How long have you known you wanted to be a filmmaker?
My father is a filmmaker, in fact in 1963 he became responsible for the very first Kuwaiti short film, called ‘The Black Briefcase’. I was raised in a very artistic household; piano, art, cinema – we grew up around those things. That’s where my inspiration came from.
In 1999 I went to the United States to attend the University of Miami and study Filmmaking and Fine Arts.
When I was in university, my parents were paying for my tuition, because at the time, there were no scholarships given to students wishing to study Film. That all changed in 2004, when Mirza Hassan, on my recommendation, started a scholarship for up and coming Kuwaiti filmmakers.
Who are your influences when it comes to filmmaking? Favorite directors?
Well, My father, Abdul Rasool Salman, is the reason I am a director. He taught me the A to Z of art, lighting and composition—all the basic tools a filmmaker needs to excel; I learned these all from my father. He also taught me about the beauty in life; there’s beauty all around us. He taught me how to really observe the world around me.
I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. The psychological elements he portrayed in his movies caught my eye. And of course, Iranian filmmakers really inspire me, in particular, the work of Abbas Karstomi and Mohsen Makhmid.
And who would you like to work with?
As far as actors are concerned, I think I’d love to work with Daniel Day Lewis and Natalie Portman. Jack Nicholson would also be great to work with; he’s one of my early inspirations, definitely.
I’d also love to work with the Iranian filmmakers I mentioned earlier, as well as Bahman Ghobadi, a Cannes winner.
What’s the censorship situation like here in Kuwait?
By far, it’s the worst in the Middle East. It’s unbelievable the level we have reached. If I were to make a brave film, I’d become a victim—no, more than a victim—in my own country. We’re seeing it happen more and more every day.
My colleague, Amer Al Zuhair, recently had an experience with the censorship department. His last two films, When the People Spoke I & II, were not only censored, but completely banned from screening in the country. These were documentaries depicting the streets of Kuwait and what’s going on in the country. But they were banned. He didn’t even waste his time taking the third in the series to the censors.
What are your thoughts on your fellow Kuwaiti filmmakers?
While people may think it’s safe to assume we’re all in competition with one another; that really is not the case. Directors do not compete with each other. Each director is his own personality, his own style. Sure, there are instances where styles are similar and where comparisons can be made, but even then, I like to think of it more as ‘influence’ or ‘inspiration.’
As filmmakers, we need to support each other, as we get very little to no support from the Kuwaiti government, unfortunately. Five years ago, for example, the United Arab Emirates had only a handful of filmmakers. Today, they have more than 100 active filmmakers, and numerous films being released every year. This is all thanks to the dedication and support provided to them by their country’s government. It’s incentive for the director to go and do more for his country.
Soon enough, we will hear about Emirates cinema in the same way we hear about Iranian cinema, or Korean cinema.
So what about the future of Kuwaiti cinema?
There is absolutely a future for cinema in Kuwait, just as there is around the world. But changes need to start being made. The country needs to begin aiding and supporting its talent, for starters. That’s probably one, if not the, most important thing. To give hope and inspiration to the young up-and-coming directors is the right push this country needs to really grab the reigns of cinema in the country. We have the stories, and we have some very talented people. We just need support.
But it doesn’t stop there; there are other things that are required to help the progression of cinema in this country. How about opening up a film school? We need a film commission, a film fund… how about a film festival? So many Gulf countries are starting their own festivals, and there are film festivals all over the world. Kuwait needs to catch up.
We also need to loosen our censorship of films. People have stories to tell, important stories, and we should have the freedom to do so.
Do you think of cinema as a business
or an art?
Cinema is both business and art. There would be no business without art, and there would be no art without business. There’s a parallel there that’s required; art is needed for businesses to flourish, and in order for art to continue, in terms of the production and achievements, then business is required. I’d safely say it is the most powerful communication tool of our time. Cinema is a money-maker; a great investment. That’s the beauty of cinema: it lives in every house, every room, every country. Investments should start being made, particularly in international cinema projects.
I think Saudi Arabia is an untapped market that needs to be looked into and analyzed more carefully. In a few years, it’ll be a goldmine. It’s a huge country, and they’re already starting to build their theaters and cinemas. When they open up in the country, I believe there’ll be huge changes.
Big companies like Rotana are already releasing films in Egypt. As a business, cinema is moving, and moving fast. But here in Kuwait, we’re falling behind and we need to change that.
First published in Men's Passion issue #6 September 2008