Making “The World Unseen”


Earlier this month, we spoke with lesbian novelist/filmmaker Shamim

(who was recently voted International

Lesbian/Bi Woman of the Year by readers), her partner (and

film producer) Hanan Kattan, and actor Sheetal Sheth, about the

making of their first film, I

Can’t Think Straight
Sarif and Kattan discussed the beginning of their filmmaking

career, from their tumultuous first steps into the cinematic world, to the start

of their second film, an adaptation of Sarif’s novel The

World Unseen

In this interview, they discussed the making of their

second film. A much more intense script, and a period piece (it’s set in 1950s South

Africa), The World Unseen benefited from the lessons Sarif and Kattan learned from making their first film, and took home serious

praise at gay and straight independent film festivals.

The narrative of Unseen is centered on a love story between a fiery

café owner — Amina (Sheetal Sheth, who co-starred in Straight),

and a reserved housewife — Miriam (Lisa Ray, Straight’s

other star).

Miriam (Lisa Ray) and Amina (Sheth) in The World Unseen

Both are women of Indian descent living in Apartheid South Africa, representing

a world that’s set between the extremes of black and white society, and

certainly within a very traditional Patriarchal culture.

“For The World Unseen,” said Katttan, “we moved

— Shamim and I and our two boys — we moved to South Africa. We put

them in South African schools, you know, it was a new continent and a new country

that we were familiar with, but not to live in.”

They also set up shop right away, recruiting department heads for the ambitious

project and making sure that the problems that plagued Straight wouldn’t

be an issue on the new production. “I think from a production perspective,”

said Kattan, Unseen “was much better organized [than I Can’t

Think Straight
] in terms of all the legal contracts, the structure, the

cash flow, the financing, and how to control elements.”

“We made sure we wouldn’t have the same issues we had on the first

film,” she continued, “[which] allowed us to really focus on the production

to get the results that Shamim wanted, versus a focus on firefighting and troubleshooting

almost every day or every hour. That made a big difference. And it gave Shamim

less stress so she could focus on the creative side.”

Shamim Sarif and a baby on the set of The World Unseen

The plan worked, and production on Unseen was much smoother and more

positive, allowing Sarif to get the details of the film just right. This was

especially important because Unseen is a period darama, where the details

— from costumes to props to vehicles — are critical to telling the

story, but tougher to nail down.

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