Osamah Sami • Scriptwriter and actor
“It is important to share our stories with the world”
- Cineuropa met up with Australian scriptwriter and actor Osamah Sami at the Cairo Film Festival to discuss whether cinema can change people’s mentalities
Besides writing the script for the Australian film Ali’s Wedding, Osamah Sami plays Ali, the son of a Muslim cleric who, burdened by the weight of expectation from his parents and his community, tells a lie that sets off a disastrous series of events which culminates in an arranged marriage that lasts less than two hours. The story is based on Sami’s own life. We interviewed him at the Cairo Film Festival.
Cineuropa: How did you become a screenwriter and actor?
Osamah Sami: I started writing short stories in my childhood in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. My father emphasised the importance of the story – it’s a tool for survival because it enables you to almost get transported into a fantasy world, as if you lived in a bubble.
The figure of your father is intriguing; can you tell us more about him, about his work and his philosophy?
Yes, he was a clerical and a religious man, a man of the cloth. However, he was also a poet, a philosopher, an author and a storyteller. He was not just all about religion in his life; he tried to add flavour to religion through other media. Indeed, he thought it was important for us to be able express ourselves. He also believed that, in order to live in this world, it is important to be connected to each other, and we can achieve this goal by telling our story. If I had not told my story when I was living in Australia, a predominantly Anglo-Saxon, white country, and if I had not shared it, how would I have got connected with the others? Instead, if you don’t do so, it is like having a barbecue in your house, and people are looking in from over the fence, but if you create a dialogue, you can invite them inside, so they can be with you – and then a dialogue starts. It is something that moves us forward as human beings, but this dialogue doesn’t have to be something like, “I tell you what to do, you tell me what to do.” The right way is: “I can tell you how my life is, and you can tell me how your life is.” So we can continue to coexist together, not in a utopian world, but in a happy and more beautiful environment.
So your father started creating plays that were staged outside the mosque. Did he start doing this in Iraq or in Australia?
He started writing when he was younger than I am now. He was doing it in Iraq; he wrote these kinds of things. Then, when he moved to Iran, he started studying in the seminary: religion, Islamic law, jurisprudence and sciences. Screenwriting took a back seat. Nevertheless, he went back to it and started mixing history with theatre, something that happens a lot – Shakespeare tells stories of kings and queens and forbidden love stories.
Was this a way to bring young Muslim people living in Australia closer to the religion?
Absolutely, because there is a gap between the first generation of Iraqis, who migrated to Australia, and the children who are becoming more and more Australian. They struggle to create their own identity. Conversely, older people’s identity is already formed, and when they go to another country, they have a lot to hang onto. As regards children who were born here, they force themselves to lose some of their past: they feel the need to disconnect in order to connect with the new land, but they don’t have to forget where they came from. You can actually still keep your past and mix it with what you have now. This was one of my father’s ideas, and of course, plays and entertainment in general are attractive to young people. Instead of lectures, warnings and preaching, he decided to establish a Sunday school, a library and a football team for the youth.
In your film, we see Muslims who are tolerant and who want to live together.
Unfortunately, the 1% of extremists are dominating the headlines. It is important to share our stories with the world, and to create a window on our little garden so that people can understand that it is a flourishing, beautiful and colourful place. Of course, we are not homogenous, and we are not all amazing, great people. There are still those of us who are always against progress, equality and women’s rights; we don’t say there are only fabulous people. It is important to tell all of these things, and even though it is a small step, as we say in Iraq, “Drop by drop makes the ocean.” Even if we are one drop, we become part of the ocean.
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