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Visual Storytelling: An Interview with Hassan Kiyany

Award-winning Emirati director Hassan Kiyany‘s home office is a tribute to his creativity. Showing us around via Skype, his walls are covered in shortcuts, storyboards, structures, shots – love letters to former projects; a busy mind in a busy room.

Having started his journey as an editor, he now fronts his own successful film-making company Hkiyany. He has tried many different angles since then, but has now settled into the groove of being a ‘Visual Storyteller’.

“I have an interest in the human being,” he says, indicating how his work focuses on the nature of individuals, and society. Each film is accompanied on his website by a stated ‘goal’ to which he aspires from the start.

He studied his craft at Media Storm, a New York based film company, and came back with his eyes open. Now he is hungry for new techniques; recently, inspired by the work of ‘Old Boy’ director Park Chan-Wook, he is incorporating the use of a smartphone into much of his work – his 2011 film “Telephoni”, shot exclusively on an iPhone, came 3rd in the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

[vimeo 20441331 w=500 h=281]telePhoni from hkiyany® on Vimeo.

“The interest drove me to using my phone to make films, and to teach others how to tell their own stories in the same way.” But have smartphones made it film-making too accessible? “It’s not an easy route, you still need to know about composition, about the apps you can use, about editing.”

Hassan uses technology as a conduit for the real focus of his films: the story. “As long as the most important part – the core of the story, is not sacrificed I want to use every tool available.”

“If there is no story, I don’t want to do it.” says Kiyany, who is careful with whom he collaborates. “When I meet a client, I bring that goal in at the beginning, so they know the facts and that focus.”

[vimeo 70632198 w=500 h=281]Sibeel Water by Ammar Al Attar from hkiyany® on Vimeo.

He often finds himself doing the duties of producer as well; a client will come in with a product, and it is his job to find the angle, to make it human. “Sometimes it takes me two to three weeks just to structure the story.”

This process, which is reflected in the final products themselves, takes time; time which some people and audiences find frustrating. “I’m not taking longer to delay everything because I’m slow,” he says.

In the world of the internet, everyone is easily distracted. Other film-makers can’t respect the process. Every second of your piece should be worth watching.”

Take the case of his most recent film, ‘Marwan the Boxer’ – which is debuting at this years Abu Dhabi Film Festival. On the face of it, the story of a young boxer UAE going to his first world championships, it is also providing Hassan with his own set of challenges that arise when delivering such a film to a film festival – it doesn’t follow a narrative that local audiences are used to, or one they’ve seen on any television show.

[vimeo 104480621 w=500 h=281]Marwan The Boxer Trailer from hkiyany® on Vimeo.

It is frustrating to Hassan, who is trying to make audiences appreciate the journey, not the destination – the final fate of the titular Marwan (the subject of the film) is not the focus. Arab audiences expecting a punchline of an ending are missing the beauty of the build-up.

It’s not a perspective that his clients or viewers are used to.

“Arab culture is about maintaining your relationship, your friendship, regardless of the cost. For me, it’s important to say ‘no’, and if our outlook on the process differs, maybe we shouldn’t work together. Even if it’s a client I’ve had for many years.”

As much as his films have stories, Hassan himself it seems is on a journey to change the way his audiences view cinema, to upend the expectation of the viewers in how they consume their media, and how much consideration they put into it.

“I’m hoping there will be a new wave of film-makers from the UAE after this [film festival]. I’m looking forward to seeing the other films on display, to see other peoples’ processes.”

Despite success at previous film festivals he is less excited by local glamour than by the prospect of an international audiences. He has plans to put his films on Netflix and similar video-on-demand services, something that UAE film festivals are not pleased with, but international ones welcome.

“The stories I’m telling are international. I haven’t been limited by the geography of my films.”

“You watch Rocky, and at the end he puts the flag of the USA up in the air, but we still feel good for him. These are things we can all relate to. It’s a human story.”

For more information on Hassan Kiyany, and his work, visit his official site here

HKiyany on Twitter
Hkiyany on Facebook

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