"I take comfort in knowing that our species will eventually learn and understand our purpose here"
An interview with Hashem Al-Ghaili | Simulation | VMA19 BEST OF THE MONTH | November Edition
The scientific and technological evolution of recent years is increasingly influencing our lives and our choices by offering answers to previously unanswered questions, some of which are very important such as “Who and what are we?” and “How does the universe and the world around us work?”.
This type of evolution, of which cinematography is often the spokesman, offers endless (and many times prophetic) scenarios. It is in this context between science, nature, reality and science fiction that we find Hashem Al-Ghaili's work.
Award-winning for his dedication to research and science, Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen and known as a science divulger thanks to infographics and videos published daily on his social pages What If, Today I Read, and communities such as Science Squad, Hashem has the ability to make science easily accessible and affordable for everyone; but it is with his short sci-fi film Simulation that he has raised the bar even higher by trying his hand at cinematography, combining scientific and science fiction topics, in a mix at the limits of human consciousness.
We had the extreme pleasure of talking with him about his cinematographic work and his incredible dedication to science, in a very enlightening interview.
• Hello Hashem, it's a pleasure to have you with us for this interview. Congratulations on your incredible 9 wins at last November's Vegas Movie Awards, including Best Film of The Month! Not bad for your directorial debut...
Thank you so much! I was happy to participate at the Vegas Movie Awards. This was my first film ever and the fact that it received this prestigious recognition is very encouraging start and will help me continue this journey. • For those who don't know you yet, we would like to highlight the great following you have on your social pages, through which you share scientific content to millions of science enthusiasts every day. Would you like to tell us how your incredible passion for science was born?
So, basically what I do in my regular time is communicate science to the general public. I do this on social media by producing videos content that simplifies various topics about science to the general public. Right now my Facebook page is followed by over 32 million science enthusiasts from all over the world. I also share my content on Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. It’s all out of passion. I love science! I love reading about it, learning new things and sharing what I learned with everyone around me. I received my degree in Molecular Biotechnology and I have always wanted to be a science communicator, so I decided to do this through social media, which is now accessible to everyone. This is a blend between my skills in computer graphics and my ability to read and understand science.
Thomas likes to connect the dots and asks several questions before making any conclusions. As a science communicator, I too ask tons of questions before sharing any piece of information with rest of the world.
• What made you try your hand at cinematography instead? When did you realize that making films could be the natural continuation of your work?
I have always wanted to upgrade my work and expand on my skills. It has been a dream for me to be involved in filmmaking at such scale. First, expanding my skills in filmmaking is going to be helpful in the line of work that I do and it can be very useful in producing new top quality original content that is educational and entertaining at the same time. I think Science Fiction movies can be a great medium to deliver new ideas and compelling stories that are both educational and entertaining. Carl Sagan, the legendary science communicator, did something similar. He wrote his great novel Contact, which was then turned into a movie that garnered positive reception from both critics and viewers. • What inspired the concept of the transfer of consciousness and vital energy told in your short film? And how much of Hashem Al-Ghaili is there in Thomas, the protagonist of your film?
The concept of the transfer of consciousness and the essence of life into a new body is inspired by what some researchers call Mind Upload. This is where you upload the consciousness and memories of an individual into a new career, essentially a robotic career or a computer machine. In my movie, however, the memories and the consciousness are transferred into another body, one that exist in a different timeline and another that exists in a higher dimension. Thomas, by definition is a curious, protagonist. Despite realizing the dangers of his quest, he goes on with it. I consider myself curious and I think I would have done the same if I were in his position. Thomas likes to connect the dots and asks several questions before making any conclusions. As a science communicator, I too ask tons of questions before sharing any piece of information with rest of the world.
• Simulation is a project that uses a different language from that of social networks, with a more complex structure and different rhythms. What difficulties, if any, have you experienced in its realization?
It’s entirely different from the videos that I produce for social media. Generally with social media videos I just obtain stock footage from different websites and compile them to make a video. However, for this movie, we needed to shoot almost everything by ourselves. Some of the difficult steps were part of the preproduction and getting everyone ready for the shoot. Also, it’s not easy finding a suitable date for everyone since the cast and crew had other projects that they were working on. For the VFX, our VFX supervisor Mortiz Bock from MovieBrats Studios had to be on set to avoid any mistakes that would complicate their work on the VFX shots. That was also needed to reduce the cost of the VFX shots. The script, unlike my other scripts for social media videos, is entirely different. I showed it to a screenplay writer who reviewed it with me and polished it since this was my first time writing a script for a movie. All these challenges helped me learn new skills that will hopefully make producing my next film much easier. • Your film offers the viewer a unique viewpoint to existential questions that humanity has always asked itself, such as ‘what or who do we serve?’ for example. These questions seem to find a respectable explanation in your short film.We are a culturally diverse ‘culture’. What personal conclusions have you come to?
Existential questions are tough to answer, which is why they remain part of our journey of self discovery. Who are we? Why are we here? Why isn’t everything perfect when it could have been made perfect by whoever made it? Is there a limit for what we can do and how much we think? I personally haven’t reached to a personal conclusion to such questions, but I keep my mind open to the fact that someday we will find answers to these existential questions. It might not happen in my lifetime, but I take comfort in knowing that our species will eventually learn and understand our purpose here.
You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the world around you, you simply need to figure out how to do your research properly when you seek any piece of information. And since we live in the digital era where access to any information is made easy, there is an ocean of undiscovered knowledge waiting to be explored.
• Was it difficult to find the right collaborators and, above all, a cast who could translate your cinematographic vision into acting and images?
It wasn’t that difficult actually. We live in the digital age where you can scout for people and explore their talents online, and then schedule a meeting to see if they’re suitable for your project. I did the casting myself and interviewed several actors before deciding on who is suitable for the project. As for the crew, it’s basically like a chain reaction. You just need to know a few people and they will recommend others. I find this to be good because if people have worked together for a long period of time, then they will be comfortable working with the same people who they recommend. Makeup artist, costume designer, boom operator, second camera assistant and what not, most of them knew each other and coordinated with each other on several decisions. • After all the difficulties, what kind of emotions accompanied you during the making of this first film of yours? What new awareness did you acquire?
After we finished the post production of the film, we organized a film premiere at a local cinema in Berlin. The film premiere was attended by over 300 people. It was absolutely amazing! Such an emotional experience! All these people came to see the results of what we have been doing for the past year and then sharing their thoughts on it. It was very emotional. I still feel that emotional experience resonating as if it just happened today. As soon as the movie screening began during the premiere, I remember saying to myself “I can’t wait to make my next movie!”
• In an era of conditioning, semi-truth and manipulation of reality, where happiness is simulated or emulated, what would you recommend to a teenager in search of answers who approaches the scientific world to find himself/herself and his/her way?
I would recommend everyone who is seeking the truth, including teenagers, to keep asking questions and to pursure answers to these questions through what science offers to us. Question the source of the information you seek and use common sense as well in order to reach to a concrete conclusion. You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the world around you, you simply need to figure out how to do your research properly when you seek any piece of information. And since we live in the digital era where access to any information is made easy, there is an ocean of undiscovered knowledge waiting to be explored. Just ask the right question and seek that knowledge from realiable sources. • Something tells us that Simulation is just the tip of the iceberg of Hashem Al-Ghaili's film career. Will we see you with new film projects in the future?
Simulation is certainly going to be one of many movies that I’m tagged to. There are several ideas that I’m currently developing, while most of them are still for short films, all of them lead to the ultimate goal of making a feature film. My idea is to continue building new skills in filmmaking until I’m fully prepared to move to bigger projects, which I hope won’t take too long.
• Thank you for this very inspiring interview, Hashem. Here at Vegas Movie Awards we look forward to seeing and appreciating your new film productions!
Thank you for featuring me and for supporting my short film Simulation! Also thank you for supporting new filmmakers and providing them a platform that promote their work and to network with other talented filmmakers. I look forward to submitting my future projects to Vegas Movie Awards and I highly encourage other filmmakers to do the same.
FILM PREMIERE - BERLIN, GERMANY