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“The news only gives these snapshots of famine, piracy, terrorists, but oh my god, the Somali people are so funny,” says director Bryan Buckley of the adventure tale, based on Jay Bahadur’s early career.

“You know those out-of-body experiences where you look around and say, ‘This shit isn’t happening to me?”

That’s said by Evan Peters in Dabka, the absurd adventure tale in which an incredibly inexperienced Canadian reporter spontaneously embeds himself in Somalia with the lofty goal of writing a book. It’s a line that could probably be applied to the entire movie, as a heavily bearded Peters is shown laughing with government leaders, chewing khat leaves with pirates and never getting shot while abroad.

But Dabka, which makes its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, is quite closely based on the true story of Jay Bahadur, the notable journalist who wrote the book on Somali pirates and has advised the U.S. State Department on the matter. His engaging Daily Show with Jon Stewart interview caught the eye of Bryan Buckley, the seasoned Super Bowl spot helmer who craved a Somali-centric feature after his Oscar-nominated 2012 short Asad.

“Jay’s plight is insanity — who would do that?” writer-director Buckley tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But he was born to be a reporter: insightful and fearless to an astounding degree. It truly is crazy, what he pulled off, and subsequently since then.”

But beyond the opportunity to tell Bahadur’s fish-out-of-water narrative was a higher priority: to fully capture the Somali culture often overshadowed by headlines of violence and terror. “The news only gives these snapshots of famine, piracy, terrorists, but oh my god, the Somali people are so funny,” he explains. “They’re busting on us, on each other, they laugh so much. They will call you out in a heartbeat; they will not hold anything in. The people as a whole come from a good place.”

Adds Peters who portrays Bahadur, “The Somali people are real people with families and a fascinating clan culture, and they’re constantly talking and laughing, despite any hardship had in the country. These people maintain a sense of humor about life that’s beautiful and inspiring.”

Most importantly, the script’s authentic portrayal earned the approval of Barkhad Abdi, the Somali actor who broke out with his Oscar-nominated performance in the Tom Hanks thriller Captain Phillips. “The Somali culture is welcoming, that’s who we are,” says Abdi, who portrays Bahadur’s guide. “I honestly didn’t want to do another pirate movie, but this explains the whole pirate situation in depth: their motivations and how they’re people outside of the society. They’re not living amongst everyone like kings; they’re just trying to make money. It even helped me understand this whole thing.”

Before the 29-day shoot in the scorching heat of South Africa came the casting of Somali non-actors, most of whom are refugees. “Barkhad was instrumental — he’s like Marlon Brando to the Somalis; he’s a legend and he’s the man,” recalls Buckley. “He worked with all the first-time actors and built their confidence, and served as a translator at times.”

The film also includes footage of Somalia shot by Bahadur, plus animation sequences of various backstories and heightened inner-monologue moments. And the only fictitious character is an editorial mentor played by Al Pacino. Buckley stresses, “The biggest thing is making sure we’re accurately capturing the culture, and not doing anything to further stereotypes.”

Peters says Dabka has changed his worldview. “It was an immersive experience and I really had an amazing time with them,” he explains. “I was ignorant — it’s all happening while you get your coffee and hang out with your friends, there are families over there suffering. It opened my eyes and makes me much more empathetic to their plight and situation.”

Ahead of Thursday’s world premiere, Abdi tells THR, “I’m so excited for the world to see this movie. I hope people understand the hospitality of the Somali people who put their lives at risk to keep this guy safe. They had been working hard to establish some sort of law or government in Somalia for a very long time, but the pirates and the thieves gets more credit. I want people to appreciate those who are doing anything possible.”

Buckley hopes the acquisition title (via UTA and Bankside Films) translates to various audiences, especially those who echo Donald Trump’s stance on refugees in the U.S. “If this film reaches the very Midwest voters who were fearful of this, I think they’d actually look at the refugee ban slightly differently,” he says. “Jay is a really good example of bringing change, and we all have the capability to do it. And in Hollywood, we’re all in a position of actually helping people understand each other better. But you can’t accurately talk about a conflict if you don’t even begin to understand the culture.”

DOCUMENTARY FILMS

Aamir Khan: The snake charmer – Witness

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Aamir Khan is one of the most popular and influential Bollywood actors in India today. He became a star of Hindi cinema in the 1980s, and his greatest commercial successes have been the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time.

Yet in 2012, Khan’s career took an unexpected turn. Together with a childhood friend, he created a TV series called Satyamev Jayate which became the first prime time TV show in India to expose the country’s most critical social issues – from rape to female foeticide and dowry killings.

Aamir Khan was used to portraying macho men on a quest for vengeance and belongs to an industry accused of denigrating women and encouraging sexual violence.

But now, the 48 year old actor with Peter Pan charm risks his career by challenging men to re-examine their attitudes and behavior towards women, confronting the spiraling wave of gender-based violence in India and defying age-old stereotypes.

The snake charmer follows Khan on a journey through India’s TV and Bollywood film industry, as he attempts to change the way Indians perceive and treat women.

From the set of Satyamev Jayate, the film follows Aamir Khan backstage to his new Bollywood blockbuster Dangal.

Khan’s quest ultimately opens a window into a country in crisis and into the changes it is undergoing.

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Arts & Culture

Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities

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Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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Movies

A Young Somali Finds Refuge in UK, and Boxing

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Charlie Watts, a young filmmaker based in Manchester, has created a powerful short documentary called STRIVE, which tells the story of Idris Ahmed, a refugee desperate to improve his life, and that of his family.

Ahmed, originally from Somalia, was born into violence, with civil war ravaging his country.

In the film, Ahmed recalls his early memories from Somalia. “I was seeing the majority of the time dead people,” he says. “It becomes normal when you are hearing gunshots every night.”

In boxing, Ahmad found a way of channeling his anger and pain, and coping with these challenges. Now a young man, he dreams of taking his passion in life to the next level. “I am at a point where I have something, and I want to achieve great things,” he says. “I’m gonna keep going.”

“I just want to live my life to the fullest,” he adds.

“I am at a point where I have something, and I want to achieve great things”

STRIVE beautifully tells the story of Ahmad’s journey from childhood to adulthood in the UK. The film captures the challenges of dislocation and the resilience and perseverance of refugees.  It is set to premier in London next month.

You can find out more about Charlie’s work on his website: http://www.charliewatts32.com

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