Interview: Sam Kadi (Director ‘The Citizen’) – Gotham Screen International Film Festival

An Arab immigrant wins the American green card lottery and arrives in New York City on September 10, 2001.

Yearning to leave behind his life of misfortune in the Middle East, Ibrahim Jarrah wins the US Green Card lottery for a chance to become an American citizen. But the events of the September 11 terrorist attacks forever change the country he has landed in, and shape the struggles he faces on his journey to capture the American dream.

We talked with ‘The Citizen‘ Director Sam Kadi in anticipation of the films Sunday, October 7 screening at NYC’s famed Quad Cinema.  The film stars Khaled Nabawy, Agnes Bruckner, Rizwan Manji, William Atherton, Cary Elwes

Well, it’s a New York story and we wanted to share it with New Yorkers first, so the timing of the festival worked perfectly for us. Also, we were looking for an intellectual and reputable NY film festival. Gotham Film Festival fits the bill.

What were your experiences with the festival (if any)?
No previous experience. However, we are honored to be part of it and are looking forward to sharing this unique story with the people of New York.

Will you be attending personally?
Yes, and will have a Q/A after the screening.

Does any aspect of the film come from personal experiences?
As an immigrant myself, I feel this story is very personal. The film is inspired by true stories, some of which are mine.

Can you tell us a little about the development process of the film?
Three years to write and two years to make. Five years of my life working on “The Citizen” to deliver an entertaining and unique perspective that has never been seen before on the big screen. 3K Pictures along with our executive producer Ameer Kabour, who believed in the message, came through in a big way along with other investors to make the film happen. I worked with a great team that I am proud to be part of.

How did the idea come about? How long was production?
The idea was inspired by the American dream. The dream that some people thought would never exist after the 9/11 events. However, I always believed that this dream would never die, not even for an immigrant who walks in to this country the day before the 9/11 attacks. This country was built right, and stands on a solid foundation, so we will always learn from experience and bounce back stronger than ever. I felt this story needed to be told and three years later, “The Citizen” was born.

What was the most difficult part of getting ‘THE CITIZEN’ produced?
Funding is always difficult for an independent film and especially for a first time filmmaker. Luckily the right executives and producers came on board to make it happen. Secondly, the international cast for a small budget film like ours was a huge challenge but out team made it happen. Our cast included Egyptian star Khaled Nabawy, British actor Cary Elwes, Canadian actor Rizwan Manji along with great American actors like our lead actress Agnes Bruckner and William Atherton. It is a great cast and we are proud that we won the Best Ensemble Cast at the Boston Film Festival last week along with the Mass Impact Award at the same festival.

What is your experience like with the New York City film scene?
It was an amazing experience shooting in NY. It’s always hard to shoot in a big city, especially with little resources. However, it ends up being your best and most valuable footage. It definitely takes your film to a different level, especially if you shot in a city like New York – incredible city!

How would you describe the general sentiment towards independent filmmaking where you are?
Here in Michigan we are blessed with a great pool of talented, motivated filmmakers and a great film incentive that can offer more than 30% cash back on what you spend in the state. This is the right environment for an indie filmmaker.

Who are some of your creative influences?  How have these influences found their way into your own creative work?
There are so many filmmakers that I admire and was influenced by like Ron Howard, Ridley Scott, David Fincher and others. However, my hero is Martin Scorsese! His unforgettable work in movies like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver made me appreciate filmmaking and storytelling. This appreciation was followed by a determination to become a filmmaker and to make movies that resonate with people.

Please tell us a little about how life in New York (and America) has changed for immigrants over the last 10+ years? How does this film enter into the discussion as to the re definition of ‘The American Dream’?
The events in the last 10 years made the American Dream harder to achieve not only for immigrants but also for Americans themselves, but that only means that we should work harder to earn the dream and not lose hope. In our first screening, I had a women in her 60s who waited after the screening until I came out from back stage just to tell me, “Sam, your film brought back to me this feeling, that I lost twenty years ago, about who I am, what I can do, and what this country is all about“. This is what “The Citizen” can offer, a message of hope, love and perseverance; the qualities that make a true Citizen. “The Citizen” made the human connection and this is what matters the most.

Purchase tickets for ‘THE CITIZEN’ – HERE

October 4 -14, 2012

@ Quad Cinema & Tribeca Grand


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