My name is Zaid Abu Hamdan, born in Amman, Jordan and raised by warm and supportive parents. After working in several TV positions in Amman, Lebanon and Dubai, I decided that it was time to listen to my calling and pursue my MFA degree in Filmmaking, and therefore I moved to Hollywood, California. My main interest in life is to make my surroundings happy and to advocate for children’s causes.
You were part of the Berlinale Talent Campus in 2011. Why did you choose to participate?
To be honest, I was interested in the Berlinale Talent Campus as I heard a lot about the Festival itself and a few people I know experienced the campus and came back with exciting stories about films and work, and that’s why I submitted my application.
It was later proven to me that taking part in the Talent Campus was absolutely one of the highlights of my young filmmaking career. It allowed me to meet several film industry professionals that really supported me and are still guiding me with advice whenever needed.
Your biggest success so far is your short film called Bahiya & Mahmoud. What is this short about and what was your inspiration for it?
The greatest passion motivating my decision to make this film was my growing love to my grandparents and their seemingly loveless and unbearable life. Bahiya & Mahmoud is about an uncommon kind of love. As I was progressing in my career, I realized my fascination with the first and last years of a human’s life.
In my short film Bahiya & Mahmoud, I decided to write a story inspired by love, about people I love, who are Bahiya & Mahmoud, my real grandparents.
Visiting my grandparents over the years and living several unforgettable moments with them, I started noticing their perception of love, and life’s perception of them. The daily life of elderly people can be much more charming than we could imagine. It was a thrilling challenge crafting a film inspired by my grandparents’ daily routine and making it all fit in a 14 minute short film, while still being truthful to their reality.
Bahiya & Mahmoud is very popular at international festivals – why do you think that is so?
I strongly believe that any successful short film must tell a very simple, yet heartfelt story. I believe that my story had an international appeal due to a fact I figured out later; Bahiya & Mahmoud are not my grandparents only!
They are actually so many other people’s grandparents, parents, neighbors or simply a different version of an old bickering couple in love.
My biggest satisfaction is when my film touches the heart of the audience. 2 lines of feedback I heard several times in different forms were: “Your film made me remember how much I love and miss my grandparents, I want to call them now”. The second is when older couples come up to me after the film, very touched and say: “Thanks for reminding us how much we love each other”.
Your short film won in Palm Springs, this way it got qualified to the Oscar race. What did you feel then? Did you buy a tuxedo immediately?
To be extremely honest, I went to the awards ceremony (note: Palm Springs) with a little sparkle in my heart as the audience received my film extremely well, but I was not expecting anything in particular as the majority of the films in competition were really, REALLY, RRREALLY very good. So, the festival director and wonderful man Darryl McDonald starts announcing awards along with the jury members, each announcing different awards.
All the awards were announced and there was still the big Oscar-qualifying one, and that’s where I knew heartbeats were not necessary for human life, because by then my heart had stopped beating for a few minutes and I think I was still alive!
Then, the jury members announced they had selected the film that won “Best of the Fest” unanimously, and said a wonderful sentence before announcing the winner: “Bahiya & Mahmoud”! The first thing I did instead of going up to stage to say my award speech was to put my head between my knees and take a while there to realize what just happened. I was absolutely over the moon.
The next morning it hit me, “wow, I am Oscar Qualified!!” Then on a daily basis I spent months preparing 100 versions of different Oscar speeches; what I will say to my favorite actors and directors when I see them, what my father’s face would look like when I win an Oscar, down to imagining what color bow tie I would choose especially for this occasion. Ah, what a wonderful experience that all was and still is. And that Oscar, I am so getting one day.
Beside festivals, there are new platforms for short films: the Internet, smartphones, smart televisions. What is your opinion about these outlets?
I am actually pleasantly surprised as there are several outlets for short films these days and they are increasing. I can see the number of platforms increase noticeably as I have made a short film professionally every 18 months over the past 4 years, and with every next short I make I am approached by more distribution companies, online short film providers, and even more international distributors from the Middle East and China which are regions I doubted would distribute short films anytime soon. Of course, with feature films, any distribution deal would be good financial return and a great exposure to the market. Yet, with shorts the financial return remains limited and in most cases would not cover the budget of the film on the short run distribution, but I believe us short film makers should bank on the exposure that puts our names and work out there to the public.
What are you working on now? Are you going to stick to short films, or was your short film career just a ticket to the feature film world?
At the moment I am working on developing and funding my feature film under the working title “Nostalgia”, which will hopefully be an international co-production. Another story inspired by love, but this time inspired by my love to 4 sisters who were born and raised in a less fortunate area in Amman. One of those 4 sisters is my mother. Nostalgia will be a bold female empowering film from Jordan, a story that it is about time someone told.