Sundance Film Festival 2021
A young girl is hiding in her father’s truck. When he discovers her, he is forced to continue his workday with her along for the ride. This touching story of father–daughter bonding explores the plight of Afghani migrants who have settled in Germany, where they face mistrust and integration difficulties.
Hi Zama thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?
I think being around family in my hometown where I grew up helps immensely. Also staying creative and working on different projects helps me stay sane.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
Surprisingly it has. I had time to slow down for a long time and that really helped me to find clarity. I was shooting non - stop in 2019 since 90 percent of my time I am a cinematographer but at some point I burned out. During lockdown I distanced myself from filmmaking and started to read a lot, spend time with my mother and pick old hobbies back up. That inspired me to write and look deeper back into the history of my own family from Afghanistan as well as to revisit my feature script.
Congratulations on Bambirak being part of the Sundance Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of films?
I could not believe it at first. Bambirak was rejected by every US Film festival I submitted to and slowly I lost hope that it will find its home in the US since it is a very European Topic. When I got the email I needed a week to really realise that Bambirak is premiering in the US at Sundance.
Bambirak is having its North American Premiere at Sundance as is nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize, does this add any extra pressure on you?
Honestly, the pressure has not arrived yet because of the new virtual film festival set up. Watching Bambirak from the living room of my mother feels unreal. As you can see I still have not realised it.
"While my mother and my sister were sleeping in until 10 am I woke up at 5 am and joined my father on the sofa."
Can you tell me a little bit about Bambirak, what inspired your screenplay?
It was a memory that inspired me to make this film. I grew up in Hamburg. When we were in 6th Grade we had something they called Girlsday. That is a day for girls to go and shadow a parent at work. I went with my father who was a self employed delivery driver. He delivered parcels for big companies. When we were working throughout the day he taught me alot and I had a good time. It was the moment when we had lunch in the back of his van and he told me about the times when he was tired. He would sleep on a green mattress for an hour or two and take a nap. He smiled when he told me that but I couldn't help it and a deep sadness came up to me. I did not show it but I knew my father gave up his dream of being a physicist and a professor at university of Kabul in order to live a peaceful life in Germany for me and my sister. He could not continue his profession in Germany because back in the days they did not accept his diploma and work experience.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing Bambirak to life?
I think finding the right girl for the story. I was casting for four months before I accidentally found Lara who plays Kati. She was not an actress, but practiced professional Taekwondo and that is how I found her at my local Gym.
Of course I was worried at first when starting to work with her but I soon realised that she can handle more than any girl I have worked with before. We rehearsed a lot and once we were on set it became a team.
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?
The beginning of the film. My editor Jenn Ruff told me after reading the script to be very careful because of the fall I initially happened in the beginning of the movie.
Of course I did not listen and tried to recreate a fall. We ended up changing the beginning and taking the fall out and I wished I would have scripted it differently.
I still close my eyes when I have to watch the opening scene.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I grew up as an early riser and was very into drawing. While my mother and my sister were sleeping in until 10 am I woke up at 5 am and joined my father on the sofa. He was also an early riser and we watched old spaghetti westerns until the rest of the family woke up.
How much did your time at NYU help prepare you for your filmmaking career?
I think I became a filmmaker at NYU. It is the beginning of my filmmaking career. I did a short film before in England as part of my studies. But NYU taught me what filmmaking is and more important to find my own voice.
How much does your background as a cinematographer inform how you directed Bambirak?
That is the first time someone asks me this question.
I was never a big dialogue writer. My dialogue is very little as you could see in Bambirak. I always write in images. I think I write how a cinematographer would write and that translates into my directing work.
Also because I consider myself first and foremost a cinematographer in the making, I was much more open for breaking the rules, and trying new forms of storytelling. In Bambirak it's the moment where she looks into the camera and feels joy.
Should filmmakers push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
100 percent! We have the tools that are much more affordable and the platforms. I feel now is the time to tell the stories you want to tell and how you want to tell them and experiment. In order to find new ways of storytelling we need to be open for new forms and ways of telling a story.
You have recently been selected for the American Society of Cinematographers’ Vision Mentorship Program, what do you hope to take away from this experience?
I am paired up with Markus Förderer who is from Germany but shoots a lot in the states. I think going forward I will continue to foster this relationship and learn as much as i can from him. This guidance is very valuable to me.
Are there any tips or words of advice you would offer a fellow writer/director or cinematographer?
Never give up. Keep shooting, keep creating no matter what and believe in yourself. I learned from my own experience and used to be and sometimes still am very hard on myself.
Trust and enjoy the process. do your work and the rest will fall into place.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Bambirak?
Understanding. I hope they understand.