Ahead of its Toronto world premiere, Screen is proud to present the exclusive launch of the international trailer for Iram Haq’s What Will People Say.

The film is a Norway/Germany/Sweden co-production that will have its world premiere in Toronto’s Platform programme; it is also selected by the youth committee as part of TIFF’s Next Wave strand.

Beta Cinema handles world sales and the film premieres at TIFF on Sept 9. Haq’s debut feature I am yours also launched at TIFF in 2013 and was selected as Norway’s foreign language Oscar entry.

The Norwegian-Urdu drama was produced by Maria Ekerhovd for Mer Film in co-production with Rohfilm Factory and Zentropa Sweden. Backers include The Norwegian Film Institute, Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, German Federal Film board, Normedia, Eurimages, Film i Väst, Swedish Film Institute, Nordic Film and TV Fond, ZDF - Arte and Creative Europe.

What Will People Say follows 16-year-old Nisha (Maria Mozhdah), a girl living in Oslo who obeys her family’s Pakistani traditions at home but lives a more modern lifestyle with her friends. When she is caught with a white boyfriend, her father (Adil Hussain) kidnaps her to send her to live in Pakistan with relatives.

Personal experience

Haq went through a similar experience when she was 14. She finally felt the time was right to tell this story.

“I started to write this script many years ago, at that point I wrote it as an angry teenager, I had to rewrite it again and again. I waited long time to tell this story so I could tell it in a wiser way – I wanted to not just tell it from the girls point of view,” she told Screen this week in Haugesund, Norway. “I wanted to tell the story in a way that’s not black and white, I can also understand the parents.”

When Haq’s father was dying, he apologized to her for his actions and they had a chance to talk about why he’d sent her to Pakistan – She recalls, “I learned a lot about his fear, how he was a proud man. Through asking him questions, even if it was hard to talk about, it made me understand how much he loved me.”

He died before she shot the film but she is so thankful that she got his blessing and encouragement for the film. “He said to me, ‘This is such an important story, I want you to tell this story.’ That was fantastic. I’m very happy he supported me.”

She fictionalized the story and update it for contemporary times, doing lots of new interviews with young women facing similar issues today, as well as with parents and therapists.

The film shot in Norway and India (Guneet Monga’s Sikhya co-produces) and she had high praise for shooting there. “It was a dream to work in India and the shoot went well, it was a huge group of people, and we became like a family.”

Teenage actress Maria Mozhdah impresses in her first lead role. “We looked for this girl for a year and a half before I found her. Maria was brilliant.”

Haq says it’s important for her to tell women’s stories, and she adds, “I also like stories that are a bit taboo. Sometimes women have stories that are filled with shame that never come out, that feel like a secret, I want to know those stories.”