They Said I Was A Muslim

A film by Lauren Hatchard commissioned by the Living Memory Project.

The film is a beautifully illustrated retelling of Emaan Syed's fascinating journey of self-discovery, looking back at old family photos and mapping out the path from childhood that lead to finding her identity as the strong Muslim woman she is today. 

A note by the filmmaker Lauren Hatchard
Emaan's moving and empowering story instantly struck a chord with me when I first read about her life and experiences, I felt that her voice needed a platform to be heard. I was also drawn to her charming amateur family photographs; they had an authentic and relatable feel to them. I feel like every family has got old 'snaps' similar to this and this made me think of the similarities we all share as humans, regardless of culture or background.
I knew that this was a film that needed to be handled sympathetically and I wanted the film to have the appropriate treatment. Initially, I had the idea to try and recreate the scenes from Emaan's childhood by using her daughters to play her at different ages of her life, but after much consideration I decided that recreating her life scenes was quite an ambitious task without the Hollywood budget to pull it off and do it justice.
Going down the illustration and animation route was an idea that slowly formed. I already had the audio from a 45-minute interview conducted with Emaan by project leader Geoff Broadway in 2010, he had asked all the right questions and she gave very animated and well-articulated answers. I thought it would be a pity to get Emaan to say all of this again as a 'talking head' style interview to camera.
At this stage in my film career, I was keen to try something new, I have always been very camera focussed and I loved the idea of setting myself a challenge of making a film without picking up a camera. This meant learning new skills in illustration and animation, but it was quite refreshing to not have to consider all the normal film production logistics and to have the creative freedom of designing every frame of the film from scratch and responding to what I felt needed to be shown alongside the audio from the original interview.
I really wanted the film to enhance and punctuate what Emaan is saying in the audio - because everything she says is fascinating and her tone is engaging throughout. I cut the 45-minute interview down to just under 10 minutes, this needed to be a short film but it was very difficult to cut the story down any shorter without taking away the impact and setting up the scenes as well as she describes. However, there were not enough of Emaan's personal photos to keep up an audience's interest in watching it for that long. So I decided to have a go at illustrating and animating some of the scenes to try and keep the tone and pace to match her speech, I was learning as I went along and I know there is still a lot for me to learn about animation, but what I do know is that it is very time-consuming. Animating 3 seconds of Emaan's pigeon flying away took me a whole day to figure out!
The entire piece has been a year in the making from concept to completion, spanning approximately 8 months of chipping away at the editing bit by bit, it's hard to quantify exactly how long I have spent on it, but countless hours whilst learning new skills along the way and a welcomed distraction during lockdown!
I hope that this film will be well received and that her story will continue to capture and inspire in the same way it did for me, whilst hopefully reminding us that we are all on our own path of unfolding self-discovery.

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