Hashim Sharaf has been carrying around a camera since he was a little boy. From shooting Superman films to owning his own filmmaking business, Hashim has paved the way for upcoming aspiring filmmakers in the country. Through his story, you’ll learn that he not only studied the art of filmmaking in university, but he’s opened up his own business and has since been working with major corporations in Bahrain in creating content that matters. We sat down with him to talk more about his personal journey and what he had to say about it.
Getting Into Filmmaking
When I was little, my dad owned a small SONY camera that he hid in the house and as a kid, I was really curious about it. So one day, I decided to "borrow" it from him.
That’s when I started shooting one-take-films, completely amateur-style. I remember always rounding up my cousins and making these films with them, which was always fun.
However, because cinemas weren’t as popular during my childhood as they are today, the only ideas we had were from the cartoons we watched on our home TV. One of the first films we made was us pretending to be superheroes. I used to wrap my mother’s meshmar ( prayer gown ) around me and pretend I was Superman! Over time we’ve made a ton of these home-made films, sometimes even recording them over graduation and my parents’ wedding tapes!
Sometime during my teenage years, I heard about this independent group of friends in my neighborhood in Manama, who worked on educational short films. I jumped at the opportunity to join them, since I saw it as an opportunity to educate myself on how things worked in the industry of Filmmaking. I was willing to do anything, whether it was technical handling like moving or holding this cable or that microphone, or even help distribute food to the crew. Anything to get me on set.
Once I was in, I kept my eyes open and took in every little detail, every little piece of knowledge, even if their equipment weren’t the best quality at the time.
Then, when I was in high school, I decided to take the plunge and asked my dad if I could study Filmmaking. My dad didn’t object to the idea, but rather pushed me to go for it, for my dad has always been an advocate of doing what you love and doing it well.
Just like with anything new you try, there will come a time when doubt comes knocking on your door. And it happened to me while I was in Australia. I had friends who would often joke about how I came from a country like Bahrain to study Filmmaking of all things. It didn't use to bother me at first, but the taunting words eventually got to me and I found myself thinking:
“Was I doing the right thing?”
“Was there a point to majoring in this?”
The teasing gave me the push to want to know more and excel in what I came here to do. Which was simply to make films that mattered.
I started to study harder and loved it. I had 30,000-word essays and courses on the practical side of Filmmaking, like Theory and Cinema, and I found myself completely enamored with my major. I spent a good amount of time at the library working hard and it all paid off, when I graduated with a 3.8 GPA and received the “Golden Key Award” for “Best International Student.”
Becoming An Entrepreneur
When I came back from Australia, I showed my dad one of the awards I’d won in America and his eyes beamed with absolute pride. But then he surprised me by confessing that, when I asked if I could study Filmmaking, my dad thought that it was one of the hardest requests to have come from his children, especially being his oldest son. His concern was that Bahrain wouldn't be in the market for filmmakers. So he asked around and was disappointed to find that there weren’t any. Despite that, he still let me go to Australia to pursue my passion. Moved by his story, I made the promise that from then on, each successful milestone, and each reward I win will be dedicated solely to him.
In December of 2012, I graduated, flew back to Bahrain and immedietly registered for a CR.
Opening a small company in Bahrain however, hadn’t been easy in the beginning. Comparatively, in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, owning a film business is a lot smoother, since the market for film there is higher. Another challenging aspect was, that it wasn’t easy in Bahrain to convince people of your creative ideas. So I took it as an incentive to work harder in introducing content that will have a solid impact on people.
Thankfully, the company is doing well now as we’re fortunate to have important clients not only from Bahrain, but from Kuwait and Oman too.
When it comes to making films, I break it down to two parts:
1- Films I work on for the business.
2- My own personal short films.
Filmmaking is a platform, just like music, art or poetry, and it’s my way of making a difference. Change doesn’t have to be drastic. Anything can make the difference. Things as simple as a smile, or when a comedian makes a crowd laugh are good examples. This way, you are slowly but surely changing the mentality of the society, opening them up and bringing people closer together. So it felt like God The Almighty has gifted me this talent to help bring about positive change in areas where the society needs it. Which is why with clients, I always try to sway them to go for a different, more purposeful approach.
One example is when, a client gave us an idea that didn’t quite appeal to me. So my team and I proposed a more humanistic approach. The company is about connecting people together and that underlying value was important to me as a filmmaker. So I thought instead of creating an ad about two people communicating, why not make a short film ( which they had never done ) that is more personal, more heartfelt like a connection between two little boys? And that’s what we proposed for their Ramadan ad the first time we worked with them.
They were extremely pleased with our proposal, more than the previous foreign agencies, and hence challenged us to make a film that would get over 100k views. And guess what? We got more than 500k!
I especially loved that particular project, because of that and because I fought for it and made it happen. For me, I always fight for the ideas I believe in.
Another memorable project was the one screened at the Sharjah Film Festival. I was at the theatre watching with the audience. After the movie ended, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see an Arab lady. The theatre was still dark, and her voice was kind of choked as she asked for a minute of my time. So I got up and went outside with her. Through heartfelt tears, she explained how influenced she was by this particular film. She went ahead to explain how much she related to it and how she’s lived through this terrible ordeal back home. That’s when she informed me that she was an Egyptian journalist who’s come to cover the film festival and that she would be honored, so honored, to dedicate an entire page about me and my film. And she did.
“No one has ever felt for me the way you did.”
We are still in contact to this very day.
The film is available on Youtube, so for those interested in watching it, you can visit the link here.
Advice For Aspiring Bahraini Filmmakers
Nowadays, every person has his own cinematic tools, including a smartphone. Take advantage of that and start there. There was a film that was screened here in Bahrain named “Unsane” and it was entirely shot by an iPhone 7!
I remember when I first started out, I had this tiny camera to work with. When I went to a professor of mine to ask for a bigger camera, he said something to me which I will never forget.
He told me that every camera comes with a manual that talks about the ISO, record button, shutter speed, etc. And it tells you how best to use the camera when really all you need to understand is the language of Filmmaking, which you can communicate well with something as simple as an iPhone.
In order to do that, watch the movies you love and read up on Filmmaking and never stop educating yourself. I make it my mission to read every night and if you are as passionate about something, you should too.
My second advice is to “jump in the pool.” Don’t be afraid to take the first step towards your dream and see how that goes for you. When you make mistakes and you will, choose to learn from them instead of cowering from them. There's really no better way to grow into the kind of person you wish to see yourself as.
My short films are usually between 3-5 minutes long. And in that span of 5 minutes, a lot of hard work goes into the production. My ultimate goal, the dream, is to make a two-hour movie, which is not an easy feat! But working on a 25-minute feature film gets me closer to achieving just that.
My idea for a future project is a psychological thriller concerning something that a lot of us Arabs go through with culture shock after having moved back to our home countries in the Gulf. I've personally gone through it and I'd like to address the different aspects of it.
Excited to say that production will start at the end of this year!