For renowned local writer and photographer Hamad AlSarraf, the year 2014 was one filled with growth and change. While many expect his latest photography exhibition, or the release of a new book, he surprises audiences with his debut into the world of filmmaking. Hamad is taking his visual journey one step further, in the form of writing, producing and directing his first short film, Viktor. Anyone who happens to meet Hamad, would instantly notice his quiet and subdued nature. He’s always composed, pensive, and carefully planning his next step. When it came to speaking about his film, however, his demeanor surprised us. He’s nervous and his words are brimming with excitement, like a child opening a birthday present.
A totally different Hamad sat across from us. Our questions about Viktor seemed to interrupt his perplexed gazes. We attributed this state of befuddlement to the fact that he had just finished filming the last scenes from his debut film. “I’m deliriously happy,” he said.
A short tale of drama and mystery, Viktor revolves around the story of a writer (Viktor) in his early thirties. He lost everything in life, including his inspiration. His life collapsed, and came to a complete standstill. At that point, his obsession to find the answers to the sense of loss that plagues him, grew stronger. Frenzied, he didn’t know what to do or where to go. He remains demotivated and uninspired until he comes across a physical ‘door of time.’ Viktor makes the decision to walk through the door, knowing that he might never come back from the experience. Viktor is written and directed by Hamad AlSarraf, and actors Hamad Ashkanani (Viktor/Josef), Waleed Shaalan (Raj) and Sabeeka AlRashed (Sofia) star in the film along with the creative talents of Production Designer Salah Zamani that brought Hamad’s fictional world to life.
Viktor is an honest exploration of one’s soul and its journey. It is a part of Hamad, and a part of everyone. The beauty lies in personalizing this universal struggle. He said, “When I first wanted to write the script, I went ahead and wrote a first draft with some previous knowledge in scriptwriting. I shared it with a trusted group of companions outside of Kuwait, and their comments and feedback helped me shape it to where it is today. The script was written, dissected, rewritten, broken down, and then written again.” While this can be discouraging to most, Hamad’s lifelong dream to make films, remained as a constant driver. He approached his dream with complete perseverance, care and dedication. In certain ways, people expected that Hamad’s artistic progression would lead him toward filmmaking.
When Hamad first returned to Kuwait after completing his studies, he knew that the tools that he required to make the types of film he envisioned, would have been futile. Instead, he focused and grew his passion for photography and writing and audiences grew fond of his carefully crafted photos, his command of lighting, and his words. As his talent grew, so did the progression of his work.
As for Viktor, the idea for the film developed organically. When Hamad first shared the idea of making a short film with his closest friends, they immediately encouraged him to start work on the project. After visiting the Cannes Film Festival last May, he returned invigorated to start writing. He said, “I visited the festival to simply experience the vibe, and I met so many people in the industry who offered me invaluable advice, such as the renowned producer, Laura Bickford (Traffic) and also the Vice President of HBO, amongst many other giants in the industry.” The final draft of the film was finalized last October, and Hamad even started casting for Viktor before he had finalized the script. His reasoning behind this move involved his commitment to the final cast that made brought the story of Viktor to life.
The first person cast for the role of the wise Raj was Waleed Shalaan. A local artist and renowned architect, Waleed is constantly pushing the creative envelope, from art, music to acting, Waleed was and continues to be Hamad’s first choice for this role. Hamad also targeted one person, to whom he felt that the leading role of the film’s protagonist, Viktor, protagonist) was most suited for—Hamad Ashkanani.
He said, “He has something different that I didn’t see anywhere else. There are key elements, which a character needs to already possess within themselves, to perform a role and Ashkanani strongly possesses these qualities.” On the cast themselves and how they interacted, Hamad felt blessed to be amongst such a creative group of people that understood, and lived, the premise of the film.
He explained, “Had I attempted to further plan the casting process, it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did. They (the cast) got along seamlessly and this was clearly reflected in the way in which they portrayed their roles. I felt that each character I wrote was a part of me, and they emulated these parts perfectly. Harmony, chemistry, it was all there.” The cast began rehearsing immediately, and filming was completed in one month.
In order to effectively bring the story of Viktor to life, Hamad relied on the talented Production Designer, Salah Zamani, who is also considered as one of the best in Kuwait in the field of set and production design. “I don’t think there is anyone in Kuwait that I know of, who does production design for film, like he does.” Zamani effortlessly transformed a blank space into a rich, sensuous canvas, a fictional place that only existed in Hamad’s imagination as Viktor’s world. The attention to detail is astounding, as the set was built from the ground up. Furthermore, Hamad’s eye and attention to details is hard to follow, or even fathom at times, let alone emulate. Perhaps this is most exemplified in his style of photography. Taking a typical scene, and feeling that this scene has been transported somewhere fictional, a dream world, if you may. When Hamad found Salah, his vision saw fruition.
Reflecting on his debut experience with film, Hamad feels entirely humbled, and openly admits to learning so much from the creative and technical processes that made his dream a reality. Viktor is now in its postproduction stages, and Hamad is constantly traveling between Kuwait and the United Kingdom for mastering and coloring the film. For this process, Hamad enlisted the services of the renowned company, Technicolor.
When asked about his favorite moments from making Viktor, he couldn’t name one specific moment, as he loved all of it. He looks back at the whole experience with joy because making films was and continues to be Hamad’s ultimate dream. He said, “I loved the entire process, the creative process, the vision, the filming was fun, albeit extremely stressful.” He described how trying to bring all of the creative elements together proved logistically, physically and even mentally challenging. Having to wear so many creative hats, from photography to cinematography, was grueling at times, but it was all worth it because Hamad will never forget the first time he sat behind the monitor when they began to film Viktor. It’s his dream come true, after all, and Hamad is only getting started on yet another incredible journey with film.
What do you most value in your friends?
Understanding, and the value of the bond that is shared between us.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Knowing the difference between what you want and what you need; acceptance.
What is your greatest fear?
Fear has no place in my dictionary.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Being very sensitive.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your greatest extravagance?
The tools I use while pursuing my goals.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I don’t know.”
What is it that you most dislike?
Dislike, in and of itself.
Which talent would you most like to have?
To improve my existing skills and talent to deeper levels.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
I’m already doing what I love to do: Filmmaking.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your most marked characteristic?
Mysterious and quiet.
Where would you most like to live?
What are your favorite words to live by?
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
“What you don’t know that you don’t know”