Last weekend the Chicago Underground Film Festival hosted the Chicago premiere of American Arab as their closing night film, with director Usama Alshaibi present. Later, the film was announced as the recipient of an "honorable mention" from the CUFF jury.
We were grateful to The Owl for hosting a great pre-screening reception for the crew, some of the film’s subjects (the Jassar family, and Marwan Kamel and his parents), KTQ associates, and supporters of the film before we head over for the sold out screening of the film at the Logan Theatre. The audience reaction to the film was electric, with a long discussion following the film. There were many questions about the process of making the film, and Usama touched on issues such as racism and immigration, stating: “When I came to Chicago I realized we were all from somewhere else. The immigrant story is the American story,” and being an experimental filmmaker (Q: how did your family feel about being a part of the film? A:”My mom is used to me walking around with the camera. … Chicago was where I was really able to become a filmmaker.”
Usama has shown many of his experimental works at CUFF during his career, and their Executive Director Bryan Wendorf thanked Kartemquin for showing this new film there, claiming it was a “testament to Kartemquin honoring Usama’s roots as a filmmaker.”
For more on the film's investigation of the "normalization" of racism against ethnic minorities, and Usama's experience of collaborating with Kartemquin while still pursuing his artistic vision for the film, read a conversation between Usama and Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader.
The International Documentary Association recently published a recap of the Big Sky Documentary Festival, where American Arab held its US premiere. Michael Galinsky noted that the film was one of two premiering docs "that really stood out" at Big Sky, adding: "American Arab picks up this thread of personal narrative and explores what it means to be an Arab-American, post-9/11. Further, in the great tradition of American personal documentary film, Alshabi also struggles with what it means to be a filmmaker who happens to be Arab-American. Less concerned with aesthetics than ideas, he uses the camera as a tool to dig for answers about identity, art and filmmaking that are often overlooked."
With a noted tradition of nurturing emerging talent and acting as a leading voice for independent media, Kartemquin is building on more than 50 years of history as Chicago’s documentary powerhouse.
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