A picture is worth a thousand words, but what if one has more to say? Bahraini-born Saleh Nass takes it to the next level with film. Writing, filming, producing & editing away in the sunny Gulf, there is still a lot to be said. As a seasoned traveller, it was without hesitation that he jetted off to the UK for a few years & armed himself with a degree in Television Production & made a few short films to show for it. At the cusp of the launch of his latest short film Central Market, we sat down with the emerging filmmaker to find out just what goes on behind the lens.
Unlike many filmmakers in the region, you actually studied film professionally. Did you always know that making films was something you wanted to do?
I actually wanted to be an archaeologist, thanks to Indiana Jones. However, that didn’t work out, so this was the next best thing! With digital technology becoming more widely accessible in the late 90s I was making videos at school, editing them on a computer and then trawling the streets of Manama with my friend looking for somewhere that would copy the tapes onto VHS. I still didn’t know that this was what I wanted to do though. I don’t believe there was a single moment, it was more of a gradual gravitation.
What was the turning point for you – when did you know that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
I experimented with a lot of photography at art school; I spent many hours in a dark room seeing images come to life. After that, I thought the most logical thing was to take it a notch up and play with moving images.
In 2008 you took the plunge into the entrepreneurial pool and decided to co-found your own production company, Elements – can you tell us more about that?
I never thought about having my own company. In Bahrain, there wasn’t an industry to speak of. There still isn’t to some extent. But one late night after working very hard with no job satisfaction, my future partner and I decided that enough was enough and took the plunge to have something of our own. We always wanted to make our own films and this seemed to be the ideal way to do it. He was a Director of Photography and I an editor/colourist and so it worked well.
How has being exposed to a high volume of commercial projects helped (or hindered) your personal creative vision?
t’s very difficult, on the one hand we have the facility to create whatever we want, and on the other hand it takes a back seat as you balance client requests with tight budgets and rigid briefs. But one does one’s best with what one has – and I do believe that perseverance and pressure allows you to be more creative than those with all the opportunities.
Who would you cite as your biggest inspirations or influences when it comes to film making?
There are many and I tended to go in phases, earlier on it was Spielberg and Ridley Scott, then it was a lot of Coen Brothers and British TV moving on to Robert Bresson, Majid Majidi and Asghar Farhadi.
Every filmmaker has a message – is there an overarching theme in your work, or something that you’re particularly passionate about communicating to your audience?
While it’s still too early to tell, I would say that as a 3rd culture kid, I’d like to reach a point where my films reflect a sense of culture and world-view that is unique to the Gulf and the Arab world in general but with a universal resonance to people from other cultures.
On that note – can you tell us a little more about what Central Market is about?
Suq Al Markazi (Central Market) is about a boy who works his afternoons at the local market carrying groceries & delivering produce and is always searching for that quick buck to be made. He finds his opportunity to make some ‘serious cash’ by trying to milk a small goat at a nearby pen.
Intrigue! Why the central market – what inspired you to make this film?
I was taking photographs at the central market, watching the different types of people that were there, and I remember thinking that it had lost some of its charm of when I used to go there with my father as a child. Kids weren’t pushing wheelbarrows for money or cleaning fish (I suppose that is a positive development). I remember thinking that we probably won’t see the market in the same form in a few years and wanted to just preserve some of those memories.
What do you hope to achieve through Central Market?
I’m hoping that the film can show a glimpse of life in Bahrain that we don’t usually have access to in a simple way far away from any causes or ‘points’ to be made. Shorts are usually vehicles to bigger projects and I hope to start work on my feature film after this. In terms of the message, I would say that it was about expectations. Sometimes we plan, but things don’t happen the way we want them to, or one could argue that they’re supposed to.
Tell us something about the film that viewers might not know from just watching it.
We ended up filming in Jidhafs Market as the actual central market was too dark and a bit lacking in local colorful characters. Jidhafs Market was smaller, had a charm about it and was more visually pleasing on camera.
You’ve been quite active f as of late – can you tell us about some of your other films?
This is my 5th short film. My last film Lu’bba (Game) was official selection at more than 15 international film festivals, the most prominent being the Oscar qualifying Slamdance in Park City, Utah where the film made its US debut. It won the 2nd prize at home in this year’s Unity International Film Festival. Surprisingly still going around the world and has been nominated for the American Online Film Awards Spring Showcase.
What’s next in the pipeline then?
I’ve written a feature film which I’m currently in development stages and which I hope to produce and direct by the end of the year.
Otherwise I’m hoping to take it one step at a time so as not to end up like the boy and his goat.