By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
A boy in an unnamed village – presumably between Pakistan and Afghanistan (shot in Orange County, California) – discovers a knack for the supernatural. He can heal – metaphorically and literally.
In Heal, a short film produced in 2009, we see Azeem (Ameer Zhowandai) a young, vacant-eyed boy living in midst of infrequent and perpetual geographical conflict, which is relayed off-camera and not shown, given the obvious budgetary limitations of a short film.
His village is small, there’s no electricity and their school – with a class size of 12 – makes do with bare essentials: four concrete walls, a floor, a blackboard and one teacher, Kaka Abdul (Navid Negahban of Brothers and television series 24, aptly cast).
One day Azeem finds a baby goat, down with a burning fever and nose-bleed. He touches the goat and instinctively triggers his latent healing ability: The goat recovers, but the boy inherits the nose-bleed, and later that night, a passing fever. Azeem has no idea that he has transferred the goat’s physical trauma, and after this initial encounter, the potential of Azeem’s gift is relegated to a backseat as Heal reroutes its agenda and focusses on character build-up.
Azeem, who has a single mother, may have a budding gift for poetry and a predestined wife in Amal (Hannah Sher). On a separate narrative note, Kaka Abdul’s daughter (Reha Zamani) also a young single mother, is about to be married again. There is only so much 20 odd minutes can tell without stacking up on pomposity or over-wrought drama that is often automatically associated with the film’s geography. The NGO-free ideology protects the film’s screenplay (by director Mian Adnan Ahmad) from a “Saving Face”-like, documentary-influenced, narrative.
Rather than draft out a bigger film, with no apparent (or willing) support from distributors, Adnan Ahmad’s short film is business-wise – a better idea, especially for budding filmmakers who may not necessarily want to venture into our chocked-up television industry.
Adnan Ahmad, who started Heal as a thesis project for Chapman College, has a firm grip on his aesthetic and technical calls. Heal’s cinematography (credited to Dani Sanchez Lopez) is unexciting, static and relevant for unobstructed storytelling. It often sticks to solo frames or two shots at varying focal lengths, and sometimes find it hard to accurately pin focus on subjects (by the way on a related note, the film was not shot digitally). The film’s editing (by Yukako Shimada) is finely tuned to its cut-points, its grading (colour correction) is non-destructive and the original score, by Tuomas Kantelinen, of the Oscar-nominated Kazakh film Mongol, is deviously restrained.
In release since 2009, Heal has accumulated a healthy resume though its festival run. The short film has won numerous awards including the prestigious Frank Capra Award at the Fallbrook Film Festival, Jesse Epstein Humanitarian Award at the Cleveland International Film Festival in 2010, Outstanding Filmmaker (Overall Directing) and Best Cinematography at HATCH fest 2010. The film also won Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Film’ at last year’s Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival in the US.
Although there are a few specs of cliché here are there (a few frames would have had a better impact if framed unconventionally), the film is a departure from propaganda-driven products like Bol or Khuda Kay Liye.
It seems that the makers of Heal know that it is better to delicately talk about a subject, rather than scream your lungs out about it. For an industry diligently working on its revival, this small bit of craftiness may just be what the doctor ordered.
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