British Shorts Berlin 2019
Fantasy / Documentary / Drama / Animation / Comedy
Sat 19.1. 20:00 / Sputnik Kino 1
A female Lyft driver has to navigate the night shift in NYC while waiting to hear life or death news from Syria.
Hi Claire, are you all set for the festival?
Hi! Not really! I wish I was but I’m in Wales slap-bang in the middle of post-production on a new digital show for the Welsh channel and don’t really have the time I would like to dedicate to the festival. It’s such a shame as I love Berlin and I’m super excited to participate.
What does it mean for you to be at British Shorts with Salam?
I spent about a year and a half living in Berlin and it’s one of my favourite cities. I would still live there if I could figure out a way to make it work! I’m really excited to be screening my film with British shorts there. It’s a film that was made in New York, about Middle Eastern immigrants, by a Brit... it’s a film that was meant for an international audience so the more people who see it the better.
Your previous short film Noodles became a Vimeo Staff Pick, what did it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
Being a Vimeo Staff Pick was one of the biggest milestones so far in my career as a filmmaker. I’m so grateful for the recognition. It really helped establish me in the eyes of the industry and it’s amazing to get such immediate feedback and to see your film reach so many people so fast.
Tell me a little bit about Salam how did this project come about?
It was 2016. I was living in NYC as a legal immigrant. I watched the presidential election play out and it was hideous. I had already written a few drafts of the script before that but then Trump was elected and almost immediately tried to pass the Muslim ban. This served as both a catalyst and an impediment to the project. Like many people, I felt quite hopeless, but at the same time it was more important than ever to make a film that countered the negative stereotypes of immigrants– specifically Arab immigrants– being churned out.
What was the inspiration behind this film?
I had spent some time in Palestine making a couple of documentaries. The last time I was there I became friends with the English teacher at the girl’s school in the village I was staying in. When I left Fatima said to me “You’re going to forget Palestine because everybody does”. That really hit hard, and I knew I always wanted to make another film which in some way touched on the plight of the Palestinians. My main character, Salam (played by the Palestinian-Lebanese actress Hana Chamoun), is a Palestinian-Syrian living in NYC. It’s quite a complicated backstory if you really analyze it, but it’s a simple fact of life for many Palestinians in diaspora. I hope I succeeded in making a film that makes people think as well as moves them.
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Salam to life?
Money. I was awarded about 1/3 of the funds I needed to make the film by Shore Scripts but it took me months to raise another 1/3. I pressed ahead, trying to raise the remaining funds I needed… but I could just never quite seal the deal. It was almost a year of “nearly but not quite”. Of finding myself on multiple shortlists, but rarely walking away with the prize. Of knocking on doors that were ajar, but never opened. I don’t need to tell anyone who works in the industry how intensely frustrating that is. In the end, I just dived in and put the remaining 1/3 on my credit card.
Is there anything you would do differently on this project?
I would have got another producer from the beginning as a backup and support. I kind of inherited the person who has a producer credit- she was meant to be the production coordinator but ended up picking up so much slack that it was only fair to promote her. Our original producer was too distracted with other projects to do the job at all. We were seriously struggling and Sophia just put on a brave face, rolled her sleeves up and did a great job.
Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
I guess. I always wanted to tell stories. I didn’t know what form that would take until I was about 20.
As filmmakers how important is the collaborative process to you?
Collaboration is everything. Trust is everything. You should bring in a crew who are better than you at what they do and respect the hell out of them while they do their job. My DP- Nicholas Bupp, and my editor- Alec Styborski, are long-time collaborators and they are amazing. I love working with them. They’re so talented and instinctive and generous.
It’s kind of funny because collaboration is a word that I think is grossly abused in the industry. I’ve experienced people try to tell me that “collaboration” is saying yes to everything no matter how bad you think it is. That collaboration is obeying your superiors without question. That collaboration means you’re not allowed to have private conversations or express contrary opinions. That’s not a collaboration. That’s a dictatorship.
How much has your approach to your work changed since your debut short film?
I’m much more confident. In addition to making multiple films and working on a tv show as a director, I’ve worked as a script supervisor on productions of all shapes and sizes and it’s been so great in terms of giving me an insight into how other directors work and production knowledge and experience that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?
Be strong. Be kind. Be communicative. Be organized. Be brave. Have opinions. Don’t throw tantrums. Find your collaborators, hold on to them and be good to them.
What are you currently working on?
I’m in post on a new TV show in Wales but I can’t wait to get back to NYC to keep writing and working on my own projects. It’s past time for my first feature.
Finally, what do you hope people will take away from your film?