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Monday, June 24, 2013

BAMcinemaFest 2013: Q&A with Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq

by Andrew Chan

Listed by Filmmaker magazine as two of "25 New Faces" on the cinema landscape in 2012, Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq have crafted one of the most visually breathtaking films in this year's BAMcinemaFest line-up. Originally intended as a portrait of revered Pakistani humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi, These Birds Walk evolved during the filmmaking process into a heartbreaking but life-affirming chronicle of youth, poverty, and street life in Karachi. In the Q&A below, the directors talk about their influences, the difficulties of shooting in a foreign country, and their favorite recent films.

These Birds Walk screens in BAMcinemaFest on Wednesday, June 26.

1. When and how did you come to know you wanted to make movies?

Omar: I always loved movies and thought I knew what they were about, but a good friend in college showed me Husbands by John Cassavetes. Like many people seeing his films for the first time, I found it unwatchable; but I couldn't shake it off and the second time I tried, I thought it a miracle. I walked home knowing I wanted to go for that—whatever it was he was going for.

Bassam: I was a poor college student trying to find ways to make money. I picked up a friend’s camera and started doing small promotional videos. From those small non-profit videos, I learned how to edit and shoot video. I realized I was finding cool ways to tell these otherwise really boring stories. Around then, the idea of making films seemed a little more possible.

2. What would you be doing if you weren't a filmmaker?

Omar: I'm not a filmmaker—I am the father of a six year old boy, and I made a film. That's how I see myself. God willing, I'll make a few more.

Bassam: That’s an easy one, I’d be a video game developer or a really bad singer-songwriter.

3. What are some of the challenges you faced while making your film, both artistic and logistical?

Omar: The logistical challenges were dealing with being in a foreign country and having to navigate the most absurd of personal priorities—a film—in other people's real lives. The country is colorful, vibrant and cheerfully attached to its own rhythms, which force you to improvise on any given day. Keeping our vision of a place and people is the thing I am proudest of creatively with the film if, in fact, we pulled that off.

Bassam Tariq & Omar Mullick
Photo by Robin Holland (
Bassam: Filming in Karachi was very difficult since there isn’t much infrastructure to protect filmmakers or our equipment. It was also hard for us to build trust with people on the ground. Artistically, Omar and I constantly pushed one another in the editing room when it came to constructing the story.

4. Talk about your favorite movie of the past two or three years.

Omar: It's not in the last two or three years, but I find the work of Carlos Reygadas incredibly compelling. It is good to see someone upping the ante on what's possible in cinema, and I think he is doing just that. I also thought The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson was astonishing and also the recent documentary Leviathan.

Bassam: Sickfuckpeople is a small Ukrainian documentary I unknowingly walked into at Hot Docs this year. It was a powerful film on addiction and adulthood. Throughout the entire film I was praying to God to let the characters in the film find ease. When a film makes you pray to the unseen, you know it is doing something right.

5. Are you working on a new project now?

Omar: I have a script idea about the possibility of martyrdom in the modern age. The idea and characters are keeping me company wherever I go.

Bassam: I’m working on a transmedia project based on stories of people living under drone strikes with fellow filmmaker and close friend Musa Syeed. I’m also scratching my name onto whatever Omar Mullick is doing next.

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