‘Dabka” tells the story of Canadian wanna-be journalist Jay (Evan Peters), who after an encounter with his journalist idol (Al Pacino) goes to Somalia to try to capture a unique story of the unraveled Pirates situation in the country’s coast.
When naive young journalist arrives in the country, in 2008 the cargo vessel MV Faina has just been hijacked. Based on a true story, “Dabka” follows the journey of Jay Bahadur into a country he has no business being in. A local fixer and translator (Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi) support the Canadian hoping he can write about the real Somalis.
We sat down with director Bryan Buckley and actor Barkhad Abdi to talk about creating authentic stories, breaking through stereotypes, meaning behind Dabka and more.
‘Dabka” screens as part of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in its Spotlight Narrative April 27 – 30 at various venues around New York City. Find more information about the film – HERE
What made you decide to do this project, was it the “Unfortunately” idea, Somalia or Jay Bahadur story?
Bryan Buckley: Jay is really the embodiment of the guy who I just feel was the essentials of the advancement of culture. Basically, those risk takers that go out and make a difference and not necessarily have things based on a degree or something lined up. If you look at Barkhad as he ended up as an actor, it’s a perfect example. I never saw that plunged into something in a creative role. Jay to me represented someone who wanted to go about something, he came back with a book “The Pirates of Somalia” where he really wanted to open people’s minds. Ultimately a reporter, a kid that just came out of school, working in his basement. I thought if I could do that, go to another culture, just like Jay and change, or at least help some people understand with the platform of the film. I think bringing an understanding in this period of time is critical.
How did you get involved in the film?
Barkhad Abdi: Luckily Bryan didn’t tell me to audition. I fell in love with the script, then I had to read the book and it was such an important story for Somali people and the world. After “Captain Phillips”, this story was vital for people to understand who we really are. The writing inspires me, the warm portrayal of Somalia and the Democratic aspect.
The film has a strong message about not judging the people by its government. Were you trying to make a political statement?
Bryan: No actually. I think I was just trying, to tell the truth, in all fairness, this was the best understanding I have. It is good and bad in this world and there is the in between. In order for it to become political, we start saying there is only one thing. If I present to you a spectrum then you start looking at things differently, maybe we break down the understanding and that to me was the goal of this movie. I wanted viewers to not look at this little country -Somalia the same way ever again. When I did the short “Asad” (The short film was nominated for an Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards and received 7 wins), our first screening of the film had ten people. At the second screening, ten people came and I remember at the end of the second screening, a person from the State Department came over to me. He said he was in both screenings, started asking us all these questions about Somalia. I start realizing that he’s been sent by the government to Somalia and all these other countries and all of the sudden I am the expert on Somalia. I’m not, but that’s going to some database and start to influence our policies so put that into a feature film, get the right smart people around, like Barkhad and every one of us can start digging those things.
You play the local fixer and are from Somalia. When the Canadian reporter arrives you tell him not do give the thumbs-up, as it’s offensive to Somalis. At the end, you tell him you were kidding and give him the thumbs-up. Was it challenging to impersonate a culture and at the same time avoid playing the stereotype?
Barkhad: Of course working in this movie, it can be challenging. The stereotypes get to people, but at the same time as we did in this movie, it should not get to you. What is interesting is that gesture is not offensive to our people.
Bryan: As far as that gesture we did, which is a stereotype, apparently isn’t. I had the thumbs-up in the original script as an offense to the culture and I found that in Wikipedia. Then I go to the group sessions where everyone’s around and start laughing. They tell me the script is great but that being offensive is not real, so everyone throughout the shoot was giving me the thumbs-up. I rewrote the ending and it came back around. That was a perfect example of misinformation, I literally was living that moment. It’s actually still on Wikipedia, if you go there you can see thumbs-up as being offensive to Somalis.
Why did you choose Dabka as the title?
Bryan: The original name of the script was “Where the white man runs away” which is a chapter of Jay’s book. It worked really well to get someone to read the script, but the message to me was wrong, to what we were trying to achieve. When I got back to the states, I thought the title has to be authentic. I went to google translate and the word Dabka came up. It just sounded really powerful and intriguing to me as a word. It has this sound and creates this thing that now you asked me three times about it and now I’m trying to explain it to you. It actually opens up a conversation and that was the intent, to begin with.
— Interview by Lia Fietz with an additional text of TFF 2017 programming.
Gallery Photo Credits: © Mustafa ÖNDER