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Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers #33: Musa Syeed, ‘Valley of Saints’

Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers #33: Musa Syeed, 'Valley of Saints'

“Valley of Saints” (in the World Dramatic competition) is the first film from Musa Syeed. The filmmaker, who was inspired by the work of Satyajit Ray, is now caught in between working on two projects in-the-works “dark comedy-fantasy/musical set in New York” or a film set in Afghanistan.

What’s it about? During a violent summer in the beautiful Kashmir Valley, a young boatman tries to escape. But then he discovers a new love.

Says director Musa Syeed:  “I had not been to Kashmir in nearly twenty years when I started work on Valley of Saints. I always dreamt of making a film about my parents’ homeland. It was where they spent their first years as a young couple, but it was also where my father endured jail as a political prisoner. While researching the region I came across news about Dal Lake, the pristine, unique waterworld where thousands of inhabitants row themselves around island shops and villages. I discovered that the lake was now under serious threat from pollution and overdevelopment; some predicted it could disappear entirely. I realized that it was the perfect symbol not only for Kashmir but for all human resilience: beauty surviving in the face of destruction.

“When I was growing up, there were a lot of movies that portrayed Muslims as terrorists. And every time one came out, my community would be in an uproar and want to really do something about it, something to really change people’s minds. But mostly we just left leaflets on cars in the parking lot of whatever theater was showing the offending movie. From those experiences, I realized not only how pathetic our efforts were, but how powerful of a medium film is. Film formed our reality, it showed us what was possible and impossible. I grew up with a camera in hand, making cheesy action movies and ‘Star Wars’ rip offs, but now I saw the greater potential of what I always enjoyed doing. I could help create a fuller understanding of our world, through the stories that I had unique access to, stories that were yet untold.

“Although Kashmir is often associated with militarized conflict, I expect audiences might be surprised to see another side to the region. I think audiences will enjoy being taken into the beautiful, unique world that my film explores. The aquatic life of Dal Lake hasn’t been seen before on film, and I think it really has to be seen to be believed. Beyond the beauty of the place, I think viewers will appreciate the characters in the film for their humor and levity. A lot of films in similar places are very gloomy and bleak, but I’m looking for hope. I think audiences are looking for it as well.”

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.

Keep checking here every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.

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