Interview with Bilal Hussain About Jessica: Part Two
By: Darida Rose
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): What inspired you to write a follow up to Jessica? Were you planning on a sequel all along?
Bilal Hussain (BH): It's a fictional story-line, the actress Nadja Dalgaard who is playing "Jessica" is real meaning she can't see very well. I and Nadja have been friends for more than ten years, we also work together at the local television "Tv-Glad Esbjerg" in Esbjerg, Denmark as reporters. We both have studied media together at the television stations school "Glad Fagskole Esbjerg. I started making short films in 2011 while studying and in 2013 when I finished my studies i got the job at "Tv-Glad Esbjerg and there I started to think of the story-line for "Jessica". In 2017 I wrote, directed and produced the film which at the time was my fourth short film in a row. It was very short and didn't have a strong story-line meaning, all the characters didn't have good background details and most of all we don't see "Jessica's" struggles in the film. That's why I thought for a long-time to write Jessica: Part Two (2020) with a stronger story-line and introduce new characters for example Jessica's mother who is played my Yvonne Andersen. So, yes. You can say the sequel has been in my mind for a long time and it turned out so well that is has received so much success which no one on the team and I thought of.
(PJ): One striking thing about Jessica: Part Two is the casting of a visually-impaired protagonist. Is this film primarily about the relationships of those with disabilities, or is it more about the need to give others a second chance?
(BH): I think it's both, because people with disabilities often have difficult time finding and dating a partner than a normal person. It also depends on one's ability and disability but everyone deserves an extra chance in life.
(PJ): The song at the beginning by Nicoline Hammer Johnsen is quite beautiful. Could you tell us a bit about your decision to include her in the short?
(BH): Yes, it is a very beautiful song and Nicoline is very talented. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsTZnrT9eTUe3fE_qjP5DPQ) When I was in pre-production, I wrote a small add on one of the closed Facebook groups for finding a composer for the film who also could act in the start of the film. Many people wrote to me with their CV and sent their music as well, but Nicolines music fits perfectly to the story-line and above all the lyrics in the songs fit all the scenes. Nicoline does teater as well so I asked if she can also act in the film, which she agreed on. I am very happy with the outcome of the music in the film.
(PJ): Could you tell us about any future projects you’re working on? Do they also involve people with disabilities?
(BH): Yes, I am writing my first danish full-length feature film and no it's not about disability, it's about discrimination. Due to Covid-19 and lockdown in Denmark I have put the writing and the pre-production on hold. But I am writing my eight-short film which will be produced by "50/50 Films" (https://www.instagram.com/films5050/) & "Elimination Entertainment" (https://www.instagram.com/eliminationentertainment/?hl=da) in co-production with me "Bilal Productions Denmark" (https://www.instagram.com/b.productions.dk/) It will be filmed in the USA and in Irland. I will be the writer, co-producer and co-director of the film. Other than that, I have a Christmas feature film in mind and the last part of "Jessica". In August this year (2021) I will have ten years anniversary as an indie filmmaker with eight-short films so far. I have also been a film judge at the Amsterdam Lift-Off Sessions (2020) & Box Short Film Festival (2021) so I would like to continue as well. (https://www.instagram.com/boxshortfilmfestival/)
(PJ): Jessica: Part Two has been in several festivals now. Could you tell us what the reaction’s been like?
(BH): Yes, it has and there are still more than twenty festivals left whom I am waiting to hear from, I and the team are so honored and thankful of the success and the love for the film. As you know my film "The Wheelchair And The Trap" (2020) also did great at the festivals and was selected here at "Phoenix Short Film Festival" so it's a huge reaction. I have a drama series in mind for "Jessica" in the near future, which I would like to write in a different way but still with disability and abilities on the subject. I love to have a dream team actors and actresses like for example Hellen Mirren as the mother. Emma Stone as Jessica and Zac Efron and John David Washington in major roles as well.
(PJ): Part of the message of the film seems to be that able-bodied people might not know what they’re getting into when they begin a relationship with someone with special needs. Could you speak about that?
(BH): I think normal people are careful when it comes to dating or being with a person with this kind of disability. I use a wheelchair myself when I have travel for long due to my physical disability AAA Syndrome. Honestly, I also thought if I got married will she be alright with me because of my physical challenges and I did get married and it was alright but I am divorced now but I am not divorced by this matter. So, you can say this is a tough question to answer but if the person you love who is disable then this subject won't matter.
(PJ): It’s somewhat rare to see a leading character with a visible disability in a film. For the sake of filmmakers who might be considering doing the same, could you tell us what it was like on set? Were there any particular challenges, or was it just like any other production?
(BH): Yes, it is very rare, but we are all equal human begins, no filmmaker shall think oh he/she is a disable person they can't do this and that. With help and support everyone can do everything even if they are disable. On the set, it was not so difficult, I feel it was like any other film set. I feel there is a good example in the film industry, the film "The Peanut Butter Falcon" where the actor Zack Gottsagen who has down syndrome plays as Zak because he wants to be a wrestler did a great job and he had also great actors with him like Dakota Johnson and Shia LaBouf. So, I think nothing is hard when it comes to acting or get people to act if they are disable. Disable people shall have more opportunities to act in films and series.
(PJ): Markus seems much more ready to jump back into the dating game than Jessica after a bad breakup. Does Jessica’s disability play a role here, or is it simply her character?
(BH): I talked to my actors about it and I also see it, It's a mistake on my writing part of the story-line. Markus (Youssef Agerbo Halabi) his character gets too quick on his game to find another girl. I should have put more scenes where Markus is broken down or drinking before getting back in the back. I can say I learn everything I make a short film, so I will fix this in my future writing projects.