XYZ Films has unveiled the first clip from Cannes Directors’ Fortnight selection “In Flames,” a Pakistani-Canadian horror film directed by Zarrar Kahn.
The film, produced by Anam Abbas and executive produced by Shant Joshi, Todd Brown and Maxime Cottray, is part of XYZ’s New Visions slate. As revealed by Variety, XYZ had boarded the title last year.
In the Karachi-set film, after the death of the family patriarch, a mother and daughter’s precarious existence is ripped apart by figures from their past – both real and phantasmal. They must find strength in each other if they are to survive the malevolent forces that threaten to engulf them.
It is the first Pakistan-set film in Directors’ Fortnight since Jamil Dehlavi’s “The Blood of Hussain” was selected in 1980.
Kahn, who is now based in Canada, was born in and grew up in Karachi. “In Flames,” which is Kahn’s feature debut grew out of “Dia,” a 24-minute 2018 short, which in turn was based on his eight-minute short “Pak.”
“It was supposed to be a drama about a young woman and her secret boyfriend. And then it ended up becoming a thriller,” Kahn told Variety. “Dia” premiered at Locarno, where Kahn was pleased with the response to it and wanted to revisit the themes in it.
“The themes were becoming also more relevant to what is happening in Pakistan at this time, around the conversation of women’s rights, property rights – a lot of these time optics are really in flux and in conflict right now, and those themes were also becoming more violent. So, it was really feeling not only is this the film that I could make, this is also the film that needs to be made,” Kahn said.
“I was starting to feel a greater sense of urgency that we need to get this film out there also because I felt like the movement and what was happening in Pakistan needed a film that not only spoke to the challenges faced, but also spoke about overcoming those challenges,” Kahn added.
“In Flames” strikes a blow against patriarchy. The film’s producer Anam Abbas is one of the founders of women’s rights movement Women’s March in Pakistan. Kahn feels that the film will provide activists the ammunition to continue moving forward, adding that the conversation around women’s rights is not restricted to just Pakistan or South Asia.
“It’s happening all over the world right now – look at U.S. where rights are being rolled back. Look at Iran. It’s a global conversation. It definitely feels like the world is in flux in a lot of ways. My hope for the film worldwide is, I hope we get reactions,” Kahn said.
“A visceral reaction is what attracts me to cinema. It’s what attracts me to horror. I want the film to be seen in cinemas. There’s something about that shared experience of coming out of this journey of the characters of Mariam [Ramesha Nawal] and Fariha [Bakhtawar Mazhar], who go through so much in this film, and experiencing it with them in that communal space. And then leaving the theater and carrying that story with you.”
“In Flames” is part of a revival of sorts for cinema from Pakistan. “Joyland” was at Cannes last year, and “The Legend of Maula Jatt” earned worldwide success to become Pakistan’s biggest box office hit of all time. Kahn says that the Pakistani industry needs to become sustainable.
“That’s always been a challenge, where we don’t have a film organization, there’s no legislation for that. There’s no film body, we have censor bodies across every province in Pakistan that are pretty well-funded. But we don’t have a body that’s committed to the promotion or creation or curation of cinema. So, work needs to be done,” Kahn said. Kahn is all praise for filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal’s Qalambaz mentoring program for emerging talent.
Kahn himself is involved with Canada’s POV Films, a non-profit organization that works to help youth from marginalized communities break into the screen industries. It is a six-month condensed film school, where Kahn teaches.
Alongside British-Canadian producer Mina Hussain, Kahn is a producer on “An Act of Lamentation,” a short by Mohammed Ali Hashmi and is involved in a project by a female Pakistani filmmaker who has directed a few shorts, which is under wraps at the moment. As a director, he is working on a film about the climate floods in Karachi.
“In Flames” premieres May 19.
Watch the clip here: