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Rejected By Sundance #8: Arab Immigrant's Life Is Turned Upside Down In Anouar Smaine's 'Sharia'

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 13, 2014 at 11:34AM

Rejected By Sundance #8: Arab Immigrant's Life Is Turned Upside Down In Anouar Smaine's 'Sharia'
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Sharia

First here's a quick recap on what this is all about, for those who missed last week's announcement:

The 2014 Sundance Film Festival titles have been announced in the various categories, and so we now know who made the cut. But what about those many thousands who submitted their films and didn't get in? If you're one of them, here's a chance for you to let us know who you are.

For the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, 118 feature-length films were selected, representing 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers, including 34 in competition. These films were selected from 12,218 submissions (72 more than for 2013), including 4,057 feature-length films and 8,161 short films. Of the feature film submissions, 2,014 were from the U.S. and 2,043 were international. 97 feature films at the Festival will be world premieres.

So really somewhere between 1% and 3% of total submissions were selected. Those are minuscule numbers. So that also means that there are roughly 97% of you remaining, with projects that didn't get into the festival. And YOU are the folks we want to hear from!

Of interest to those of us on this blog (see the name and tagline of the blog at the top of page if you're new here) are films by and/or about people of African descent. So, if you or your film fit the bill, we'd love to hear from you!

At the very least, it'll be great just to know you exist, so that we can become familiar with you and your work, and track from here-on.

So, if you agree, feel free to send me an email to obensont@gmail.com, with all the vitals about you and your film, and we'll go from there.

The above was posted 4 weeks ago, and since then, I've received several emails in response, which I've been highlighting (see the first piece HERE; the second HERE; the third piece HERE; the 4th HERE; the 5th HERE; the 6th HERE; and the 7th HERE).

Today's submission comes from LA-based Algerian writer/director Anouar H. Smaine - a 46 minute film titled Sharia

As an aside, I'll say that a 46-minute film would be tough to program in any festival. Is it a short? Is it a feature? Technically, by definition, it's a short film (anything under an hour is typically considered a short). But at 46 minutes, without having seen the film yet (I will shortly, as Anouar sent me a private link to it), I'll guess that its length is maybe one of the reasons why Sundance didn't take it. At that length, you're better off either adding another 20 to 30 minutes to make it feature length, or trimming at least 20 minutes to make it much shorter. Ideally, the proverbial sweetspot would be in the 10 to 15-minute range, for short films.

All that said, here's the email Anouar sent to me on Sharia.

My name is Anouar H. Smaine, I'm an independent filmmaker of North African descent (Algeria), based in Los Angeles, CA.

I was reading some articles on Indiewire and saw your pieces regarding films that were rejected by Sundance this year, mine was one of them, so I thought I would shoot you an e-mail to introduce myself and the kind of work I do.

I submitted to Sundance this year, a film I directed and produced titled "Sharia" (meaning "Islamic Law").

The film aims to bring understanding not about religion, but rather about people that may come from a part of the world where such religion is practiced, but who do not necessarily intend to live their lives according to it

The synopsis of the film is as follows:

Sofiane is an Arab immigrant who lives in the US away from religion, customs, and traditions of his native land. Sofiane's world is turned upside down when his American wife; Heather, starts making drastic changes in her spiritual beliefs and lifestyle. Although not really excited about Heather's decision, Sofiane puts up an act in front of her to look supportive. But as time goes by, Heather's religious practices start to bring back to him old memories of painful experiences, and threaten to unearth a past Sofiane thought was buried forever.

Director's statement:

I have often wondered about how I could put my combined life experiences and education to good use where they can really inspire, and make a difference. I wanted to somehow find a way to promote collaboration, dialogue, and understanding among people regardless of their race, beliefs, life visions and philosophies, and what better way than taking a shot at that through a life long passion; filmmaking. 
The idea behind "Sharia" is the fact that life is really unpredictable, bizarre, funny, and sad at the same time. When identities are rejected, lost, or reversed, just as it is the case in our film, confusion takes place causing people , through complex situations and trials, to ask themselves tough questions to make things right for the sake of the most important thing of all; love. 
I'd written the story first as a comedy, but as I was developing the two main characters of Heather and Sofiane, the story made more sense as a drama or somewhat a mix of the two, so it could reflect the serious issues and challenges faced by both our characters as well as the comedic element that's part of our humanity.
 Making "Sharia" was a challenge due to the subject matter of the story, but the relevance of its universal human message was well worth the effort. 
I look forward to watching "Sharia" among different audiences here at home and around the world to see how it will be received and perceived.

To learn more, the film's website is: http://www.shariamovie.com.

I'll be watching it some time this week and will update this post once I do, with my thoughts.

In the meantime, check out the film's trailer below:

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival


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