Hammad Zaidi, a disabled kid with a rail-thin left arm, a useless hand, and a cowboy limp, watched a documentary on the clubbing of harp seals with his little sister Mona. All snow-white pups perished except for one called “The Lonely Seal.” The name stuck, as did Hammad’s intent to make the world a better place.

A few decades and several charitable endeavors later, from wrangling donations for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon in the 1970s to several film festivals in the 1990s and beyond, Hammad started judging film festivals. His first two opportunities were at Flickerfest in Bondi Beach, Australia, in 1997 and 1998, a timeless experience where he and his fellow judges would dive into the ocean between screenings. From there, Hammad became a judge, world cinema screener, filmmaker advisor, panelist, screenwriting contest founder/judge, program curator, advisory board member, and or sponsor at multiple film festivals. These include, but are not limited to, SundanceSlamdanceSXSW, NashvilleCinequest, and the UCLA Screenwriting Showcase.

Hammad also produced and wrote independent films and TV, started an international film distribution company, wrote 300+ published film-industry-related articles (256 of which were posted on FilmThreat), and became a member of the Producers Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America along the way. But, throughout the years, he always told close friends he would someday build a film festival. Then, in 2016, Hammad met Jonathan Nadeau, a blind technologist, when Jonathan interviewed Hammad for his “Crowdfunding Cast” podcast. The two hit it off famously, and soon after that, Jonathan started encouraging Hammad to harness his 20+ years of film experience and build this festival. So, one year later, The Lonely Seal Film, Screenplay and Music Festival was born.