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Filmmaker Interview with Haider Rifaat

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Interview by Chris Olson

Filmmaker Interview with Haider Rifaat
Filmmaker Interview with Haider Rifaat

Thanks for speaking with us. What have you been up to in the pandemic?

Thank you for having me. My name’s Haider Rifaat and I am a writer, actor and a talk show host. During the pandemic, I was caught up with filming season 7 of my YouTube talk show titled The Haider Rifaat Show. Since the in-person dynamic shifted to a virtual setup, I filmed the entire season in Pakistan via Zoom and managed to produce all twelve episodes of the recent season with ease and commitment.

I got the chance to interview high profile guests, including international celebrities, William Moseley, Tasya Teles and Shontelle. Soon after concluding season 7 of my show, I moved to Hawaiʻi to pursue a Master’s degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. I filmed a horror short while quarantined here called Deeper than Darkness. I am now fully occupied with my work and studies.

You have a new short film out, I Wish, for those who don't know what's the story?

The title of the film is Kaash, which translates to I Wish in English. The word is derived from my native language Urdu. I really wanted to encapsulate the core of the film in one word, and Kaash seemed to be that perfect title.

The film centres on Ali Danyal, my character, who experiences clinical depression further exacerbated by his early life experiences, family and social circle. All his past emotions extend into his present-day life, further taking a toll on his mental health. Ali’s present isn’t bright either. The character also suffers because of his toxic workplace environment, coupled with complete abandonment from his parents. I shot the film myself in Islamabad, Pakistan, where I am originally from.

I had no team to work with. I self-produced, wrote, directed, edited and starred in the project.

Why did you want to tell this story so much?

Mental illness in Pakistan is heavily stigmatized. People fail to recognize it as a real problem. Sufferers of mental health issues are socially labelled and stereotyped as “manic” or “insane”. A lot of shame is associated with mental illness, and even seeking treatment is looked down upon in Pakistan. Things are evolving, but we still have a long way to go. So, that idea inspired me to create a film that captures that essence, and what the end result of constant shame, stigmas and stereotyping could wind up being for a person truly experiencing an extreme form of depression.

Mental health is a theme which can evoke a lot of different reactions. How have audiences reacted?

People liked the film, if I am honest. They understand that grappling with mental illness isn’t easy. Although, many people would feel the need to depict someone experiencing clinical depression as a survivor, but many times, that isn’t the case. Suffers of mental illness wind up dead. That is a bitter reality. Let’s not turn a blind eye to it.

As filmmakers, our job is to create compelling, realistic content that the viewers can relate to. If we keep making films in a robotic fashion, each time the outcome would be predictable. Not every story has a happy ending, and I am glad I got to prove that with my short film. I am also happy to share that I Wish emerged as a semi-finalist in the 2021 edition of the Stockholm City Film Festival.

It's an important topic, so glad audiences connected. Where can people see the film?

The film is available online on YouTube under Haider Rifaat Films. Simply search I Wish short film by Haider Rifaat and you will find the film free to stream. The film is in Urdu language with English subtitles. There are two versions; one is purely in Urdu language titled Kaash and the other one is I Wish with English subtitles. You can watch the full film for free here:

Poster for short film I Wish
Poster for short film I Wish

Thanks for sharing that with our readers. What's next for you?

I have a new acting project underway but I can’t reveal much about it because things are yet to finalize. Right now, I'm fully focused on developing a new podcast series for the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center titled Cancer Answers. I will headline the podcast as a producer and host. The series will further the purpose of the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center, which is to reduce cancer burden in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific through cancer research. It will be available to stream later this month on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Facebook and YouTube.

Sounds really interesting, thanks for letting us know. Why do you make movies?

I make movies to build opportunities for myself. As an actor, you want to be a part of compelling narratives, be it fiction or nonfiction. However, when people don’t bank on your talent, it is wise to pursue your passion independently. That’s what I did. I grabbed a camera, and started making short films.

Though I’ve been blessed to be a part of some amazing projects, I feel that you can also build your own opportunities if you are an actor and a filmmaker. You don’t need to depend on anyone for support if you have what it takes to make something great.

I also create films to tell important stories like I Wish, and sometimes, I just make something for the sake of entertaining people. Many people out there would want you to be a certain way in how you approach your film, but the end decision is yours, and yours alone. If you have a sense of direction and the resources needed to make a film, get up and do it! Don’t wait for it to happen. Filmmaking is an evolving process. You learn, you unlearn, and you learn again! Be proud of what YOU create!


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