By Sudha Pillai
He is young. He is daring. He is of Lebanese/ Palestinian origin, living in Dubai. And...he is a homosexual man.
One can get killed or at least jailed for being homosexual in that part of the world (In Dubai, as in most Arab countries, homosexuality is a crime punishable by a jail sentence ranging from 3-15 years). In this backdrop, Fadi Hindash has pushed the boundaries even further by making a film about homosexuality in Dubai and the hypocratic ways of the Arab world.
One might think that Fadi has a death wish, but then Fadi prefers to live his life and tell his stories with integrity rather than cloak himself in hypocrisy. In his film Not Quite the Taliban, the young filmmaker talks about his own homosexuality and also confronts the modern generation of Arabs who he feels are more conservative than the previous generations.
Fadi Hindash, screenwriter and director of documentary and feature films, talks to Bangalore Mirror. Excerpts
Q: What is Not Quite the Taliban all about?
A: A documentary about one man's frustration with his generation of young 'modern' Arabs who appear Western, but are more conservative than the traditional Arabs. While there are many films about hypocrisy in the Middle East made by Western filmmakers, Not Quite the Taliban is the first to be made by an Arab. I have put myself on the line by speaking up about the taboos. The film chronicles my journey and I document the double standards in Dubai, the place I have called home all my life and the flagship of Arab modernity where covered women walk side by side with prostitutes who everyone pretends aren't there. It is a contradictory world of Arabs whose lives revolve around work, shopping and clubbing. Educated Arabs who laugh at their inability to construct one full sentence in Arabic, but use their traditions as an excuse to deny what happens behind closed doors. Through this film I confront the contemporary generation of 'westernised' Arabs with a taboo. What happens when you try to reveal your sexual orientation in 'modern' Dubai?
Q: Is that the message in it’s entirety...
A: I want to give a nuanced look at young Arabs today, the kind of Arabs I am familiar with. The kind that I live with, in 'modern Arabia', which is a world that is neither Western nor Eastern. That was the initial motivation, but as is the case with every film, the motivation evolves and your film ends up being about so many other things you weren't aware of consciously.
Q: What prompted you to make this film?
A: Every project I make is rooted in a personal conflict. Something that causes me worry and anxiety. I use (the medium of) film to deal with that. And hopefully, the result is something less self-absorbed- something more universal that people can relate to. In this case, the conflict was the feeling that I couldn't be who I am where I grew up.
Q: What were the difficulties that you encountered while making this film?
A: People backing out of being part of the film, which prompted me to become a character in the film. I wanted to turn the negative into a positive.
Q: The film is appealing at two levels. It shows the homosexual life in a so-called closed society and the hypocrisy surrounding it and at another level it is also asking people to react and voice their opinions about the film within the film...
A: The film-within-the-film is something that grew organically from the obstacles that stood in the way of making the film I originally wanted to make. At first, I set out to do a film about the social taboos, which my society is very hypocritical about. Then the fact that people didn't want to talk about the hypocrisy anymore became just as interesting so that became a storyline in itself. Truth be told, however, I suffer from wanting to say many things at the same time. Maybe it is just my style of storytelling and maybe it's the fact that the subject matters that interest me are much layered.
Q: Homosexuality is a punishable crime in Arab countries. That being the case what made you risk everything to make this film?
A: Freedom is something worth risking a lot for. Having said that, I'm not sure that freedom is something attainable. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep aspiring to get it.
Q: Obviously Not Quite the Taliban cannot be screened in Arab countries...who is your audience?
A: It's meant for both Arabs and non-Arabs. Primarily, it is meant for anyone who exists in many worlds and is exposed to teachings and ideologies that contradict each other.
Q: Tell us about Fadi Hindash...
A: I'm half Palestinian, half Lebanese. I was born in Italy and was raised in Dubai. I'm trained as an architect. I never went to film school but I've always loved telling stories. It started with writing then I discovered cinema in university. I did the responsible thing and finished my non-film degree then I started making films through hands-on development programs at the New York Film Academy, Greenhouse and Binger Film lab. I got to `study’ film through real film projects I'm realizing. I used to regret not having gone to film school but now I know this route was best suited for me. I like to learn things practically. When I'm taught something theoretically, I tend to lose interest and patience.
Correction: Previous headline read 'new film' .. Dan Littauer of Gay Middle East notes that this film is not new. It was released in 2009 and has just played this Film Festival.