Pakistani short film, Stray Dogs Come Out at Night, has been selected to be showcased at the Oscar-qualifying Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films 2020.

Additionally, the short film has been nominated for two awards as part of the festival — including Best Live Action Short and Vimeo Staff Pick Award. Last year’s edition awarded Hollywood icons Idris Elba and House of Card’s Robin Wright.

Written and directed by Hamza Bangash, Stray Dogs Come Out at Night tells the story of a young maalishwala, Iqbal (played by rising star, Mohammad Ali Hashmi), who is attempting to come to terms with an HIV-positive diagnosis.

He lives with his uncle, Essayed (played by Adnan Shah Tipu), in a one-bedroom flat in Karachi. They are both migrants from Punjab, cut off from their families, navigating a dangerous industry — the only one they know how to.

Desperate for respite, Iqbal asks his uncle to take him to Seaview. Once they arrive, the call of the Arabian sea proves to be too strong for Iqbal.

The film deals with ideas of toxic masculinity, migration and urban loneliness.

The Official Poster of the film — designed by Danial Shahzad Khan | Titles by Sila Mahdi
The Official Poster of the film — designed by Danial Shahzad Khan | Titles by Sila Mahdi

Speaking to Images, Bangash says, "Through Stray Dogs Come Out at Night, I wanted to tell a story of desperation. I had to go back into my personal experiences of moving to Karachi, of that feeling of isolation and smallness — another body in a migrant city."

"The film’s form captures the vastness of the urban sprawl, seen through the point of view of a sensitive young roadside masseur."

He continues, "It also speaks to the intersection of capitalism and sexuality: that Pakistan, as a sexually-repressed society, exploits the bodies of its young population. Set in the subculture of street masseurs, who are visible on every corner past sunset, the film speaks to the human cost of feeding secret desires."

Bangash says that although fiction, the film is inspired by the stories he heard and the experiences he learned from. He says the story is "part coming-of-age, a simmering reflection, and a revolt against toxic masculinity."

Initially, no actors were willing to come on board because of the controversial nature of the subject matter, according to Bangash, "We must have reached out to dozens of actors, and we got really lucky with both Mohammad Ali Hashmi and Adnan Shah Tipu. Mohammad comes from theatre, and as such, understands the dedication required to a great performance. He even accompanied me on my research trips and spent hours speaking with maalishawalas — learning of their experiences and mannerisms."

"And then, casting Adnan Shah Tipu, was another stroke of luck. He is one of the few actors with international experience in art-house cinema, and, honestly, one of the greatest working actors in the Pakistani industry. Funnily enough, Hashmi and Tipu are actually related (Hashmi is Tipu's nephew) — I guess talent runs in the family."

Additionally, as most of the film is in Punjabi, the experiences both Hashmi and Tipu brought to the film, as native Punjabi-speakers, really helped bring the film together.

The short film had its world premiere at the Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival in France, considered to be the Cannes for short films. Stray Dogs Come Out at Night was the first Pakistani film to be selected in the history of the festival.

Bangash says, "It feels like the whole world is burning [right now], and to get good news is extremely rare. I'm so grateful that the Palm Springs team chose to program us. The festival programmer even called us one of the highlights of this year's edition!"

He says, the film was primarily made for the audience, so when things are better, he intends to tour the country with his film.

The 26th edition of the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, considered to be one of the most prestigious film festivals in North America, has put together a program of 332 short films in the categories of animation, documentary, episodic pilots and music video for a virtual festival running June 16-22.