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VIFF 2016 Interview: THREE MINUTE WARNING director Iqbal Mohammed

by Jason Whyte

"THREE MINUTE WARNING is about the struggle of a teenage girl named Mariam living in Palestine who is caring for her disabled mother. The year is 2014 and Israel have deployed knock on roof bombs during Operation Protective Edge. This is where an empty shell is dropped onto a building, warning all its occupants to evacuate as a real missile is about to drop in three minutes. This story is based on true events." Director Iqbal Mohammed on THREE MINUTE WARNING which screens at the 2016 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

I am thrilled to welcome you to VIFF this year. Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

This will be my first visit to Vancouver and I simply can not wait. I will also be in attendance for the screenings. I can't wait to experience the atmosphere of the Vancouver audience.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background?

Well, this will sound very unorthodox but I'm a pharmacist by profession and also a pharmacy lecturer at the University of Huddersfield in England. I first got into writing films as I was a little stressed from day to day life. I wrote a feature length screenplay which was optioned in two different countries. Following the success of the script, I was invited to co-produce a short film in America called, wait for it...The Pharmacist. This was, for me, a perfect introduction into film. It allowed me to give an insight into a pharmacists' daily activities and understand the process of film by shadowing an extremely talented director.

Great background! So how did this subject come together from your perspective?

This film was written in dedication to one of my best friends; Mohammed Zubair who sadly died in 2013. He was a massive supporter and campaigner for the freedom of Palestinians. I would also like to dedicate this film to the people in war stricken land, especially Syria who are facing the same acts upon them. This is no way a political film but more a humanitarian one.

One of the biggest problems I had was finding a producer. Producers I had lined up were dropping like flies, due to the "potential risk" this "controversial" film could have on their careers.

However I had met a producer a year or so previous called Alex Gibbons at a film festival in Leeds.

"So, Alex... I have this film." (explains idea)
Alex then murmurs to me,
"I can't do it, Iqbal".
"Oh damn", I thought, "not another one."
He then followed up by saying,
"I think this project is too big for me."
At that point, I knew I had my man.

The turnover for this film took roughly a year from writing to final cut with pre production taking roughly eight months, eight months of disapproval from short sighted producers.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?

I don't know about other filmmakers but the struggle of a particular project can act a little like a drug, a drug you just can't get enough of. At times during any stage of production you feel like giving up and throwing in the towel but the rewards in actually finishing a film outweigh any struggle you have along the way. The film was made on zero budget and almost no time.

All my creativity comes from my life experiences. I have experienced enough in my life to understand how people might feel in certain situations. In this film I put myself in Mariam's shoes and the mother's. How would I feel? What would I do? Would I be scared? Would I act calmly? Everything goes on in my head whilst writing and directing.

The penultimate scene with Mariam and the mother is very intimate, so I didn't want to lose momentum. It's the reason the frame is very tight, inviting the viewer into their moment.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was getting a producer to put this all together as mentioned above however a personal challenge to this was directing a foreign language film. I don't speak a single word of Arabic, so at first it was very daunting. I quickly realised that the majority of acting isn't done through dialogue. You just feel. Sometimes it's in the delivery, sometimes in the body language and others it's in the characters eyes. I got the feeling that everything was right. I also had an excellent script supervisor and friend, Rose Tawil, who is fluent in Arabic.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought you had something?

The moment I wrote this film, I knew it had potential. It's probably the reason I was frustrated when people didn't see my vision. However I truly knew I had something special when on the second day of filming, there was a scene between Mariam and her Mother. It the same scene mentioned above. It was the first take, and the performance from both actors were incredible, so beautiful and emotional that I had a lump in my throat. The scene had ended and I couldn't physically call cut because I was trying to keep myself together. Around 20 seconds later I managed to end the scene. I looked to my right and the production designer was in tears. I looked left and the make up artist had tears streaming. There was a complete and utter silence. Nobody other than the script supervisor and actors understood Arabic. At that point I just knew we had a winner.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film.

I wanted the film to be shot mainly hand held. It felt more real and personal to the film. I felt this way it would show the characters struggle a little more. Jack Shelbourn, the director of photography agreed with me and mentioned this was his preferred style of filming. I trusted Jack's choice of camera which was the Sony FS700. We had a slow motion scene in there and he understood everything I needed to portray the emotional aspect of the film. I have to also give props to our production designer; Ruth Ingamells who designed a small living room flat in London to look like Gaza, Palestine. Many people ask me where it was shot and that question is always a good indication that you had a talented production designer.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences at VIFF?

I have probably watched this film over two thousand times, being the editor! I think the difference in watching the film on your own and with an audience is that you feel every silence, every gasp and every tear that drops. I'm looking forward to how the audience reacts.

Where is this movie going to show next?

Recently we have just screened at Oscar Qualifying; Urbanworld Film Festival which was quite an experience. I really want to push this and screen it on terrestrial television in the UK. It's a very relevant topic. I will release the film on the internet in the middle of next year.

If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?

The biggest theatre I have ever had the pleasure to watch a film in is the Grand Lumiere in Cannes, but it's no biggie; we're screening at Vancouver. One of the biggest and best in the world.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

Hey forget three minutes, this is your three second warning. Put down the phone.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

I once had the pleasure to ask one of your fellow Canadians, Ryan Gosling, on how he takes rejection. And he replied "I don't". A two word answer I didn't completely understand until after making this film and reflecting. So many people said "No" to me. You must remember to reply "Yes."

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

I have so many favourite films. One film I truly love is BLUE VALENTINE. The realism of this film is what struck me most. I had this empty feeling after watching it. I remember it stuck with me for months. I have to also mention the very film festival I met Alex Gibbons. It's a small underground film festival in Leeds, UK called No/Gloss Film Festival. THREE MINUTE WARNING will also be screening there on Saturday October 22nd.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 29th to October 14th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 10/06/16 19:57:59
last updated: 10/06/16 20:02:08
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