Faisal Goes West
Faisal Goes West, an international medium-length feature film set in Texas, explores themes of migration and cultural identity and asks whether conceptions of “the foreigner” and “the other” are changing in the era of globalization. Revolve speaks to the film’s director Bentley Brown.
Produced on a shoestring, the new independent mini-feature film Faisal Goes West tells the story of the 19-year-old Faisal and his family who move from the Sudanese capital Khartoum to the Texas countryside in search of a better life. As they settle into their new environment, they are not only confronted with the economic crisis in the United States, but also face a series of cultural and linguistic barriers. Circumstances force him to get a job as a manual laborer on a chicken farm.
“There is some irony here,” says the film’s director Bentley Brown, “because there is a stereotype that all Sudanese live in rural areas and should therefore be comfortable on a farm, but in the case of Faisal it is the opposite: this is an educated young city boy from Khartoum who suddenly finds himself on a Texas chicken farm where he is totally out of place, and he has to go through a series of coming-of-age episodes to gain ground and establish himself in his new community.”
Brown, a North American who grew up in rural Chad, wrote the film’s script while working in Sudan as a political monitor between 2009 and 2011. He says he consciously steered clear of political themes. “The script is loosely based on real stories of people I know, but it is fiction, which is important, because media coverage of Sudan generally focuses only on war, famine and genocide. It is very rare for the Sudanese to be shown as humans, especially the northern Sudanese who have been vilified due to the massive international movements against their government, the allegations of genocide in Darfur and the recent bombings in the Nuba Mountains. It is very rare to find a positive story about any aspect of northern Sudanese life. That is the beauty of this story.”
The film was produced on a $15,000 budget, which the team managed to raise in just 30 days through the crowd-funding site kickstarter.com. “Our Kickstarter campaign included a short video clip of me promoting the film in Sudanese Arabic, which is very close to the Arabic I grew up speaking in Chad. Before we knew it, it went viral with over 200,000 hits. People started reposting it with comments like: ‘White man speaks Sudanese Arabic!’”
As the video clip spread through global social networks, funding poured in from as far afield as Dubai, Greece and Malaysia. But the Kickstarter campaign also attracted dozens of people who wanted to contribute to the project in different ways. “It was fascinating: the crowd-funding platform inadvertently turned into a crowd-sourcing technique. For example, the film’s main actor Ramey Dawoud got to know about the film through Kickstarter. He is a Sudanese-born musician who grew up in Egypt and then moved to the United States. He contacted me saying he would like to contribute music to the film, but when I got to know him better I suggested he should try out for the role of main character, and he got it!”
After an intensive eight-day film shoot in Texas in January, the team is now raising funds for post-production on the crowd-funding site IndieGoGo. The money they raise by May 9 will go towards editing the film and launching it on the international film festival circuit. “We are telling a global story and we want this movie to go global so that it is available to people around the world,” says Brown.
Brown began making films in Chad when he was 17. His previous film, Le Pélerin de Camp Nou, which he co-directed with his childhood friend Abaker Chene Massar, is set in Chad and tackles the topic of drug abuse. The film received critical acclaim at international film festivals in Canada, UK, France, Switzerland, Netherlans, and Uganda; and won honorable mention for Best Digital Feature at the Vues d’Afrique festival in Montreal in 2009.