Making “The World Unseen”

Earlier this month, we spoke with lesbian novelist/filmmaker Shamim
(who was recently voted International
Lesbian/Bi Woman of the Year by readers), her partner (and
film producer) Hanan Kattan, and actor Sheetal Sheth, about the
making of their first film, I
Can’t Think Straight
Sarif and Kattan discussed the beginning of their filmmaking
career, from their tumultuous first steps into the cinematic world, to the start
of their second film, an adaptation of Sarif’s novel The
World Unseen

In this interview, they discussed the making of their
second film. A much more intense script, and a period piece (it’s set in 1950s South
Africa), The World Unseen benefited from the lessons Sarif and Kattan learned from making their first film, and took home serious
praise at gay and straight independent film festivals.

The narrative of Unseen is centered on a love story between a fiery
café owner — Amina (Sheetal Sheth, who co-starred in Straight),
and a reserved housewife — Miriam (Lisa Ray, Straight’s
other star).

Miriam (Lisa Ray) and Amina (Sheth) in The World Unseen

Both are women of Indian descent living in Apartheid South Africa, representing
a world that’s set between the extremes of black and white society, and
certainly within a very traditional Patriarchal culture.

“For The World Unseen,” said Katttan, “we moved
— Shamim and I and our two boys — we moved to South Africa. We put
them in South African schools, you know, it was a new continent and a new country
that we were familiar with, but not to live in.”

They also set up shop right away, recruiting department heads for the ambitious
project and making sure that the problems that plagued Straight wouldn’t
be an issue on the new production. “I think from a production perspective,”
said Kattan, Unseen “was much better organized [than I Can’t
Think Straight
] in terms of all the legal contracts, the structure, the
cash flow, the financing, and how to control elements.”

“We made sure we wouldn’t have the same issues we had on the first
film,” she continued, “[which] allowed us to really focus on the production
to get the results that Shamim wanted, versus a focus on firefighting and troubleshooting
almost every day or every hour. That made a big difference. And it gave Shamim
less stress so she could focus on the creative side.”

Shamim Sarif and a baby on the set of The World Unseen

The plan worked, and production on Unseen was much smoother and more
positive, allowing Sarif to get the details of the film just right. This was
especially important because Unseen is a period darama, where the details
— from costumes to props to vehicles — are critical to telling the
story, but tougher to nail down.