In Focus: Musa Syeed on Doctor

Filmmaker Musa Syeed

Filmmaker Musa Syeed


 SFFS/KRF Filmmaking Grant Winner; $35,000 for screenwriting, Fall 2013.

What was the inspiration for this story?

My parents. I don't think I really understood them until I went to their homeland Kashmir to make my first film. Their backstories, which I only knew vaguely before, became real and clear to me for the first time. They gave up a comfortable life there when their social status was threatened. They weren't looking for money in America, but something even more primal: respect. Immigration for them then was really a shot at reinvention. They wanted to remake themselves on their own terms.

Inspired by my mom and dad, I wanted to tell a personal immigrant story that goes beyond questions of assimilation and culture clash to ask deeper, universal questions about the choices we make in forming our own identities. Is reinvention really possible? Are we capable of change? Can we allow ourselves to be honest about ourselves?


What do you see as the greatest challenges for filmmakers today? 

For me, the challenge is making cinema more reflective of the world we actually live in. The people and places I'm connected to and want to make films about are largely underrepresented in cinema, and if they are on screen, they usually inhabit only those roles which are thought to be relevant for them. In other words, I'm pretty tired of watching people that look like me either plotting to kill white people or be helplessly saved by them.

With talent attachments driving financing, it can be hard to get these films made. But I know the audience is there. People want to see our world in all its non-homogenous glory. We just need to tell better stories.


What new opportunities are making the biggest difference to your filmmaking process?

I think it's awesome that there are so many mentorship and talent development programs out there now. While we all could use money, it's also cool when I get investments in my creative development. Formalizing the sharing of knowledge and deepening a sense of community is really important to move cinema forward. Quick shout out to IFP, TFI, FIND, TIFF, Torino Film Lab, and now SFFS for all investing in my development as an artist.

Through these programs, some of my favorite experiences have been meeting veteran filmmakers I admire and have tried to emulate. Those interactions made me realize not only how much I have to learn from them, but also how different I am from them. I felt validated that I do have a unique point of view that's worth sharing and making part of the larger conversation.


Describe what impact San Francisco Film Society support has had on the film.

It's pretty difficult to find support for screenwriting, so I really appreciate SFFS supporting films even at early stages. The grant I received is going to allow me to finally get dedicated quality writing time in the beautiful Bay Area (and incidentally avoid another NY winter!).

SFFS has supported some of the best movies of the last few years, so just being in such great company is an inspiration and motivation for me.

Thanks for reading. I'll see you in the Bay!

The Spring 2014 SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grant round is currently open to apply!

The Film Society has established an excellent track record of success with the 37 projects previously funded by SFFS / KRF Filmmaking Grants, with supported films winning top honors at the world’s premier festivals, garnering critical and popular acclaim and capturing the imaginations of audiences worldwide. As the grant program continues to grow, more and more exceptional independent features will join the distinguished company of such films as Short Term 12, Destin Cretton’s sophomore feature which won both the Narrative Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at South by Southwest 2013; Ryan Coogler’s debut feature Fruitvale Station, which won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the narrative category at Sundance 2013 and is an Oscar hopeful in multiple categories; and Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin’s debut phenomenon which won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize and Cannes’ Camera d’Or in 2012 and earned four Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture).