An Irish Life Rarely Told by Rehan Ali & winner of Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition in association with Screen Ireland
Virgin Media Discovers was launched in 2019 in association with the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival to discover and support fresh and fearless filmmakers.
This year made the competition even bigger by also partnering with Fís Eireann / Screen Ireland, offering filmmakers support to develop scripts and bring them to screen, which is at the heart of the prize fund this year.
Two entries were selected to share a €60,000 prize pot that goes towards the production of their film, with one of winners giving his remarkable story here as he prepares to film 'Water Under The Bridge 'in the Irish town he calls home.
AN IRISH LIFE RARELY TOLD
Few have been overcome more obstacles than Rehan Ali to realise his dreams.
After winning this year's Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition in association with Screen Ireland, Pakistani-born Ali is about to be handed a chance to produce a film that will give the Irish nation a glimpse into a life we have heard about but rarely seen.
At the age of 21, Ali is relishing the chance to put his reality onto film and give us all a glimpse of life growing up in the direct provision system in the Tipperary town of Carrick-on-Suir.
"Living under direct provision strips you of so much of your life, but I tried to take some positives out of the experience," said the student who is coming towards the end of his neuroscience studies at University College Cork while also finding time to write screenplays.
"I lived in that system for ten and a half years and I never felt at home or safe behind those walls, but when I left those walls and I interacted with the town of Carrick on Suir, that I felt at home and accepted.
"I don't think I would have been a writer without the support of my town and while direct provision was awful, I look back on my time in Carrick on Suir with positive thoughts. I am proud to call Ireland my home.
"Of course I've faced racist comments and remarks. There is no person of colour who has not faced that, but I am fortunate that the town I was in was so supportive to me were so accepting of me."
"When you look at a country like the United States and compare it to Ireland, you realise we are a beacon of hope in racial relations and I can't wait to go back to Carrick on Suir and make this film."
Ali's film'Water Under The Bridge'will focus on a character who is traumatised by the loss of his father and experience as a refugee, told by someone who experienced the reality of direct provision.
Touching on diversity issues and also touching on battles with mental health concerns, Ali will use the €30,000 budget provided by theVirgin Media Discovers Short Film Competitionto make a film that will be close to his heart.
"This is a coming-of-age film told through the perspective of an immigrant," he continued.
"When we talk about refugees, immigrants or asylum seekers, often the story ends in a film when they reach their destination. We think that's the end of their journey, but that's simply not true.
"I wanted to tell the story of a young person who comes to Ireland and lives under Direct Provision, an incredibly unjust and inhumane system.
"The young man in the film escapes that system and tries to integrate into a new home in Ireland and the completely different world he is now in.
"Those of us who have been in this position don't all have the same struggle. We are not all the same and we don't all feel the same. Some of the struggles are internal and are never seen, so I wanted to take this one person and explore the struggles he is dealing with living in a very different world.
"This is a story that means much to me, so I can only thank Virgin Media for making my dreams come true and giving me the chance to make this film.
"With 700 applicants in this competition, it was amazing to get down to the final 10 and then to be selected by a panel that included some incredible people like Lenny Abrahamson (Normal People) and Lisa McGee (Derry Girls).
"Now I'm getting a chance to work with top producers and filming in Carrick on Suir is going to be fantastic as it is such a beautiful place."
Ali admits his fellow students at UCC are fascinated by his sideline career as a writer, but he admits it is a path he is keen to explore.
"I'm in the final year of my four-year neuroscience degree at UCC and my fellow students are a little confused that I'm also writing screenplays and winning awards like this from Virgin Media," he added.
"I would like to think this could become a job for me, so I might take a year off when my studies finish to see if I can develop my writing skills and to become a full-time writer.
"This competition has given me a huge opportunity and it has opened doors for me and the ambition I have long-term is to write screenplays for film.
"I've written the script for this project, pitched it to Virgin Media and thankfully it was chosen. For this particular project, I'm also directing the film, so it will be a fascinating experience for me and a real challenge.
"I have directed student films in this past, but this is on a much bigger scale and I can't wait to get the cameras rolling."
The judging panel for this year’s competition was made up of award-winning director and screenwriter Lenny Abrahamson, known for directing such acclaimed independent films as Adam & Paul, Garage, What Richard Did and Room; Derry Girls creator and screenwriter of The Deceived, Lisa McGee; Mullingar-born actor Niamh Algar who stars in Ridley Scott’s major new HBO Max series, Raised by Wolves; Screenwriter and Executive Producer Ursula Rani Sarma whose work includes Delicious and Red Rock and representatives from Virgin Media Television, Screen Ireland and the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.