One-on-one with filmmaker Jasmina Saleh about her documentary poem 'Dear Doctor,' and more.
Jasmina is a filmmaker with a background in content distribution and journalism. Most recently, she wrote, produced, and directed the award-winning short film "Dear Doctor," that details her experience of living with the pain and misdiagnosis of endometriosis. She aims to tell deeply raw stories that raise larger questions about female relationships be it with their bodies, families, or the societies that they operate in. Alongside directing, Jasmina is an insights writer for major theatrical and streaming studios helping inform their content development and marketing strategies. She studied at Cardiff University, The University of Pennsylvania, and was most recently selected to partake in a directing course at the NFTS in London.
iFilmFestival: Tell us a bit about your most important film so far.
JS: “Dear Doctor, marks my directorial debut - so this is the most important so far! The reception has been phenomenal, since starting its festival run in May 2022, it's received 9 selections worldwide and won 2 awards. I would never have dreamed this film about the pain and misdiagnosis of endometriosis - that is quite niche in terms of format (a documentary poem) - would resonate so broadly across the globe.”
iFilmFestival: What were the key challenges making it?
JS: “Money of course. But also to be candid, second-guessing whether the story should be told? The idea was born out of a poem I wrote about a severe endometriotic flare-up I was experiencing. I was ready to put the poem away and never look at it again - but my talented friend (and co-director) caught me writing it and insisted I read it to her. Wide-eyed and excited she said, "this is important, we need to make this" and with that encouragement we went off and made this movie. I don't think people talk enough about how these projects require an acute sense of self-belief - that what you're making matters, because if you don't believe in your project, then why should others?”
iFilmFestival: What’s one aspect that you’re particularly proud of?
JS: “That with no prior directing experience I was able to create a film packed with emotion, rich in feeling - capable of putting the viewer into the shoes of an endometriosis sufferer. I think Dear Doctor, opens a door (metaphorically speaking) into the mind and body of such a patient. And from what I'm hearing after screenings, it is doing so successfully - with especially men walking away discussing the condition, asking questions - the film is breeding tolerance and awareness.”
iFilmFestival: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
JS: “I've always wanted to try my hand at directing but shied away from it, thinking I never had the right 'tools' - be it equipment or skills. I studied journalism, then went off to work for Universal Pictures in research and sales; so I found my footing in the film world, but not exactly where I had hoped. Then through some contacts, I met people who were producing and directing on the side of their full-time role - I thought, "I can do that too". So I co-produced a short back in 2018, then got swept up in a talented and kind community of filmmakers in London - they made this film possible with their openness to collaborate.”
iFilmFestival: What new projects are you working on or are you hoping to work on in the future?
JS: “I've got a short docu-series titled 'Overlooked' in development that's in a similar vein to Dear Doctor, exploring other chronic illnesses among resilient extraordinary women, and I'm currently working on my first narrative short titled 'French Toast' - watch this space!”
iFilmFestival: What role do film festivals play?
JS: “Film festivals are crucial platforms to help build awareness. In Dear Doctor's case, the more views this film garners through festival attendees, the more will walk away at least having heard of the condition and perhaps keen to discuss it. I think filmmaking is so often about breeding tolerance and acceptance through shared experience - it's not so much in the eye of the beholder, as it is in their heart - what emotion will they be left with? And can that emotion jolt the viewer into action?”
iFilmFestival: What is your advice to filmmakers tackling the festival circuit?
JS: “Be organised, strategic, and remember: if you don't ask, you don't get! I have a very colourful spreadsheet filled with festivals' key dates, categories, exclusivity clauses, etc... Obviously, you'll want to prioritize the festivals you feel will give you a selection - and then crucially, EMAIL THEM. Draft a pithy email, explaining your projects premise, and ask if they could share a discount code. 8/10 times this worked for me - I was able to save a decent amount of money this way, without having to compromise too brutally on the festivals I absolutely wanted but couldn't afford.”
iFilmFestival: How do you see the future of film?
JS: “It is undeniable that streaming has changed the movie landscape, but I think the shared experience of cinema is powerful and widely loved. People want to get sucked into a story, while it is about escapism it is also about no distractions, the ability to share your thoughts with others - whether they loved or hated a story - and I think they want to see the world in all its facets. What format is better suited to achieving that than film, and preferably at the cinema?”
iFilmFestival: Thank you Jasmina for answering our questions!
Interview by iFilmFestival on 16 December 2022.