Pray it doesn’t rain is Nabeela Zaman’s debut documentary, following the plight of rough sleepers in Oxford. It is a poignant and emotive watch for any Oxford student. Nabeela Zaman, the film’s maker, told me about the process of completing such a project and her own views on the issue of homelessness in Oxford.
“Growing up, one of the things I have often reflected on is how grateful I am to have a house. This thought process is also one of the inspirations for the title ‘Pray it Doesn’t Rain’. My original idea was to film this in the coming year. However, I noticed that homelessness was growing and student participation in combatting the problem was growing with it. And so, on a whim, I took my camera into town and started to talk to homeless people.
When I started out, I expected the video to last ten minutes. But, the quantity of my footage quickly grew, so much so that people began to call it a ‘documentary’. In general, I would ask people the same questions adapting them slightly depending on if I was talking to rough sleepers, charities or others. Many people didn’t wish to be filmed but still provided me with insider knowledge. I also asked rough sleepers I interviewed if they wished to go by a fake name. I thought it was important to respect how people decided to present themselves as personal identity is, in a homeless person’s case, the one thing no one can take away from them.
Film was my chosen media because at the time I was just beginning to develop my technical skills, and a film seemed like a more active response to such a systemic problem. Furthermore, film allowed a truly up-close view of homelessness. It put participants front and centre, giving them the freedom to talk about their views. This said, I made sure to accommodate the needs of those who were not happy to be interviewed directly. Some people spoke more freely once the camera had been turned off, but the majority had no particular reaction to being on camera, with most very keen to talk.
As a first-time filmmaker, I’m still learning and I’m not fully satisfied with the film. The project took a couple of months to film, as I was balancing it alongside other projects and, of course, my actual degree! One key piece of advice: really care about who you are speaking to. You may be standing for a long time talking to your subject knowing not all of it will be in the final edit, but it is worthwhile if you are invested in your project.
Talking to a wide range of people led me to believe that no view of homelessness is unilateral. I don’t think it’s important to want my viewers to understand homelessness in a certain way. I care more about how they treat and understand homeless people.
Changing people’s perspectives can be so much easier than we make it out to be. It starts with simple compassion. Smile at people you see on the street, and soon enough they will smile back. Have conversations with rough sleepers that you see.
I also spoke to many organisations in my quest to understand homelessness. Each organisation stood out for different reasons. They were unified in their dedication to helping rough sleepers. Here are a few practical ways for students to help such organisations. The Oxford Homeless Project (based in Cowley) are always looking for volunteers, and so is The Oxford SU campaign, On Your Doorstep. Join their Facebook group, attend their meetings; they’re very understanding for you to simply help out whenever you can. Any help is better than nothing!”
While charity work can sometimes be seen to have a selfish element to it, Nabeela pointed out that she is not promoting this project to portray herself as a ‘good person’. We both agree that ‘the best acts of charity are those done in secret’. However, homelessness is not a problem that can be solved singlehandedly. We can only solve this issue if we work together and raise awareness. So, why not buy that Big Issue for once?
Nabeela Zaman’s film Pray it Doesn’t Rain is available on Youtube now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KV_5reA1HVY&t=1378s