Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 30 October 2020

Emirati director channels his childhood fear to the big screen in ‘Nyctophobia’

Tariq Ahmed Alkazim tells us how he took a childhood fear to the big screen in ‘Nyctophobia’

Heba Al Hamwi stars as writer Julia in UAE-made psychological thriller ‘Nyctophobia’. Courtesy of the director
Heba Al Hamwi stars as writer Julia in UAE-made psychological thriller ‘Nyctophobia’. Courtesy of the director

As a child, Emirati filmmaker Tariq Ahmad Alkazim slept with the lights on, or with the door open just enough for there to be a glimmer of light. His childhood fear has now been translated into his creative career.

Alkazim channelled it into his latest movie, Nyctophobia, which means fear of the dark. The film is a revealing insight into Alkazim’s mind and imagination. “The fear was there ever since I can remember,” he admits. “I overcame it slowly as I grew up, acknowledging that with light or without light doesn’t make a difference. The first few days were terrifying, but eventually I managed to overcome the fear.”

It was through this film that he finally opened up about his secret, which commonly starts in children between the ages of 3 and 6. “I wanted people to know about the fear of darkness and to portray it in the film. I wanted people to feel the same,” Alkazim explains.

Even the characters took on the imaginative imagery of his childhood. They include dauntingly large male figures and bearded villains with sinister features – embodied by the dark features of Romanian actor Robert Cristian Trif – much like Alkazim recalls from the stories told throughout his childhood.

The tense psychological thriller tells the story of Julia, played by Heba Al Hamwi, a writer who seeks the solitude of a peaceful farmhouse in Al Ain, away from the distractions of Dubai. Though Alkazim, who will screen the 30-minute film in Dubai today, keeps the plot close to his chest, he explains this isolated location proves far from the sanctuary Julia first envisaged. As she begins to realise she is not alone, she discovers she is also locked in, with no escape.

Al Ain proved the perfect setting for the film, mostly because Alkazim was able to use his father’s farmhouse there. It was also a place where he could not escape his own nyctophobia as a child – when the lights were out, there was no glimpse of respite in the remote desert location.

“I’ve spent many days and nights in my father’s farmhouse in Al Ain,” he says. “Part of the story was inspired by the location, so I thought the best thing to do was to shoot the movie there.”

It is not his first dalliance with the horror genre. Until Midnight, which was released in 2018, followed a similar theme, exploring what happens if you’re alone in a house with an intruder. Also filmed in a family home in Al Barsha, the creepy flick tells of a fear ­deeply rooted in Alkazim’s imagination. “There isn’t a personal backstory behind it in terms of an intruder, but I find that intruders can be the closest thing to a reality when it comes to horrific incidents,” he says. “I included this element because in people’s eyes it could become a reality.”

Robert Cristian Trif stars in Nyctophobia.
Romanian actor Robert Cristian Trif’s dark features made him ideal for a role in the film

Alkazim, 28, is one of a growing number of Emirati directors eager to channel their creative talents on screen. He had his first foray into filmmaking in 2012, when he participated in the Gulf Film Festival with his short, Death Circle, while he was still in high school. He studied at SAE Institute Dubai and later, Abu Dhabi’s New York Film Academy, deepening his passion for film.

Studying script writing as well as acting, he broadened his knowledge of the craft behind and in front of the camera. It was in 2015 that he first began to see recognition of his work, with his short The Man Who Met The Angel being given its premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival that year. It was nominated for the Muhr Emirati Award at the festival.

However, though the talent and enthusiasm for film in the UAE is growing, the challenge of funding remains a barrier for Emiratis and residents eager to make their mark. Alkazim says he knows first-hand the feeling of rejection on the path to finding support, an experience he describes as “very common”. But he says it is even more difficult to find sources of funding.

It takes plenty of patience, he admits. “I see the biggest challenge as a lack of funding,” he says. “I think the first step is for companies to be brave and invest in new filmmakers.”

Nyctophobia is being screened at the Saudi German Hospital Auditorium today

Updated: February 17, 2020 07:29 PM

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