Joyland is the feature film debut of Saim Sadiq, one of Pakistan's most dazzling and defiant directorial voices. In 2019, Saim's short film Darling won the Orizzonti Award for Best Short Film at the Venice Film Festival. It was the first Pakistani film to be screened there. Joyland is the first Pakistani feature film to make the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival and last night it also became the first to win the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize.
Like in Darling, Lahore's erotic dance theatre and trans actor Alina Khan play a key role in his film. But Joyland is a keener, deeper and contrary to the name, more tragic exploration of femininity, masculinity, freedom and repression. Before his big win, we caught up with Saim Sadiq at the festival.
Edited excerpts from the chat:
Joyland is the first Pakistani film at the Cannes Film Festival. How are you feeling right now?
Very overwhelmed… mostly in a good way. There's a lot of expectation that you don't think of when you make a film. Suddenly the whole country is looking at you but when you were making the film that was not the purpose and now suddenly it becomes about that. It's nice that the country gets to celebrate something cinematically but I hope what the film is about and what it's trying to say eventually takes precedence.
You've described your earlier short Darling as a protest. What is Joyland?
I don't think it's a protest. I think I was younger when I made Darling. You have more angst when you make your first film. This is more a call for empathy, more than anything else. And also normalising somethings like desire as an idea, which is as basic and primal as eating food. Desire should not be a scary concept for anyone. That's why I'm excited about how the local audience is going to react to it because films made around this subject tend to be more sensational. We're not calling out things in a way that's supposed to offend the conservative side.
Do you imagine that it will get a big commercial release in Pakistan?
I hope so. I don't know about big because there are so few films. But even a small film like this, if released at the right time, could get as many screens as a big commercial film would get because there are only that many screens and they want it filled. I don't care about a big or small release as long as there is a release. Even if the release is in five theatres, whoever wants to watch it can go.
Are you anticipating any censorship issues?
Yes, to a certain extent and I hope the they can be resolved because I think the film is a call for empathy and I do want it to be screened in some form or shape back home. So I am expecting some censorship because our censor board is unpredictable but I hope eventually there is a stalemate.