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The Winds That Scatter
2015, 80m, drama
Ahmad is a refugee from Syria, holding wishes of starting his own taxi service. When he loses his menial employment at a gas station, he attempts to navigate through the current American economy with optimism. Soon, reality begins to set in as consistent work is scarce. It slowly begins to take a toll on his relationships, faith, and sense of self, with his dream slipping quickly from his grasp.
Produced by: Mohammad Dagman
Cast: Ahmad Chahrour, Mohammad Dagman, Reginald L. Barnes
10 questions with The Winds That Scatter director, Christopher Bell at the half-way mark.
Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
1For those of us that don't know the feeling, Winds that Scattter sheds a tremendous amount of of light on the experiences of a refugee. What was it that made you want to make this film? Very early on I had wanted to make a film about this gas station attendant in my hometown. He had the perfect presence for what I wanted to do -- a slow, meditative film -- but I didn't have the guts to approach him. I started writing anyway. Crazy enough, I took that initial inspiration and started driving around, asking gas station attendants if they wanted to be in a movie. I ended up meeting an Egyptian Muslim man who agreed to do it. Just the image of a Middle-Eastern man working at an American gas station was a powerful statement, This was around the time of the Arab Spring, too. So I had long talks with him and we fleshed the outline out, and now the film was saying a lot about what I thought needed to be said about our country (and world) post 9/11.
I was a critic at the time so I was seeing a lot of indies that starred white dudes my age. And the indies (the no budget ones) even started creatingtheir own stars. A-list, B-list. This is healthy, but at the same time, everyone was young, white, etc. And I noticed that, in cinema, across-the-board you weren't seeing Arab or Muslim characters in any sort of positive or even regular light. I wanted to rail against this.
2Your lead actor (Ahmad Chahrour) does an incredible job. How did you meet, has he acted before and what was it like working together? Thank you! Ahmad really is amazing.
The Egyptian man I mentioned above ended up getting cold feet so I had to start looking elsewhere. There were a lot of fits and starts, but eventually I found Nasri Zacharia, who plays the guitar in the house scene early in the film. I think this was via a Craigslist ad. Nasri was a filmmaker and put me in touch with his friend/actor Mohammad Dagman, who I ended up casting and bringing on as a producer. He lead me to Ahmad, whom he knew from attending UN demonstrations like the one in the film. Both Mohammad and Ahmad helped give the script life.
Ahmad hadn't acted before, and he may never act again! It's a shame in a way, but I get it. I wish him all the best and couldn't be more thankful that we did this together.
Working together was great. He was very patient with us -- we were the tiniest crew ever (usually just myself and my cinematographer Paul Taylor) and I insisted on locations that weren't always the easiest to get to. But he was very receptive to direction and says so much with one simple expression.
3One important aspect of this film that is that it paints a very different picture of Middle Eastern men vesus how they are portrayed in mainstream movies and TV. How important was it for you to show Middle Eastern men in a different light? Very important. I think it's our responsibility not only as artists, but as artists in this particular country to do things like that. I remember Mohammad Dagman told me that if Hollywood just started casting Middle Eastern actors as heroes or whatever, ISIS would collapse. What we see in cinema and television has a great impact on our psyches, of course, but I don't think we realize how much it actually shapes our world view, prejudices, etc.
4The scene with the snake is almost a perfect metaphor for the film. Did you imagine that scene would work out as well as it did? I'd be lying if I said I didn't. You have a long shot like that, of course it's going to shake people up.
I just remember that my uncle had a snake when I was growing up, and when he'd feed him, the family would gather around and watch. It's just what you did. And at screenings, those who did have a snake would confirm it. That said, it is kind of a strange thing to do (a ritual?), and that's what pushed me to including it in the film.
And of course you have this sequence that is really striking, it acts as a very obvious metaphor. And I think you can ascribe different things to it. Maybe it's a bit too catch-all. But I will say that aside from my childhood experience with the snake feedings, I also read a lot about Syria and the Middle East in general. And a lot of politicians, generals, etc. would always refer to some country there, or some leader there, as a "snake" that needed to be cut off. Always this talk of the "other" as a "snake." It kept cropping up constantly, so it reinforced my decision to have the scene in the film.
