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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.”

Arts & Culture

MINNESOTA: Gustavus professor, student to show documentary on Somali-Americans

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Southern Minn — The hopes and experiences of several Somali-Americans are shown in “(Mid)west of Somalia,” a documentary by a professor-student team at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The film will be shown in its first local public showing at 7 p.m. March 1 at St. Peter High School Performing Arts Center.

Communications studies professor Martin Lang said it was project he embarked on, knowing there was more to the Somali-American story than the reports about terrorism recruitment or conflicts with new neighbors.

“As I’ve lived here in St. Peter for a dozen years now, I’ve come to know more and more of the population in St. Peter and the Somali population in particular,” he said. “I’ve come to know diverse sides of them. It was such a contrast with what I had learned and had known about Somali immigrants smashed up against the people I was meeting and I knew I can’t be the only one surprised at what is below the surface here.”

He and student Noah O’Ryan did the bulk of filming in the summer of 2016.

They talked with Somali-American community leaders as well as people they knew personally, and those connections helped them network more widely. The documentary subjects are all at least part-time students with at least part-time jobs. They primarily live in Mankato or St. Peter; a few are from Faribault.

Lang said they didn’t set out for the film to focus on people pursuing education. He suspects that is a product of the location and so many young Somali-Americans are seeking to do their best.

“Education is a really high priority for Somali families, especially for the first generation,” he said. “The millennial generation feels a really strong responsibility to do right by the family’s sacrifice.”

Lang said Somali-Americans are like many Minnesotans. They value education, want their hard work and effort respected and intend to be “fully fledged, contributing members of our communities in a variety of ways,” he said.

Hanan Mohamud is a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College from Faribault. She is pursuing a psychology degree and wants to be a physician’s assistant. She’s one of the Somali-Americans profiled in the documentary.

She was approached by Lang about being in the film a few years after she was in his public discourse class. She agreed to be involved because “It was empowering and I had a lot to say.” She also connected him to two others.

Mohamud said she agreed, in part, to combat demeaning stereotypes.

“Most people honestly have no idea,” she said. “They think we’re living off welfare and whatnot. A lot of us go to school and only came to the country to get an education.”

Education is something that can’t be taken away and can help their home country. She said the documentary shows what she and others have experienced in the U.S., along with their aspirations and their priorities.

“It’s a very good film,” Mohamud said. “There’s some humor in it and, obviously, there are serious parts. It looked well put-together and he made sure the voices of people he was filming were well heard.”

Some of the documentary’s subjects will be part of a panel with Lang after the showing. The documentary, which runs about 35 minutes, has been shown a few times to small groups, but this is the first large public viewing.

The showing comes as part of the first Thursday film series by the Nicollet County Historical Society and Community and Family Education. It is also sponsored by the college, city Department of Leisure and Recreation Services and Senior Center.

“I think this is an important film because it tells the story of people who live, work, and attend school in this area,” Community and Family Education Director Tami Skinner said. “I hope that it will generate conversations in the community which will lead people to reach out to their new neighbors.”

Lang said he hopes it spurs understanding and conversation.

“The bigger picture for me is communication and dialog and in sort of a difficult political time, dialog is so much harder than it used to be,” he said. “It’s so important for all of us to be able to talk and pay attention to each other at least a little bit. I want to inspire conversation across divides that keep us apart.”

I think this is an important film because it tells the story of people who live, work, and attend school in this area. I hope that it will generate conversations in the community which will lead people to reach out to their new neighbors.

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Arts & Culture

David Bowie’s Widow Iman attends Black Panther premiere

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DAILY MAIL — She has made a gradual return to the social scene, after taking some time away from the limelight, following the January 2016 death of her husband David Bowie.

And Iman showed off the supermodel prowess that first caught the eye of her late rocker husband, when she attended a special screening of Black Panther of Tuesday.

The 62-year-old beauty looked radiant as she arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in a shimmering silver floor-length gown, which she teamed with a stylish head wrap.

She has made a gradual return to the social scene, after taking some time away from the limelight, following the January 2016 death of her husband David Bowie.

And Iman showed off the supermodel prowess that first caught the eye of her late rocker husband, when she attended a special screening of Black Panther of Tuesday.

The 62-year-old beauty looked radiant as she arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in a shimmering silver floor-length gown, which she teamed with a stylish head wrap.

Iman made a triumphant return to the spotlight last year, following the death of her beloved husband David in January 2016.

Last summer, she paid a moving tribute to the late musical icon on what would have been the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary.

The Somalia-born beauty shared a post to remember her singer love, who tragically died aged 69 after a secret battle with liver cancer.

Alongside a black and white picture of the pair, a short piece of text read: ‘I would walk forever, just to be in your arms again.’

The image was captioned by Iman with the simple words: ‘June 6th #BowieForever’.

Bowie and Iman officially married in Switzerland in April 1992, but held a church ceremony in Italy on June 6 of that year.

They had one daughter together, Alexandria, who’s now 17. She is also the mother of 39-year-old daughter Zulekha, from her marriage to marriage to former basketball star Spencer Haywood.

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KENYA

Kenyan and German filmmakers celebrate Oscar nod

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TRT — “Watu Wote” is one of the first Kenyan films to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.

“Watu Wote” means “All of Us” in Swahili, the language spoken in Kenya. It depicts the true story of an extremist terror attack on a bus in the country.

Al Shabab militants attacked the bus in north-eastern Kenya just before Christmas, on December 21, 2015.

During the attack, some of the Muslim passengers helped shield and save the lives of a group of their fellow Christian passengers.

The incident inspired German film students to make a film about the attack.

“Oh, it just feels surreal, still,” said director Katja Benrath of the nomination.

The students had read about the attack in the German newspapers and decided to tell the story, based on its message of humanity and solidarity.

The film competes against four other films in the Best Live Action Short Film category at the 90th Academy Awards on March 4 2018 in Los Angeles.

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