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Sundance Interview: Cherien Dabis, Director of Amreeka

by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, orginally published at Women and Hollywood

Cherien Dabis is having one of those dreamlike weeks. She was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2009, and her film Amreeka had its world premiere at Sundance this past weekend to a standing ovation and positive reviews. Now all she needs to do it sell the film and get an agent.

Not being in Sundance, I haven’t seen the film but if I were there, it would been tops on my list. Here’s the description from the catalog:

Director Cherien Dabis’s auspicious debut feature, Amreeka, is a warm and lighthearted film about one Palestinian family’s tumultuous journey into Diaspora amidst the cultural fallout of America’s war in Iraq. Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mom, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage. Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. green card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realizing it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.Dabis weaves an abundance of humor and levity into this tale of struggle, displacement, and nostalgia and draws an absorbing and irresistibly charming performance from actress Nisreen Faour as Muna, who stands at the heart of this tale. Amreeka glows with the truth and magic of everyday life and signals the arrival of an exciting, new directorial talent.

She took a couple of minutes to discuss the film and her Sundance experience.

Women & Hollywood: What made you want to make this film?

Cherien Dabis: The story is quite personal, inspired by my family and loosely based on true events. I grew up in a small town in Ohio of about 10,000 people. I actually grew up between Ohio and Jordan but most of my time was spent in this small town where as Arab Americans we were isolated because there was no Arab community and not a whole lot of diversity. For a while everything was fine and we fit in relatively well until the first Gulf War when my family was scapegoated and overnight we virtually became the enemy. All kinds of absurd things happened. My father who is a physician lost a lot of his patients because they wouldn’t support an Arab doctor and then it came to a head when the Secret Service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my 17 year old sister threatened to kill the president.

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