Iram Parveen Bilal: Minimizing Us vs Them

Iram Parveen Bilal (Courtesy of Dustin Snipes)

“In a nation divided by fear and ignorance, it is imperative to tell stories that build empathy through understanding; to fight against the reduction of nuanced realities to tweetable bites.”

#DirectedbyWomen had a chance to chat with independent filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal recently to talk about her work and the campaign underway to fund her feature film Forbidden Steps, “a uniquely Muslim-American story of patriotism and the right to pursue the American dream.” The crowdfunding campaign is live now on Seed&Spark.

DBW: Iram, in these volatile times you label yourself a Filmmaker | Activist and describe yourself as a “Physics Olympian turned filmmaker.” What kind of impact are you hoping to make in the world? How has switching from science to film helped you realize your vision?

IPB: I want to engage people in conversations of universality, empathy, survival and the commonality in being different. I want to minimize us vs them so we can unite and face the challenges of a world getting more complicated and warmer by the minute.

I don’t know if film has realized my vision, I’m too early in my life and career to have realized anything just yet. I guess it is a giant sunk cost at this point, I’ll have to emerge the other way and see if anything was ever realized. Does film get me to interact with more people? Yes. Does it give me the illusion of impact and leverage and notoriety? Yes. Does it seem more immediate in its dialogue than science? Yes.

DBW: Tell us about your recent short film Extinction and the impact you hope it has.

IPB: Extinction is a film about the #MuslimBan. A dystopian future where a Jewish Grandmother hides and protects the last Muslim alive. We were hoping for more of an impact with the film, eventhough it is travelling around right now. I feel people are scared to touch something so political. Either way, we are about to do a travelling circuit with it and some interfaith groups to engage in dialogue and empathy building. You can currently watch the film on Seed&Spark.

Iram Parveen Bilal
Iram Parveen Bilal

DBW: As you prepare to make your latest feature film Forbidden Steps, you’ve been putting together an exciting team. Who’s actively engaged in helping create Forbidden Steps?

IPB: Oscar nominated writer Robin Swicord has been an avid champion for the script for the past 4 years, helping advise every step of the way. Producer Joy Ganes has been pursuing to be on the project for more than 2 years and is helping fundraise. EP and Oscar nominated producer/activist Heather Rae is lending her name however she can to help raise awareness of the project.

Legendary actor OM PURI was attached to the project and in fact, his untimely death is part of the reason for this renewed crowdfund momentum, as we don’t want to wait further to greenlight this film.

DBW: What’s helping you stay grounded and present in the midst of the political upheaval that’s unfolding at this time, so you can attend deeply to the creative work at hand?

IPB: It might be an egotistic delusion but I feel that my work is even more relevant and urgent now than ever so in fact the upheaval is giving me more drive and passion. It is helping!

DBW: Are there any cinematic touchstones you are referencing as you prepare?

IPB: I’m a big fan of Andrea Arnold’s work and always have been. It is too early in the process to be pulling references for me. I have to be a producer as well at this stage. Once we are fully financed, I will shift gears to creative 100%…I hope.

DBW: These are challenging times, but challenging times provide us with opportunities to align with our deepest values, look with increased clarity at our world, and encourage us to step up as an expansive community to help dream a new, more inclusive world into being. It seems to me that your new film project offers such an opportunity. How can people choose to actively participate in and support your work at this time?


2) SHARE: Social Media Shout Out and Sharing helps! Or if you can, emailing works even more effectively.

Pre-baked tweet:
Help #CreateEmpathy 4 #AmericanMuslims by supporting Muslim narratives: #forbiddensteps @irampbilal #HumanizeByFilm

Pre-baked Facebook post:
Help #CreateEmpathy 4 #AmericanMuslims by supporting Muslim narratives: #forbiddensteps @irampbilal #HumanizeByFilm


On Seed&Spark (S&S) so we are eligible for the S&S distribution platform by hitting 500 followers. Please like our page on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Iram Parveen Bilal (Courtesy of Mobeen Ansari)
Iram Parveen Bilal (Courtesy of Mobeen Ansari)

DBW: Women directors are making amazing films all over the planet. Could you mention films by a few women directors whose work inspires, delights, or challenges you – particularly work that film lovers may not yet have had a chance to see, but that they could be on the lookout for?

IPB: Andrea Arnold, Deniz Erguven (MUSTANG), Mira Nair, Julie Taymor.

DBW: It was such a pleasure knowing that you shared your film Josh (Against the Grain) during the first #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party in September 2015. I’m eager to see Forbidden Steps come
to fruition and find its way into the world.. and be part of a future #DirectedbyWomen global celebration. Let’s get your film made!

IPB: Indeed! We thank you for your support. It is organizations such as yours that are always the first to champion and support women in this field, and this is a contribution that is certainly not overlooked or taken for granted by us. Thank You. Shukriya!

Visit Forbidden Steps project on Seed&Spark now to follow and back Iram’s film!

Featured image of Iram Parveen Bilal courtesy of Dustin Snipes.