Dubai-based director Fokiya Akhtar is hoping her latest documentary can change the public’s perceptions of children with special needs.
Fokiya Akhtar trained in film production in her native India, and began producing films in her home country on graduation.
Many of her contemporaries have gone on to success in Bollywood – superstar Shahrukh Khan was himself a student of the same New Delhi institution - but the director has always been attracted to documentaries, and this is the path she has followed with her work.
She explains: “I like to make films about anything that interests me at that point in time. I often deal with social issues, but that’s not exclusive, I’ve made films on topics from the life of ants to the huge number of widows and orphans due to the ongoing crisis in Kashmir. The main thing that unites my films is that I like to go deeper into issues and hopefully increase awareness through the film.
“Ideally, I like to think that something should happen after my film has been made. If I can bring greater recognition to an issue through my films and encourage those who see them to try and bring about change, then I consider that a success.
My film about Kashmir, All Alone and Lonely, for example went to a number of international festivals and afterwards I was amazed how many people got in touch and told me that hadn’t realized this situation existed. That, to me, is a success.”
Akhtar’s latest film, Children of God, follows the lives of young special needs students at a special school in Dubai, The Special Needs Families (SNF) Centre.
Akhtar hopes to bring about the same raising of awareness through her latest creation: “I saw these special needs children and the work of the SNF centre and really wanted to do something. They’re just normal kids going about things the way they want to. They have dreams and aspirations the same as anyone else, and I wanted to put this across to audiences.”
Funding was a potential early hurdle, but Akhtar was determined that this should not be a problem: “Sometimes I’ve had commissions and grants,” she says. “But if a film interests me I will go ahead and fund it myself, which is what I did with this one.”
The fact that the film wasn’t about money or profit proved vital in securing permission from both parents and the centre itself to let filming take place: “There was some uncertainty at first, but when they saw how I met the children, spent time and learned about issue, and explained that I wouldn’t be using the film commercially but at festivals in the hope of raising awareness everyone was really helpful.”
Akhtar was also very clear about the type of film she wanted to make: “I wanted to make it realistic,” she explains.
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