A snake eating is nature. I hope this does not take away from what Ahmad is going through.
5One has to feel for Ahmad deeply. We want things to work out for him and you get an accurate sense of what he is up against. Did you go through something similar to bring some truth to this experience? Sure, I graduated from film school in massive debt and couldn't get a job for a long time. When I did, I was a security guard -- maybe the least intimidating security guard there ever could be -- paid very little. I had to postpone my student loan payments for a couple of years.
So I wasn't pampered, but still, this was nothing compared to what Ahmad goes through in the film, what he's gone through in his real life, or what any refugee goes through. Or what anyone in the Middle East goes through, for that matter.
I found this truth through conversation, collaboration. There's plenty of movies on how much it sucks right after you graduate college. I do think that those feelings are definitely worthy to talk about -- they exist, you can't just ignore them, bury them -- but again, I felt no need to contribute to that. The story of a Syrian Muslim man in post 9/11 America seemed much more necessary to me.
6The scene where Ahmad finds the wreckage in the park and sees the hot air balloon is wonderful. This is the first time you see him forget his troubles and simply smile. What is it about films that show that kind of restraint that appeals to you? I think because it allows you to come to them on your own terms, in a way. I love slow cinema, I feel that those works can be incredibly immersive. At the same time, they can really distance you, pull you out of the film. You start thinking about things -- maybe not about the film, but I believe the film charges you and leads your thoughts to places that they normally wouldn't go.
Is this crazy talk? Maybe!
7What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? I don't know what that particular *one* would be as I watched a lot of movies and TV shows growing up. I do know that I used to shoot movies with my cousins and did sketch comedy with my friends, so when college came up I was like "I want to learn how to do this properly." When I entered my film program, I really knew nothing about cinema. Absolutely nothing.
So the film(s) that I saw in college that made me the filmmaker that I am today, or want to be, was probably Code Unknown by Michael Haneke and Syndromes and A Century by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. They were both very eye opening for me. And this continues to happen, too: The White Balloon, A Moment of Innocence, Tarkovsky, Evil Dead 2, A Report on the Party and Their Guests, Possession, Three Resurrected Drunkards, La Commune, Chantel Akerman, Elephant, The Finishing Line, Oasis, Sunrise, Le Bonheur, etc.
8This is a perfect film for Fandependent. It is, in a business sense, probably considered a film that is not commercially viable: There are subtitles, it's slower paced, the lead is a foreign and unknown late forties male... and yet, it is a story that needs to be told. What are your thoughts on what makes a film "commercial?" I feel like that most people have no idea what they're talking about. Always, but especially in this "biz." And I don't mean for that to be insulting, I just mean that when people throw their opinions around like that... it's just really hard to figure out what's going to "catch on." Impossible, even. But this is a micro-indie film, so it's already only going to go so far. So why should I sanitize it and make it more commercial?
I came to these thoughts maybe a year or two ago. Why should I try to make my micro-indie super clean, sanitized, polished? What's the point? Why not try new things, experiment, explore stories that I think need to be told. These films are financed mostly by myself, so I'm not really beholden to anybody but myself as far as money goes. It feels like a waste of time to make something that I don't find interesting. I'm not going to pretend that I'm a genius, a trend-setter, someone that is doing things nobody else is doing, but I also don't know why I would ever want to do an American film, ostensibly a romantic comedy, with some random B&C-list actors in them. It's not my cup of tea, and while I won't declare them all to be bad, it just isn't my thing.
9What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot and how did you accomplish it? Many scenes were just a logistical nightmare. Ahmad was only available one day a week, and for something like the hot air balloon, the weather needed to be perfect.
Aside from schedules lining up and actually getting to certain locations, filming was a breeze.
10What's next? My second feature is a hybrid, chimera, whatever... narrative/doc film called Incorrectional. That'll be out late this year or next. I'm also working on a bunch of short films here and there, they'll be released every couple of months. Hopefully will start work on my third feature this Summer!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time. The film is about the evolution of a couple's relationship, and was shot in three different countries over the course of a decade.
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