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Through the eyes of filmmaker and novelist Shamim Sarif

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Shamim Sarif

Through the eyes of filmmaker and novelist Shamim Sarif

In the LGBT community, it would be hard to walk in novelist and filmmaker Shamim Sarif’s shoes.

An Indian born in London after her parents fled South Africa in the 1960s because of apartheid, she practices Muslim values– and she’s also a lesbian.

But this multiplicity of perspectives is perhaps why Sarif is winning awards left and right.

Shamim Sarif: From finance to writing

Shamim Sarif was born on September 24, 1964 and grew up in a Muslim-Indian family in Surrey, just outside Greater London.

After studying English both for a bachelors and masters degree, she worked in her father’s financial service firm for eight years before becoming a writer.

“I didn’t feel able to come home and say ‘Hey, I want to be a writer’– that wasn’t an option,” she told The Telegraph in an interview.

She first wrote short stories published in in-flight magazines. She eventually went on to write the seminal novels The World Unseen— which won the Pendleton May First Novel Award and the Betty Trask Award– and I Can’t Think Straight.

The latter novel is described as semi-biographical in that it talks of race, gender, and lesbian love.

Shamim Sarif: Staying true to her work

While talks to adapt I Can’t Think Straight into film were in progress, Shamim decided she should handle the direction herself in order to keep the story intact.

“I thought to myself, this is nuts, I’d rather just do it. I agonized over it for a couple of days and then I pitched for it myself,” Sarif said.

However, the first movie she directed was her first novel, The World Unseen, which was released in 2007.

The film was highly praised by After Ellen, calling it, “one of the best conceived queer films of the past year– a sincere, beautifully realized vision of love and resistance in an intolerant world.”

It also won her the Best Director Award from the South African Film and Television Awards,the Phoenix Film Festival, and the Clip Film Festival (Tampa).

The romantic comedy, I Can’t Think Straight, on the other hand, was later released in 2008.

Shamim Sarif and Hanan Kattan as a couple

Despite her roots, Shamim has always been open about her sexuality. She is married to producer Hanan Kattan after 20 years of being together and they have two sons, Ethan and Luca.

Similar to the two characters in I Can’t Think Straight who are poles apart, Shamim is painfully shy. Meanwhile, Kattan is the talker between the two.

Shamim acknowledges that the films wouldn’t have been made without the extroverted Kattan. The two had formed the production outfit that made Sarif’s movies, Enlightenment Productions.

“There were two things I thought at the beginning of my career: it doesn’t make a difference if I’m a woman, and it doesn’t make a difference if my characters happen to be gay. I was wrong on both counts,” Shamim said.

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