‘The magic will come’: First Pakistani filmmaker at Cannes hopes to light the way for others

1 / 3
Iram Parveen Bilal has made history as the first Pakistani director to head to Cannes with her feature film. She is also among 15 directors chosen for the prestigious Cinefondation’s Atelier program (Photo courtesy: @IramParveenBilal/Facebook)
2 / 3
Pakistani filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal Bilal spoke at the 'Storytellers and the Creative Process' panel at Cannes where she shared her film making process. Bilal has been making films for over 10 years. (Photo via Iram Parveen Bilal)
3 / 3
Iram Parveen Bilal has made history as the first Pakistani director to head to Cannes with her feature film. She is also among 15 directors chosen for the prestigious Cinefondation’s Atelier program (Photo by Alia Azamat)
Updated 24 May 2019

‘The magic will come’: First Pakistani filmmaker at Cannes hopes to light the way for others

  • Iram Parveen Bilal is part of the Cinefondation’s Atelier program which picks 15 directors with “particularly promising” projects
  • ‘Wakhri’ is about the accidental social media star “who learns the harsh cost of wearing masks in the real world,” Bilal says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal, who made history last week as the first director of a feature film from the South Asia nation to be invited to the glamorous Cannes Film Festival, said she wished to “keep the hope alive” for other Pakistanis wanting to make their mark at international cinema events.
Last year, Pakistan’s best known film actress Mahira Khan made her debut at Cannes. Before her, the only other Pakistani artist to attend the festival was Adnan Siddiqui who took the film ‘A Mighty Heart’ to the event in 2008 with Hollywood bigwigs Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Now Bilal has made it to the festival as part of the prestigious Cinefondation L’Atelier program that picks 15 directors with “particularly promising projects” for a seven-day intensive fast track finance program. The program has a 93 percent financing and distribution success rate.
“It is surreal, it is the world’s biggest stage for cinema,” Bilal told Arab News in an interview, answering a question about what it felt like to attend Cannes. “I’m humbled and really honored to be included in a prestigious official selection of the festival. To be honest, I’m still a bit numb and processing it.”
But then she added: “If you’re honest and rooted as an artist, the magic will come. That’s the magic we all strive to create.”
Bilal’s project ‘Wakhri,’ the Urdu word for ‘different,’ is about an accidental social media star “who learns the harsh cost of wearing masks in the real world.”
“The film deals with themes like hypocrisy, trolling and the ultimate empowerment of self,” Bilal said.
Bilal has been directing films for over 10 years. Her first feature film ‘Josh’ was the very first Pakistani film to land on streaming giant Netflix and is also part of the permanent selection in the US Library of Congress.
Born to academic parents, and an environmental sciences engineer herself, she is the first in her family to deviate from the scientific path into the “wild west of the entertainment industry.”
The Cinefondation L’Atelier program, of which Bilal’s Wakhri is a part, has a 93 percent financing and distribution success rate, the filmmaker said.
“The general manager of the program watched my work at the Locarno Film Festival’s film library and had been tracking me,” Bilal said. The GM then met Abid Merchant, Wakhri’s producer, and the pair were invited to apply to the program.
In addition to being a part of the Cinefondation L’Atelier group, Bilal also spoke at Cannes on a ‘Storytellers and the Creative Process’ panel where she got to engage with early career filmmakers and students and spoke about her approach to filmmaking.
Cannes has recently come under fire for its under-representation of women filmmakers and directors, but Bilal said she tried to ignore the “depressing” statistics.
“I just focus on possibilities and on realizing that I have been fortunate enough to be a trail blazer and perhaps, even in this case, we can somehow go against the odds and achieve something very unexpected,” the Pakistani director said.
“It is humbling and I hope my participation will open doors for many more to come from our country.”
Bilal said Pakistan had so much filmmaking talent but little to no access.
“It has taken me years of building my work and a network to get to this point. I hope this leverages for people coming up the ranks right behind me,” the filmmaker said. “I take representing Pakistan very seriously. If we are as professional and committed as we can be, we keep the hope alive for others coming behind us as well.”


Pakistan to be part of new Saudi foreign manpower program 

Updated 14 November 2019

Pakistan to be part of new Saudi foreign manpower program 

  • New skills-based system to be launched from next month
  • Will include India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Starting next month, Saudi Arabia will introduce a new skilled foreign manpower program that will eventually include Pakistan, a senior official at the Saudi labor ministry said this week. 

Nayef Al-Omair, head of the vocational examination program at the Ministry of Labor, said on Tuesday in Riyadh that the ministry was categorizing the tasks and the structure of some professions for visa-issuing purposes.

Under the new policy, visas would be issued only after skill tests and the previous system would be gradually phased out. 

The new scheme would be optional for one year starting December 2019 after which it would become compulsory, Al-Omair said. The new program would first be applied to manpower recruited from India due to its large size in the Saudi market.

Eventually, the program will cover seven countries, including India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Workers belonging to these states constitute 95 percent of professional manpower in the Kingdom’s local market.

Saudi Arabia is home to around 2.6 million Pakistani expats those have been a vital source of foreign remittances.

Last year the country received $21.8 billion in remittances out of which $5 billion were remitted by Pakistani nationals working in Kingdom.

According to the Pakistani ministry of finance, there was a major decline in manpower export to Saudi Arabia where only 100,910 emigrants proceeded for employment in 2018 as compared to 2017, a drop of 42,453 emigrants.

However, Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari, special assistant to the Pakistani prime minister on overseas Pakistanis, said in an interview earlier this month that Saudi Arabia had agreed to increase the share of the Pakistani labor force in the multi-billion dollar New Taif City development.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have formed working groups to develop procedures for this transfer of manpower. Pakistani groups will visit the Kingdom in the coming months to finalize arrangements.