Written and directed by Bryan Buckley, Asad takes place in a war-torn fishing village in Somalia, where a boy must decide between resigning to a life of piracy or choosing the path of an honest fishing man.
“Somalia is a bizarre world where in their communities piracy can be accepted as just a job, an acceptable profession, to a degree. The pirates are just trying to survive because there is simply no economy or industry there,” said Buckley, noting that the origin of piracy really stemmed from local fishermen to protect their waters from foreign trollers and polluters that kill of the fish stock. Piracy as an industry then escalated when rebels noticed there was money in it and that they could hire cheap labor in the fishermen to do all of the work. “Then when [American tanker] the Maersk Alabama was hit, that all changed. It was no longer just fisherman but organized crime. In the movie I wanted to keep it to the innocence of fishing and to show some of the humor that exists within the culture.”
Buckley became interested in the issue and the story of Somalia in general when he was invited to Kenya by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to film a documentary called No Autographs about the return of NBA player Luol Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, to his home country. The filming crew visited Kakuma Refugee Camp, a home to primarily refugees of the Sudanese civil war, but Buckley was struck by the influx of Somali refugees coming to the camp, which in 2009 numbered 11,358–nearly ten times more than from any other country. He found the resilience of the refugees inspiring and totally unlike anything he had heard about Somalia prior.
“Our perception of that country is formed entirely by CNN reports. There’s no snapshot of the people,” says Buckley, noting the lack of a filmed material on everyday life in Somalia within the news and the silver screen. “So you’re talking about, in this modern age, a place that no one really knows anything about and the media stories about piracy and famine are all you have to work off. And humor, which to me is something that the Somalis really have, is not going to be found in a news report for CNN.”
Due to the high risk and danger however, Asad could not be filmed in Somalia (the shoot took place in South Africa) but it did include an all-Somali refugee cast. The main character and his friend, whose life is saved by the sacrifice of fish are real life brothers who had never actually seen the sea until the opportunity despite Somalia’s expansive coastline. Yet another surprising tragedy Buckley discovered is that the B children, Harun Mohammed (13) and Ali Mohammed (11), were not literate in any language and had never been to any school, ever. And as refugees in South Africa, they were legall too old to start school. The director responded by starting a school for the brothers, who both finished first grade within a week. “It’s really amazing to see them learn,” says Buckley. “If you can educate leaders, and these kids have the potential to be leaders, then you can bring about change–that’s my hope.”
“Doing this film furthered the concept to me as a filmmaker–as a person, really–if you have the ability, you can actually shed light and add humanity to a place like Somalia. It might have an impact on someone and compel them to act. Most people’s cinematic perception of Somalia is Black Hawk Down. The next movie coming out (Captain Phillips) is about the Alabama and Tom Hanks is the captain, and we all know the movie. We just know it. It’s a U.S. cinema perspective. But I like the idea that we can go and tell a universal story like this one, you can learn about a culture, bring it to life, and get it in front of people.”
After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in April of this year, ASAD took home the prize as Best Narrative Short and became Academy Award eligible. Next, ASAD screened at the LA Film Festival and was named the winner of Audience Award for Best Short. The film was finally shown at the Rhode Island International Film Festival where it was awarded the Grand Prize for BEST SHORT, and became RIIFF’s official representative to the Academy in hopes of a nomination. We shall see on January 10 2013 if this beautiful film proves successful.