Interview: Sam Kadi, Director of The Citizen
15.10.2012 - With his feature film
debut, The Citizen, director Sam Kadi brings us a
sobering account of what Arab immigrants went through after the
September 11 attacks on the US. More than a decade later, the story
still resonates deeply with audiences, reminding us of the
after-effects of such a life-altering calamity. Before the film
screened in ADFF's New Horizon Competition, Kadi took the time to
sit with us and answer some of our questions.
You've stated that this film is close to heart as it
reflects your personal experiences in the United States. Can you
tell us more about how the story came about and how you developed
As an immigrant, this story is very personal for me. I went
through a lot when I migrated to the US, and some of those facets
were reflected in the film. I cannot take credit for the whole
story, or say that this is my story in its entirety; however it is
inspired by true events.
The script took three years to write, with the assistance of two
great co-writers, Jasmine Brown and Sam Younis, and the making of
the film took another two years, which brings us to a total of five
years creating this important film.
Is the character of Ibrahim Jarrah based on you and your
No, not really. I am glad that my life is not as dramatic as
Ibrahim Jarrah's life. However, like I said, some of the aspects of
his life were mine, but they were showcased from a new perspective
and a different angle through him. I tried to stay away from
reflecting my own issues on the character, so that the character
can form its own personality.
What are your influences as far as film and filmmaking?
How are they reflected in The Citizen?
I've always wanted to be a filmmaker and tell stories from when
I was a child. When I went to the US, I decided it was time to
study filmmaking. Some of my idols include Scorsese and Mustafa
Akkad, director of films such as The Messenger and
Omar Al Mukhtar. Scorsese is an absolute film genius with
his daring movies such as Raging Bull and
GoodFellas. These films make you dream of having that
ability and opportunity to speak up and create a voice for
yourself. The Arab world lacks that, and it is my responsibility as
an Arab who has broken into Hollywood to provide that voice for our
region. And Mustafa Akkad is my role model, who also happens to be
from Aleppo, Syria. To be able to follow in his footsteps and
become a great successful director and producer and create films
about our region would be incredible.
What might the film have to say to overseas audiences
about American politics and the American Dream?
The American dream means a lot to immigrants, and people thought
didn't exist after 9/11 - that it was unreachable, but it does
exist. It never died, because the US sits on a solid Constitution,
so it always bounces back. It may be challenging right now to chase
the dream and achieve it - but that is only because you have to try
harder to earn it.
How has the reception to the film been from festival
audiences? How do you think Arab audiences in particular will
receive your film?
I am very grateful for the incredible reception we've received
for the film so far. At the Boston Film Festival, the film screened
as a world premiere and won two awards: Best Ensemble Cast Award,
and the Mass Impact Award. I think that alone shows how positively
the film's been received - not to mention that we had a sold-out
screening and an amazing Q&A session. It was also screened in
New York at the Gotham Film Festival, and New Yorkers were very
pleased with the film. In fact, there was one lady during the
Q&A session who started crying halfway through her question,
while expressing how grateful she was to be one of the first to
watch the film, and that it should be watched by the whole world.
That meant the world to me.
My hope is that the Arab audience will receive it positively as
well, but I cannot predict their reaction just yet.
In your view, what has made Arab cinema successful in
It is definitely on the right path, I would say. And with
incredible festivals such as ADFF, DIFF, Cairo International Film
Festival and many others in the region, we are finally opening up
to exposing our films and the Arab cinema to an international
audience and at an international level. It is very refreshing to
see some of our films being screened at festivals the likes of
Cannes and Venice, but there is still a lot more to be done. We
have the talent, we need the support.
You've worked for five years on developing this film to
reflect the struggle that you and many Arabs have experienced at
the time of 9/11. Since you're Syrian, should we expect a film on
the Syrian revolution in the near future to reflect how it has
impacted you as well as Syrians and Arabs all over the
Absolutely, it's in the plan. We have to tell this story, it's
very important that it is told as soon as possible. Every
individual on the streets of Syria, every revolutionist fighting
for their country, has a story worth telling. These people have
been abandoned by the world, they have been forgotten, and it is
our fault, but we promise to do better. I call the Syrian
revolution "the mother of all revolutions" because of these
gallant, brave citizens fighting for their freedom and dignity.
The Citizen screens at VOX cinemas on Sunday 14 October
at 9:30 pm and on Monday 15 October at 9:45 pm.