Nausheen Dadabhoy is a Pakistani-American director and cinematographer whose work spans fiction and documentary. She has filmed an Oscar-nominated live-action short, an Emmy-winning feature-length documentary, and films that have aired at Sundance, TIFF, and Locarno, as well as on Al Jazeera, HBO, and PBS. “The Ground Beneath Their Feet,” her first film about two Pakistani women paralyzed after an earthquake, premiered at IDFA. Dadabhoy has been a Film Independent Project Involve Fellow, Berlin Talents Participant, Firelight Fellow, Chicken & Egg (Egg)celerator Lab Fellow, newportFILM Documentary Cinematography Fellow, Soros Equality Fellow, and is currently a Pillars Artist Fellow.
“An Act of Worship” screens at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs June 8-19.
W&H: Describe the film in your own words.
ND: “An Act of Worship” tells the story of the past 30 years of Muslim life in America from the perspective of Muslims.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
ND: I’m an American Muslim and I wanted to tell stories about the truth of my community’s experience since 9/11 because there are very few portrayals of Muslims on screen that have been created by Muslim storytellers.
W&H: What do you want people to think after seeing the film?
ND: This film is about an emotional journey, so I want the audience to be moved. If they’re Muslim, I want them to feel like they’ve had their experiences reflected on them. If they’re not Muslim, I hope we’ve opened a window into the reality of Muslim life in America.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
ND: Obtain access. The Muslim community was so misrepresented in the media that people were really skeptical of us, even though we are a predominantly Muslim filmmaking team. We spent several months traveling across the United States meeting with different organizers and community leaders and building trust with them before we began filming.
W&H: How did you finance your film? Share some thoughts on how you made the film.
ND: Our film was made almost entirely with grants. We received our first grant when we responded to a call for stories about communities that would be impacted by the Trump administration. This short film, also called “An Act of Worship”, was made with the support of Firelight Media and Field of Vision and focused on the immediate organizing that occurred around the Muslim ban. We used it as a proof of concept to raise funds for the feature.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
ND: I watched ‘Trainspotting’ and it’s still one of my favorite movies, it immerses the viewer in the character experience through a very inventive use of form, and as a fan of comics and visual storytelling, that really appealed to me. I wanted to be able to do this.
W&H: What is the best and worst advice you have received?
ND: Best Advice: You are only in a race with yourself.
Worst advice: It’s never too late to become a doctor. It’s from my mother!
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
ND: I think for many of us making a film can be a headache, and I try to remember that I am more than my work and more than my film. I think it’s important to remember this, especially for women and non-binary people, because we face a lot of rejection and it can feel personal. But we are more than our films, and even our films and our creative voices are more than what the market defines them to be.
W&H: Name your favorite film directed by a woman and why.
ND: “Monsoon Wedding” by Mira Nair. This film is very representative of my experience as a Pakistani-American, in addition to being perfect in terms of craftsmanship.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you creative, and if so, how?
ND: I started painting during the pandemic, and it not only helped me develop new creative muscles, but it also helped my mental health a lot.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color on and off screen and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. In your opinion, what measures should be taken to make Hollywood and/or the world of docs more inclusive?
ND: I think we need more people from marginalized communities to tell their own stories, but I also think we need more people to help them do that. That doesn’t just mean resources — it also means giving people the space to tell the kinds of stories they want to tell and using the form in a way that’s true to the narrative they’re creating.