Every one of us strives to discover our purpose in life. As children, we’re constantly asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to do for the world?”
Digital producer Shamir Allibhai didn’t always know the answer to that question. His life path began behind the video lens when he took root at the BBC in London in 2002. As he branched more broadly into media, Shamir stumbled upon the answer.
I quickly came to the realization that I wanted to work on social impact projects
“I quickly came to the realization that I wanted to work on social impact projects,” Shamir says. “Impact has to be at the core of whatever work I do. I love creativity, I love technology, I love content.”
In 2011, during the midst of the protests of the Arab Spring, Shamir wanted a closer view of the historical events happening across the region. He joined the Dhoa Tribeca Film Festival which was born out of a partnership between Robert de Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival and the State of Qatar. The country saw the film festival as a platform for movies being made throughout the region.
What began as the Doha Tribeca Film Festival transformed into the Doha Film Institute with a mission to support voices in the Middle East. Many young, talented film makers were empowered for the first time.
“For me, that was very exciting, to help people tell their stories,” Shamir says. “And I wasn’t just helping them tell. I was helping to get them heard in the West and throughout the Middle East itself.”
Filmmakers are traditionally good at telling stories, but not very good at getting them distributed,
With the rise of technology, more stories are being spread further and further. Documentaries and film, which previously exist as standalone pieces, have begun to evolve with the influence of technology, Shamir says. To make the social impact piece successful, there needs to be a call to action. What are you hoping to achieve? What is your end goal? How will you mobilize audiences to that end?
“Filmmakers are traditionally good at telling stories, but not very good at getting them distributed,” Shamir says. “Oftentimes, and I’ve seen this over and over, really good films just end up sitting on the shelf.” Filmmakers must become experts in digital marketing and distribution too.
Impact On Film
Shamir’s most recent films are “Kings & Queens of Qatar” and “Through the Golden Ages: the History of Chess.” He explained that Qatar doesn’t have the social scene of New York City and it is important to fill up with your spare time, such as hobbies and passions. Shamir had long sought to better his chess game. When he contacted a chess coach, he learned she was also training the first female chess team in Qatar.
“She was working on that and I thought, ‘wow, that’s fascinating! Tell me more about this team,” Shamir says. “I thought it would be a really interesting documentary to tell their journey to the Chess Olympiad in Istanbul. I followed them for two weeks and it was really amazing to see this underworld of chess. At first I was surprised chess is considered a sport. But after watching 8 hour long games and its intensity for two weeks, I appreciated the endurance and skill. They’re called grandmasters for a reason.”
“Kings & Queens of Qatar” is centered on the first female chess team in Qatar. “Through the Golden Ages” is a 10-minute animation on the history of chess. Both films premiered at the Museum of Islamic Art. Shamir was surprised to learn how deeply the Muslim world influenced the game and helped to spread it across geographies.
“We’re going through this weird time in history where it’s like this post-9/11 world and we’re seeing an Islamophobia agenda in certain quarters of the West,” Shamir says. “I hope the film offers a lens into another side of the Muslim world and highlights the intellectual tradition of Islam.”
The film and soundtrack are available on iTunes and Google Play.
Impact in the Bay
His work in Qatar lasted for three years before moving to San Francisco this past year. Shamir has recently found himself more focused on the tech side of impact, meaning “I’m still figuring out what it is I want to focus my ten years on.” Shamir is exploring a number of areas that pique his interests, including BitCoin. He’s currently working with a Y combinator called SFOX that’s exploring BitCoin’s potential for impact.
“Everything always comes back to impact,” Shamir says.
As he continues to pursue his passions for social impact and media, Shamir spends his days working out of Sandbox Suites Soma.
It’s worry free and a nice place to focus, coupled with smart people who are doing interesting things
“It’s worry free and a nice place to focus, coupled with smart people who are doing interesting things,” he says. “I appreciate the balance between work and meeting other people, especially at the intersections where everyone comes together.”