Interview: Iqbal Mohammed, Huddersfield-based director of Three Minute Warning
April 15, 2016
Three Minute Warning, starring Shamime Ibrahim and Mimi Nali, is set In Palestine, about a 14-year-old girl called Mariam cares for her disabled mother. One night, an Israeli “knock-on-roof” bomb is dropped onto their building allowing them only three minutes to escape before it is demolished. Three Minute Warning has already been received extremely positively on the film festival circuit, including receiving nomination for best international short film by Limerick Film Festival. We talk to Huddersfield based director Iqbal Mohammed about his most recent film Three Minute Warning.
What inspired you to write Three Minute Warning?
It was March 2012 and I was having a discussion with my friend, Mohammed Zubair, about the recent conflict in Palestine. We were conversing about the bombs and the deployment of roof knocking and about how many families have died. Roof knocking is a tactic deployed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). They drop an empty missile shell onto the building of a roof (leaving no damage) and then expect innocents inside to leave the building within three minutes before they fire a missile at it. The dilemma however is that if a dense number of people are seen leaving, the IDF can suspect that they are Hamas and then bomb them. This leaves families in a sticky situation as to whether they should leave their houses or not?
The majority of families survive but some aren’t so lucky. Some can be asleep and some can either be in the toilet or the shower and have extreme difficulty. In my film we have a mother and daughter. The daughter is the mother’s carer. The mother is not physically well and as you can imagine they have difficulty like the families I’ve only read about.
It was never my plan to make a political film however in 2013, Mohammed Zubair died peacefully in his sleep. He was 25 years old. I made it my goal to make a film in his memory. I wasn’t sure as to what it would be but I still remember that conversation we had. I had to make this Palestinian film, not just for Zubair but for the Palestinian people, the ones with no voice.
When did you begin the writing process?
I had planned to make a foreign language film in Manilla, Philippines in May 2015. Unfortunately like some projects this film didn’t work out. The project has been shelved but not forgotten about. I was down in the dumps due to the disappointment of another project I couldn’t lift from the ground. I needed something else to write. I then had a brainwave, a thought about a family trying to escape a three minute warning bomb. At that point I rushed upstairs, opened my laptop and started writing the film. I finished the first draft in 30 minutes. Immediately I knew I had a fantastic idea, but that’s all it was at that time…an idea.
Where did the filming take place?
The filming took place in a small tiny ground floor flat in Barnet, London. A million miles away from Gaza however the set was built really well by Ruth Ingamells our production designer.
How did you raise the funding for this film?
This film was completely self-funded. I had just tried to tackle some funding for my Filipino film and I found a lot of avenues were blocked. Friends hid in the woodwork the minute I mentioned money and previous sponsors would say “It’s a great film… but no thank you, we’re not interested”. So I decided to go this one alone without mentioning a single word to anyone. I worked overtime in the Pharmacy including weekends and cut down my spending.
It had been two years and three failed projects since my last film. I was afraid I had become a laughing stock so I didn’t reveal the project until we had called a wrap on the film. Facebook and Twitter went crazy the moment I posted a picture of me in a Palestinian cap with a clapper board with the words “Three Minute Warning” written on it.
How did you conduct the casting process to find the perfect actress to play Mariam?
You will be very surprised to learn that the protagonist was written as a male. I had put an advert in Casting Call and Spotlight for a mother aged around 45 and a 14-16 year old arabic speaking boy. One of the actresses who I was going to audition for the mother then recommended a girl she knew called Shamime. I was a little sceptical and didn’t think it would work. We held auditions in London over one weekend and I invited Shamime.
When Shamime walked in I could tell she was extremely nervous, but when I called action it felt like a light switch had been turned on and she became the character. It felt extremely authentic. At that point I knew I made a mistake with the script and we needed to change the protagonist to a girl named Mariam.
The young actress playing Mariam had to empathise with a young girl in an extreme situation. Was there any particular strategies as a director which you undertook to help with the young actress?
It was actually very easy for me to direct Shamime. She is a very talented actor. And the actors had an insight into how they should play the roles.They knew the situation in Palestine and having arabic origins definitely helps too. My role as a director is to guide them and not to get them to feel. A good director should never tell an actor how to feel. Everybody feels differently in different situations.
What was the biggest challenge you faced throughout the process of creating Three Minute Warning?
This is a very easy question to answer. The biggest challenge was to find a producer who was willing to accept the challenge. I had asked three producers before approaching Alex Gibbons. I had met Alex at the No/Gloss film festival in Leeds where both our films had screened in 2014.
The subject of this film is very touchy and some producers felt that they would be looked at differently within the industry if they made such a film. They just didn’t want to be associated with a film like this. It took me five months to find Alex who eventually said yes to the project. At that point I knew the biggest hurdle had been jumped.
What is the future for Three Minute Warning?
I hope to play the film at some very large film festivals this coming year. I have once again submitted to No/Gloss film festival as I felt it was only right with them connecting Alex and I in 2014.
I want the whole world to see our work, to see what we’ve created on such a tight budget, to see what can be done with a very hard working team.
As an independent filmmaker, what are the biggest obstacles you face in the distribution process?
As an independent filmmaker I feel the distribution process is a little flawed. It seems that you have to win a certain award to be offered some sort of distribution deal. It’s pretty sad really because I have seen so many smart films on the festival circuit that don’t stand a chance because they don’t have an A-List actor in it or the director doesn’t have a smash-hit film under his/her belt. It needs to change because our voices need to be heard, no matter how small.
What do you hope the impact of Three Minute Warning will be?
I want people to watch this film and question what is happening in that part of the world. The film is not the answer but instead should raise the question; What is it like to live in Palestine? I want people to stop watching the news and start to do their own research into the matter. This is the only way we are going to change the world. Palestine should be free from the occupation and people shouldn’t have to live in apartheid and needlessly die in an unjust war.
Keep your eyes peeled on the festival circuit for Three Minute Warning. It will be screened at the Human Rights Film Festival 2016 in Barcelona this November. There will also be live links in New York and Paris. You can view the trailer here.