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Doctor, Director: Review, Part II || @UmmahFilms

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I wrote this review post a while ago, but totally forgot about it. The critique is still relevant, though I understand if it is considered ‘old news’. If you haven’t watched Doctor, Director, then you can catch it on Vimeo.

This is a follow-up to my original post about Ummah Films’ latest release, Doctor, Director. As I mentioned before, I didn’t think it would be great manners to negatively criticize (even in the constructive sense) a production so soon after its release. At least in this case, where I admire the intentions of the project, and understand that the team in question are independent filmmakers on a tight budget, and still very much in their infancy as a production house. Further, the end product was free to watch. So the film definitely cannot be treated like your average multi-million dollar, Hollywood blockbuster, where the studio insists on taking £12 of your hard-earned money (excluding overpriced cinema snacks) before proceeding to waste 100 minutes of your life.

Anyway… to the point. I’ve already talked briefly about what I liked, and now it’s time to dole out the bitter medicine of sharing what I consider to be ‘areas for improvement’.

From a technical perspective, though I loved the film quality, I thought the cuts could have been tighter, especially in the scenes that featured dialogue. I often felt like the silent pauses were too long, or a scene was left to ‘hang’ in places. Pauses can be great to add tension, drama, and to offer moments for reflection, but they can also be annoying and ruin the flow.

Getting the best from your actors is one of the greatest challenges for a director, especially if the actors themselves are not professionals, so I actually didn’t place as much importance on this considering the budget and time scale. I thought the best acting came from ‘Layla’, masha’Allah, but the interactions between characters was lacking – something. Chemistry, perhaps? Also the timing of lines was a little off. Again, tighter editing would have helped in this regard.

In terms of story-telling, clearly, the storyline made sense, and the fact that I felt sorry for Ali and Layla shows that the film did the job of making the audience sympathize with the plight of the protagonists. I think the scene when Ali first meet’s Layla’s brother could have been executed better. The lines spoken as they walk towards the house were important in terms of Ali’s character development, as they portray him as person of deep thought and spiritual reflection. However, I couldn’t always make out the dialogue, and the long-distance camera angle implied that the lines being spoken were merely background ‘small talk’, with little significance.

I thought the role of Layla’s brother had great potential, which wasn’t fully exploited. He was the voice of reason and of sympathy, but he wasn’t used often enough. Also, it is unfortunate that the parents came off as jerks, rather than misguided individuals. It was funny at first, but the fact that you never see any genuine concern coming from them for their daughter’s welfare may be problematic in terms of using this video to address real problems in the community. Not all parents – even the fussy ones – are that cold-hearted, and they may be offended by this two dimensional portrayal.

Despite the criticism, I think this was reasonable first attempt at social commentary film. I disagree with some who argue that the money could have been spent on better causes. They clearly have no idea how much film-making costs, even on an amateur level – forget the cost of hiring professional people and equipment! Perhaps the production would have benefited from a test screening, like the big boys do, which would have given the team the feedback required to make doable changes prior to release, such as improvements to editing.

I’d highly recommend this option for the next project, and also, that the team consider re-cutting Doctor, Director which would lead to significant improvements all round.


Doctor, Director: New Short from Ummah Films

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Ummah Films have released their latest short film, titled: Doctor, Director (Watch it via Vimeo). It only cost $7000 to make and was financed from public contributions. It falls under the genre of bitter-sweet romcom, providing a glimpse into the emotionally charged, socially awkward world of Islamic proposals. A Muslim version of Meet the Parents – without the gross out comedy.

I don’t wish to fully critique the film so soon after its release. Criticism is certainly very important in order to increase the quality of future productions – but offering it five minutes after release is akin to a kick in the gut for the team that put in so much hard work. Trust me, I speak from experience! Instead, I’ll share what I honestly liked about it.

I thought it was very funny in places, especially little things like the mother’s excessive hospitality and cleanliness. I also sympathized with the plight of the main characters, Ali and Layla, perhaps because I’ve been there myself. The overall picture quality was really good, and there were moments of true artistry with the directing, masha’Allah. Part Two of my review will come later, though none of my ‘negative’ criticisms are all that harsh (I hope!).

I’ve only been involved in a hand-full of productions, but I know script-based films are much more challenging than filming events, vlogs, or conducting interviews. Further, I personally think comedy and horror are the most difficult genres around: so hard to get right, and so easy to get wrong. I think UF did make something chuckle-worthy, masha’Allah, and they have definitely improved a lot over time in terms of their production value. Much respect to them for their efforts, and I look forward to the next big project.

Read Part II of my review here…

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