Written and directed by Saim Sadiq, “Joyland” made its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Un Certain Regard jury prize and the Queer Palm. The film has been nominated for best international film at the 2023 Independent Spirit Awards and was recently shortlisted for best international feature film at the 95th Academy Awards, as Pakistan’s official entry.
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The film tells the story of Haider (Ali Junejo), who lives with his wife Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), his father and his elder brother’s family in Lahore, Pakistan. After a long spell of unemployment, Haider lands a job working as a background dancer at a Bollywood-style burlesque — though he tells his family he’s the theater’s manager — and falls in love with Biba (Alina Khan), a transgender woman who runs the show. Also starring in the project, which explores love and desire in a patriarchal society, are Sarwat Gilani, Sohail Sameer, Salmaan Peerzada and Sania Saeed.
“’Joyland’ is ground-breaking. And it’s easy to get lost in all the ways that it is; the first Pakistani film at Cannes, the first award-winner, the first to be Oscar-shortlisted, and a queer love story that has overcome multiple obstacles to its release,” said Ahmed and Left Handed Films executive Allie Moore in a statement announcing the partnership. “But more important than any of the glass ceilings it smashes, is how this film so masterfully breaks our hearts.”
Their statement continues: “Saim Sadiq’s filmmaking is both understated and gut-wrenching. His writing is consistently unexpected — both unflinchingly joyous and devastating. His every scene so elegantly composed yet bursting with vividly raw characters and performances. ‘Joyland’ is one of the best films of the year, and against all odds of resources and marketing budgets, it’s been amazing to see festival juries, audiences, and critics shouting that from the rooftops.”
The partnership between Sadiq, Ahmed and Left Handed Films could prove particularly advantageous for the film, given the production company’s strong, recent track record at the Academy Awards, nabbing three nominations in 2022 and its first Oscar win for “The Long Goodbye,” the live-action short film Ahmed co-wrote and starred. The company also produced Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” which made history as the first movie to earn nominations for best animated feature, documentary feature and international feature.
“I am excited that Riz and Left Handed Films will be joining ‘Joyland’ as EPs,” added Sadiq. “Riz and his production company have a track record of exquisite taste and having them on board further affirms our belief in both the urgency and universality of ‘Joyland.’”
Ahmed joins a high-profile list of executive producers on the project, which also counts Malala Yousafzai, Ramin Bahrani, Jemima Khan, William Olsson, Jen Goyne Blake, Tiffany Boyle, Elsa Ramo, Oleg Dubson, Kathrin Lohmann, Hari Charana Prasad, Sukanya Puvvula and Owais Ahmed as executive producers.
Following its Cannes debut, “Joyland” has screened at numerous festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival and AFI Fest, and will also screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Last week, it was announced that the film had picked up in the U.S. by Oscilloscope Laboratories (O-Scope) and is set for traditional theatrical release later this year. Studio Soho Distribution are releasing the film in the U.K. on Feb. 24.
As Ahmed mentioned in his statement, though, the film’s road to release has been a challenging one. In November, the Pakistan government banned the film for containing “highly objectionable” material.
An order dated Nov. 11 from Pakistan’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting says that the country’s censor board had granted a censor certificate to the film on Aug. 17, but it had since reversed the decision. Sadiq and the filmmakers spoke out against the decision, as well as Nobel laureate Yousafzai via an impassioned piece in Variety. The same week, Pakistan reversed the ban, granting the film a theatrical release with minor edits.
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