All Somali cast carries film to the Oscars
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It is heartening to see several African movies up for an Oscar nomination. There is ‘Nairobi Half Life‘ and now, ‘Asad‘.
‘Asad‘ is a short film written and directed by famed commercial director Bryan Buckley of Hungry Man Films. The film received an Academy Award nomination on 10 January 2013, landing it one step closer to film’s highest honor: an Oscar.
Asad centers on the title character, a 12-year-old lad in a war-torn fishing village in Somalia. Asad must decide between falling into the pirate life or rising above it to choose the path of an honest fisherman. Sparked in part by a United Nations short documentary, ‘No Autographs’, which brought Buckley and his producer Mino Jarjoura to refugee camps in Kenya and Sudan in the summer of 2010.
Buckley and Jarjoura encountered Somali refugees in Kakuma, Kenya. “Their stories and their outlook on life haven’t been fully told and haven’t gained the exposure they deserve,” Buckley said at a screening during the TriBeCa Film Festival. He noted that media have a fascination with the Somali pirates and to a lesser extent with the Al-Shabaab [Islamic extremists] group in the Southern territory of Somalia but as a result the spirit of the everyday people themselves gets overlooked.
‘Asad‘ was shot in South Africa since lensing in Somalia would have been too dangerous. It is spoken in Somali (with English subtitles), and stars two young leads: Harun (14) and Ali (12), both Somali refugees. They reside just outside Cape Town, South Africa with their parents and 13 brothers and sisters.
Neither boy spoke English nor had they ever attended school, so they were illiterate. Buckley and Jarjoura had to deploy a translator and the youngsters had to memorize their Somali lines sans a script or written point of reference.
These reading challenges kept them from being eligible for any type of formal schooling in South Africa. The filmmakers were diligent in looking for alternate options and were able to set up a special school, just for the boys. They finance a full-time tutor for the boys and they attend daily lessons in a make-shift school at the tutor’s house. All prize money Asad receives from festivals goes towards the boys’ school expenses. Since March 2012, the boys have gone from illiteracy to excelling in the fourth grade, in English.
“There are thousands of refugees just like these two boys who could achieve similar success if just given the chance,” Buckley has stated. This educational experiment has caught the eye of the South African government and the United Nations.
The filmmakers are now trying to find a way to make it possible for the boys to make it America for the Oscars. It is a challenge as Harun and Ali are not permitted to travel without special permission. The idea is that, with the movie at the Oscars, it will help highlight the plight of refugees. It will be interesting to watch this develop.