Filmers from ethnic groups are shaking up local scene
Swedish director Josef Fares skips across borders and genres effortlessly. Fares’ first film, “Jalla! Jalla!,” showed legs on the specialized circuit outside Sweden; second pic “Kops” was a clean-cut comedy, very Swedish in nature; and third film “Zozo,” to bow in September, draws heavily on his immigrant background.
Fares is one of the more successful of a new group of directors from immigrant backgrounds who are beginning to make waves in the Nordic territories, chiefly Sweden and Norway.
“Sweden has come further because it has had an immigrant community longer,” says Ase Kleveland, director general of the Swedish Film Institute. Kleveland is an immigrant of sorts herself; she is from Norway and used to be that country’s minister of culture.
Swedes Reza Parsa (“Before the Storm”) and Reza Bagher (“Wings of Glass,” “Popular Music”), first-generation emigrants from Iran, began churning out pics five years ago. Swede Nahid Persson’s doc “Prostitution Behind the Veil” drew praise last year.
“Zozo,” a tale of a 12-year-old boy traveling from Lebanon to Sweden, is not autobiographical, claims Fares, who was 10 when his family made the move from Lebanon to Sweden.
While a commonly expressed immigrant experience is one of being trapped between two cultures, Fares has a different perspective. “I’m living out my own culture and that allows me to be more original,” he says.
Kleveland is expecting a new generation of filmmakers from immigrant backgrounds in the next decade, the result of an unusual program that teaches school children across Sweden how to use video cameras. “These are kids who are completely comfortable telling their stories visually,” she says.
Fares’ ability to move between genres and create his own culture, says Kleveland, underscores the fact that culture is neither static nor defined by territory. “The most exciting cultural experiences have always been created in that space of energy between the well known and the frightening, between the traditional and the futuristic.”
The parents of “Made in Yugoslavia” helmer Miko Lazic were from Yugoslavia, and Lazic himself was born there but he has lived most of his life in Sweden. The movie, distribbed by Triangelfilm for an end of September launch, is a tale of conflict be-tween father and son set against the backdrop of war in the Balkans, but it is also a story of a man trying to find his place in society.
“I’ve never felt 100% at home in either culture, that of my parents or that of Sweden, but if you try to talk about it in Sweden, they think you are making a fuss about nothing,” says Lazic.
While he has done shorts, the pic is his first feature and one he admits he has a love-hate relationship with. “I’ve been on the edge of quitting so many times, but I can’t.”
Jasenko Selimovic’s first feature, “Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo,” is set to begin lensing in the next six months. Selimovic has already earned a name for himself as a theater director in Sweden.
Othman Karim, originally from Uganda, will make his directorial debut this year with “About Sara.” His brother Baker Karim has had several films screen at Cannes, including “The Apple Tree” in 2003.
Norway has three films in the pipeline this year from directors with immigrant backgrounds, among them Khalid Hussain’s “Import Export.” Pic is being pitched as the first authentic film to come from the Norwegian Pakistani community, one of the oldest and largest immigrant groups in Norway. Hussain stirred up controversy at 16 when he published “Pakkis,” a book critical of racism in Norway. He has also written and directed Pakistani features “Dharkan” and “Jan Jan Pakistan.”
“We’ve been waiting for people from the Asian immigrant community to make their own films, but it is somewhat of a coinci-dence that there are now three concurrently for which we have high expectations,” says Jan Erik Holst, exec director of the interna-tional department at the Norwegian Film Institute.
Short and commercial director Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen’s “Izzat” is about three young boys who dream of aping the tough Bollywood stars they idolize. “Le Regard” is the first feature from award-winning filmmaker Nour-Eddine Lakhmari. Lakhmari is a Norwe-gian citizen but grew up in Morocco.
Holst points out that in Norway this new generation of filmmakers worked its way up through the ranks, without the benefit of any special quotas or considerations.
Immigrant communities are still quite new to Finland, but not to Denmark. Although there are currently no feature film lensers from immigrant backgrounds, there are doc and short filmmakers and a number of actors and actresses from ethnic minorities. “The film institute does not seek out people,” says Danish Film Institute director Henning Camre. “They have to have enough desire to express themselves that they come to us.”