You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘The Amina Profile’

This engrossing Canadian documentary weaves a cautionary tale for the Information Age.


Sandra Bagaria, Ali Abunimah, Fady Atallah, Andy Carvin, Nathalie Claude, Benjamin J. Doherty, Liz Henry, Irem Koker, Thomas J. MacMaster, Elsa Miquel, Rami Nakhla, Leila Nahas, Daniel Nassar, Danny O’Brien, Elizabeth Tsurkov, Nilay Olcay.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4370926/

A cautionary tale about the Internet that is itself massively susceptible to Internet spoilers, Canadian director Sophie Deraspe’s engrossing documentary “The Amina Profile” will be a very different movie for those who followed media reports of its subject than for those who go in cold. It concerns a blog known as “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” ostensibly the musings of a lesbian living amid Syrian unrest. What begins as an account of an online affair gradually morphs into a commentary on identity in the Information Age. With its slippery, deftly woven narrative, Deraspe’s doc could find an audience with the same viewers fascinated by “The Imposter” and “Catfish.” Its breakout potential isn’t on the same scale, though, given that the movie’s big reveal is no longer a secret.

The film begins by re-creating an online chat, spelled out onscreen, between Sandra Bagaria, a Frenchwoman living in Montreal, and Amina Arraf, who says she grew up in Syria and in the United States. (She is played by the film’s lone credited actress, Nilay Olcay, frequently photographed in the altogether or in silhouette.) Their emails and chats quickly turned steamy, and as their courtship progressed, Amina’s blog gathered an international following; Bagaria, the movie’s emcee, interviews several devoted readers in cities across the globe. Then Bagaria heard that Amina had been taken in by some sort of security force, her fate prompting concern across continents.

It was then — and here viewers concerned about preserving the movie’s secrets may want to step away — that her existence came into question. Had anyone actually met her? Various journalists, including NPR’s Andy Carvin and the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, examine the finer points of Amina’s online footprint. The Guardian comes under scrutiny for reporting on the blog without answering the fundamental question of whether its proprietor existed. Adding to the irony: It emerged that the true author, a man named Thomas J. MacMaster, had exchanged explicit messages with another noted lesbian blogger … who turned out to be man.

“The Amina Profile” thus turns on a dime from being a movie about the Syrian uprising to being a movie about the power of online influence. The blog may have caused genuine harm, as the movie suggests that media attention devoted to Amina’s posts took up journalistic real estate that might otherwise have gone to real reporting on Syria. MacMaster may have hurt the credibility of real Syrian activists. And we may all have become too trusting of what we see online. The insights the movie has aren’t exceptional; this stranger-than-fiction series of events is enough.

Toward the end, Sandra confronts MacMaster about the emotional damage he caused. (Deraspe, by delving so deeply into the intimate details of the couple’s relationship, makes that damage palpable.) Even with zero credibility, MacMaster comes across as oddly sincere. It’s a tense, unpredictable confrontation in a movie committed to telling its story in the present tense whenever possible.

The film moves fluidly between surreal enactments and the more standard talking-head footage, while composer Sam Shalabi’s Middle Eastern-flavored reverb injects a steady dose of anxiety.

Sundance Film Review: 'The Amina Profile'

Reviewed online, New York, Jan. 21, 2015. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema, competing).) Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — Canada) An Esperamos production in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada. Produced by Isabelle Couture, Nathalie Cloutier. Executive producers, Hugo Latulippe, Michel St-Cyr, Guy Villeneuve, Colette Loumede.

Crew: Directed, written by Sophie Deraspe. Camera (color, HD), Sophie Deraspe; editors, Geoffrey Boulangé, Sophie Deraspe; music, Sam Shalabi; sound, Frederic Cloutier; visual effects, Elise Simard; associate producer, Jean-Philippe Massicotte.


Sandra Bagaria, Ali Abunimah, Fady Atallah, Andy Carvin, Nathalie Claude, Benjamin J. Doherty, Liz Henry, Irem Koker, Thomas J. MacMaster, Elsa Miquel, Rami Nakhla, Leila Nahas, Daniel Nassar, Danny O’Brien, Elizabeth Tsurkov, Nilay Olcay.

More Film

  • Colin Firth

    Colin Firth's Fantasy-Drama 'The Secret Garden' Bought by STX

    STXFilms has acquired North American distribution rights to “The Secret Garden,” a movie adaptation of the beloved children’s novel that was in development at Global Road Entertainment for the past year. The film stars Oscar winner Colin Firth and Julie Walters. Marc Munden (“The Crimson Petal and the White”) directs from a script by Jack [...]

  • Frank Grillo Hell on the Border

    Frank Grillo Signs With CAA (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Purge” star Frank Grillo has signed with CAA for representation, sources tell Variety. Grillo’s long list of credits includes “The Purge: Anarchy,” “The Purge: Election Year,” “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Wheelman,” and “Warrior.” On the TV side, he was the star of the Audience drama series “Kingdom,” which also starred [...]

  • The Top 10 Portrayals of Record

    The Dirt on Rock's Great Enablers: 10 Memorable Screen Portrayals of Record Execs

    In the Netflix biopic “The Dirt,” Pete Davidson of “Saturday Night Live” fame portrays A&R exec Tom Zutaut, the man who signed Motley Crue to Elektra and Guns N’ Roses to Geffen, while veteran character actor David Costabile (“The Wire,” “Billions”) is manager Doc McGhee. They follow in a long and illustrious line of label [...]

  • Korea Box Office: "Money" Wins Debut

    Korea Box Office: 'Money' Defeats 'Captain Marvel'

    Korean crime drama “Money” debuted on top of the South Korean box office, preventing “Captain Marvel” from topping the chart for three consecutive weekends. It is the story of a young stockbroker who dreams of riches but becomes caught in a stock market scam. Opening on Wednesday, the Showbox release earned $12.0 million from 1.54 [...]

  • Us Movie

    'Us' Cements the Box Office Power of Jordan Peele

    Given the breakout success of “Get Out,” it’s no surprise audiences were salivating to see the next nightmare from the mind of writer-director Jordan Peele. “Get Out,” which landed a screenwriting Oscar for Peele, became one of the most profitable movies of 2017 (grossing $255 million globally on a $4.5 million budget) after the horror [...]

  • Box Office Film Placeholder

    China Box Office: Taiwan's 'More Than Blue' Wins Second Weekend

    Taiwanese melodrama, “More Than Blue” held strong at the Chinese box office, to secure a second week of success. The film is a Chinese-language remake of a Korean film from 2009, involving Singapore’s MM2 and the filmmaking arm of Fox Networks. With little in the way of strong, new competition, “blue” scored $27 million, according [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content