s cinema owners are required to screen Pakistani films on more than 80% of their screens in accordance with a law.

However, earlier this month, a number of Pakistani filmmakers staged a press conference to express their displeasure with the fact that theaters were displaying the money-maker from the Marvel Studios, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, rather than showing their upcoming films, which were released over the Eid holiday.

Joyland’s Cannes success, according to Gilani and Obaid-Chinoy, could alter that, especially given that a new generation of Pakistani filmmakers has studied abroad or spent time abroad and has been exposed to possibilities outside of Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent.

Obaid-Chinoy stated, “Really shows the strides that this generation of filmmakers have made.” “To have a Pakistani film for the first time premiere at Cannes – a story that is relevant to Pakistan, that is produced by Pakistanis, and where the major cast and crew come from this country” Many filmmakers will now be aware of the possibility of producing films that can shine on the international stage as a result of seeing Saim’s Cannes film.

Joyland has already been purchased for France, where it will be shown in theaters, but getting the movie into Pakistan may be difficult. If the film is granted permission for a theatrical release, Gilani, who starred in the Pakistani-banned 2020 feminist detective web series Churails (Witches), anticipates challenges, criticism, and several cuts from censors.

But Sadiq is optimistic. He recalled how his team and he wept on Tuesday, far beyond the standing ovation: Because it felt like the beginning of something, everything felt more emotional.


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