Irfan Izhar is a typical movies buff. But the closest he’s gotten to the movies in his native India was at cinemas he used to frequent as a youth in hometown Aligarh. He had aspirations of becoming an actor and rubbing shoulders with the stars, but family obligations propelled him towards Dubai where he made his fortune in the packaging industry and hotel business.
However, his passion for films was undiminished, and when a proposal came to produce a documentary on the women who join the UN peace-keeping forces, he naturally grabbed it.
‘It was a great subject, and the accomplished directors – Pakistani Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and US-based Indian Geeta Gandbhir, made it impossible to refuse,’ says Irfan, who’s never produced a film before.
It certainly was an ambitious venture – a $1million budget to trace the lives of three Bangladeshi women from among the 160 who enlisted in the UN Peacekeeping Force through two years when they are trained and sent to Haiti to take part in the operation there.
‘It was a huge effort for such a small team,’ says Irfan. ‘We trace the three women’s journey from their homes to Haiti and back. It took two and a half years to film.’
The film showed the human face behind the statistics and news stories, focusing on three women who came from very conservative Muslim families, and how that decision changes their thought process and way of life.
“The three women we selected were very different,’ says Irfan. ‘One came from a very conservative family that didn’t want her to work outside home; the second was a widow who had become a policewoman after her husband died in the course of duty; and the third came from a very liberal background where her husband encouraged her to join the force.’
Following the lives of these women took more than two years, and proved to be challenging to edit into the final 95-minute film it is now. ‘It took another six months to edit the enormous amount of footage we shot, but the final product was worth it all,’ says Irfan.
Luckily, the team had the financial backing of the MacArthur Foundation, the Chicken and Egg Pictures and Tribeca.
Not surprisingly, ‘Peacekeepers: A Journey of a Thousand Miles’ began making waves on its premiere at the Toronto International Film festival last September. It has since bagged the Best Documentary Award at the Bentonville Film Festival, Arkansas, USA and Humanitarian Award at the RiverRun film Festival, North Carolina, USA.
It has also showed at the New York Film Festival and is scheduled for the Sydney Film Festival next.
Irfan has plans to hold a show of ‘Peacekeepers: A Journey of a Thousand Miles’ in Dubai on June 3. ‘The venue is to be decided,’ says Irfan.
This experience has stoked Irfan’s love for films, and he’s already planning his next venture – a Hollywood production about an Indian couple settled in the US, ‘which will have Hollywood as well as Bollywood stars,’ he says. ‘It will be directed by Geeta Gandbhir, and we’ll make an announcement by the end of July.’