Black and white picture of three men wearing futuristic face shields and covers. Scene is from the mid- 20th century, men are wearing jackets.

Border: Behind the Mask

Border: Behind the Mask byKhalifa Abdulla Al‑Thani​

In 2018, when I wrote the script for our short film Border, the inspiration behind the look and feel of the characters was taken from tragic world events that occurred in the early 1900's such as World War II and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Unaware of what would occur later, the film had a different outcome when the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Production was meant to start in February 2020, but we had to postpone it for a year. The script didn't need more refinement as it was set to be in a dystopian world, and we were already living in one. 

The costumes reference the subgenre 'steampunk', which is clear from the characters' masks. The colour of the masks switches from white as our protagonist walks in to blue, green and red at the end, which is an indication and reference to the zone placement, helping to set the mood as the narrative intensifies. The masks distort the character's faces and are worn to protect the citizens; they represent a more profound sense of oppression and fear. The masks are worn primarily for protection, but they also hide a larger story about our world. A world in which rules and restrictions must be followed, where all citizens are required to follow codes and be aligned. And a world as we discover is unequal.

Woman wearing a respirator connected to rubber and metal seated at a desk, holding a book. Picture is from the earlier 20th century.

Production reference- courtesy of The Edge Picture Company x Doha Film Institute

Visualizing a world where health and safety measures at an airport are heightened wasn't a far stretch from reality. Even before COVID-19 hit us, there were previous cases of flu and pandemics that coerced travellers to take precautionary measures. While writing the early drafts for Border, I intended to connect the gruesome medical inspection of the traveller's body to the traveller's origin or race and use that to determine their eligibility to fly, taking into consideration that the gadgets used in the film are programmed according to the system's order. From the geo tracks to the lie detector test, biometric iris scanners and so on--certain races need to take extra measures to be allowed immunity. 

As we follow our protagonist Mohammed deeper into the petrifying new world, the details of the people he meets become ever more threatening--from the clinical whiteness of the medical zone to the Gestapo-like leather uniform of the military official interrogating him. The choice of heavily armed soldiers in the military defence zone references the racial double standards that occurred during the BLM protest at Capitol Hill, protecting one race while profiling the others. Here, the military masks are reminiscent of World War II, which reinforces the feeling that this world is one of uncertainty and at any moment, a fuse could be lit up, and everything could change instantly. 

Man in white lab coat and white futuristic oxygen mask

Still from Border - courtesy of The Edge Picture Company x Doha Film Institute

gestapo-like wooden interrogation chair with arm and leg straps

Set Design for Border - courtesy of The Edge Picture Company x Doha Film Institute

A person fully covered with grey personal protective equipment, respirator and carrying a tank on their back, in daylight

Production reference- courtesy of The Edge Picture Company x Doha Film Institute

Finally, the film's cinematography is purposeful in tracking and following the central character. Mohammed is forever present in every shot of the film. Like the system watching him, we, too, follow him on this journey. If we are not looking directly at him, we are behind him, tracking him or even monitoring him from above via the view of the vast system of CCTV cameras. The muted tones in the grade are almost lifeless, this is a vision of the soulless world, colour and joy removed from each colour palette, and even the two toys that feature in the film are either thrown away or mutated. The film aims to exhibit the small fracture of the raw reality and ignorance in our world today. Nothing escapes the system, an amplified view of a world where Mohammed is set up to fail, a world that reminds us that a trip to the airport is no vacation for some.

film set of airport security counters and cameras

Still from Border - courtesy of The Edge Picture Company x Doha Film Institute

The theme of an oppressed, monitored state continues throughout the film and reflects upon issues many Arabs and other races face crossing the Border. Systematic checks and racial profiling are too common in airports and border crossings. The occasional view from a CCTV camera watching the character Mohammed reinforces that his journey is recorded, cross-checked and eventually barred by a system rooted in discrimination. Even a common Arabic phrase is regarded as a threat by a system built around fear and lack of knowledge.

Semiotics run throughout Border with many subtle, hidden messages; it is found in the Airport posters planted around all the locations, with statements reading as oppressive orders. The film's colour changes as we witness the character's journey turning darker and hollower as time goes by. The red colour reminiscent of hell is not by chance as Mohammed's final stage leads him to a sinister underground basement where he and other lost souls wait in a sort of halfway house to hell.

The Edge Picture Company x Doha Film Institute

Production Designer: Justine Dwairi
Costume Stylist: Ynkar Dyussengulova
Director: Khalifa Al Thani
Cinematographer: Yasser Mustafa
Producers: Poppy Clinton, Fatma Al Ghanim, Vibhav Gautam
Executive Producer: Jamie Riordan

man in a steampunk gas mask, man in lab coat with glasses and white hood-mask, man in beige gas mask and PPE, man with black gas mask and hat

Production Design reference- courtesy of The Edge Picture Company x Doha Film Institute

man in a steampunk gas mask, man in lab coat with glasses and white hood-mask, man in beige gas mask and PPE, man with black gas mask and hat

 

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