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Coming of age Short film winner grew up in 'inhumane direct provision', but is still proud to live here

"Of course I've faced racist comments and remarks. There is no person of colour who has not faced that, but I am fortunate that the town I was in was so supportive to me, and people were so accepting of me"

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Rehan Ali

Rehan Ali

Rehan Ali

He spent his entire childhood living within what he describes as the "inhumane" system of direct provision, but Rehan Ali is still proud to call Ireland home.

After becoming a joint winner of this year's Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition in association with Screen Ireland, Pakistani-born Rehan is about to be handed a chance to produce the film story that he pitched in the final.

It will give the nation a glimpse into a way of life we have heard about but rarely seen.

From the age of six until after he toasted his 16th birthday, Rehan lived in direct provision and while that could have been enough to turn him against the country he came to with his mother, older brother and sister, he remains positive about his new homeland.

Chatting exclusively to Magazine+, Rehan spoke with real passion about the Tipperary town of Carrick-on-Suir that was both his home and his prison throughout his entire childhood, and reflected on his journey in Ireland with a maturity that can only be admired.

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Rehan Ali when he first arrived in Ireland at the age of six

Rehan Ali when he first arrived in Ireland at the age of six

Rehan Ali when he first arrived in Ireland at the age of six

"Direct provision strips you of so much of your life and you are treated like a prisoner," says the student, who is coming towards the end of his neuroscience studies at University College Cork while also finding time to write screenplays.

"Even though I lived in that system for 10 and a half years, I never felt at home or safe behind those walls.

"It was when I left those walls, and I interacted with the town of Carrick-on-Suir, that I felt at home and accepted.

"Of course I've faced racist comments and remarks. There is no person of colour who has not faced that, but I am fortunate that the town I was in was so supportive to me, and people were so accepting of me."

Rehan's film Water under the Bridge - to be made soon thanks to his share of the €60,000 Virgin Media Discovers Short Film prize pot which he splits with film-making duo and co-winners Allie O'Rourke and Becky Cheatle - will focus on a character who is traumatised by the loss of his father and his experience as a refugee.

It deals with themes of being gay and mental health, and thanks to his share of the prize Rehan plans to return to familiar surroundings in his new role of filmmaker.

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"This is a coming-of-age film told through the perspective of an immigrant," he explains.

"When we talk about refugees, immigrants or asylum seekers, often the story ends in a film when they reach their destination. We think that's the end of their journey, but that's simply not true.

"I wanted to tell the story of a young person who comes to Ireland and lives under direct provision, an incredibly unjust and inhumane system.

"The young man in the film escapes that system and tries to integrate into a new home in Ireland and the completely different world he is now in.

"Those of us who have been in this position don't all have the same struggle. We are not all the same and we don't all feel the same.

"Some of the struggles are internal and are never seen, so I wanted to take this one person and explore the struggles he is dealing with from living in a very different world.

"This is a story that means so much to me," he continues, "so I can only thank Virgin Media for making my dreams come true and giving me the chance to make this film.

"With 700 applicants in this competition, it was amazing to get down to the final 10 and then to be selected by a panel that included some incredible people like Lenny Abrahamson (Normal People) and Lisa McGee (Derry Girls).

"Now I'm getting a chance to work with top producers and filming in Carrick-on-Suir is going to be fantastic as it is such a beautiful place."

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Neuroscience student Rehan Ali with his sister and older brother

Neuroscience student Rehan Ali with his sister and older brother

Neuroscience student Rehan Ali with his sister and older brother

With a healthy budget to make his film and the backing of experienced producers Ronan Cassidy and Greg Burrows, Water Under The Bridge will give Rehan a golden opportunity to realise his dreams alongside his neuroscience studies.

"My fellow students are amazed by this," he laughs. "They have no idea how I find the time to write films and I tell them it is down the fact that I indulge in sleep deprivation!

"This is so completely different to neuroscience and my fellow students cannot understand how I can also have a film career.

"It could not be more different to my studies, but my passion in life has always been filmmaking.

"Hopefully winning this award and getting a chance to make this film will give me the opportunity I'm looking for to become a writer and to make films. That is my dream and I'm so lucky to have a chance to live it."

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