For NYUAD's Weichen Zhu, a freshman film and economics major, and his roommate, freshman Umair Saad, the decision to submit their short film The Blessing for consideration in the Zayed University Middle East Student Film Festival (ZUMEFF) happened "purely by chance" after Zhu walked into the University's technology room and heard from some friends about the opportunity. The submission deadline was only three days away, but Zhu, who happened to be carrying with him the unfinished cut of a project from his Sound, Image, and Story class, took on the challenge. He spent one night completing his film shooting, and then holed himself up in the technology room for two days to edit the footage, even having friends bring him food to avoid interruption. They mailed in the finished version of the short film just three hours before the submission deadline.
"As a person he has great tenacity, he's a very, very warm-hearted person," Zhu said. "The film is pretty much about his motion — I was filming how he repairs the watch. He's a very big guy, but when he fixes the watch it's so delicate. I wanted to use the camera to express that sort of contrast."
In the film, the watch repairman describes the evolution and development of Abu Dhabi in the 30 years that he has been living in the city. While he speaks of the challenges of his disability, the film also portrays the support of the community that has rallied around to help him, as his family remains in Pakistan.
"He has difficulty supporting himself, but he has a lot of friends, and the entire neighborhood knows who he is; I wanted to show this sort of harmony and mutual support," Zhu explained.
The Blessing was a collaborative project, with Saad playing an integral role in interviewing the subject in his native language and translating dialogue. While the watch repairman speaks English conversationally, they considered it important for him to tell his story in his native language, Urdu, so that he could express himself more clearly. Chandrkumar Holenarasipuruesh, an NYUAD Student Global Academic Fellow, and NYUAD freshman Sachith Cheruvatur also assisted with translation for the film.
Zhu is already looking toward his next project, a film inspired by a short story written by his best friend in China, which tells the love story between a blind man and the woman who cares for him. He will collaborate with his classmates, who he hopes will both act and support in the production of the film.
- The ZUMEFF website
When Zhu found out that their six-and-a-half-minute short film had been selected to be screened on April 24 as part of the two-day ZUMEFF lineup, he was caught completely by surprise.
"I feel really humbled," he said. "I'm not an artsy person; other film students, they all have some sort of talent — they know how to paint, how to dance, or how to make music — I don't know any of that. I just love making films and watching films."
Zhu had begun development of the film for a challenging character study assignment in Joanne Savio's Sound, Image, and Story class, with the support of Saad, but scrapped the project after screening the rough cut in class, deciding that "it was too personal." While he ended up submitting a different character project for the class assignment, his thoughts returned to his original idea when he heard about the film festival.
The Blessing depicts the life of a watch repairman living near the NYUAD campus. Zhu met him when he stopped by the repairman's shop to get his watch fixed and the two have since become good friends. The Pakistani immigrant had lost one of his legs in an accident, causing extreme difficulty with daily tasks like driving, cooking, and even doing laundry. Yet his resilience in the face of these struggles made him a unique and inspiring subject.
I just love making films and watching films.