Film triumph for Wadham alumna

22nd February 2016

News, Student news, Alumni news

Powerful BAFTA nominated film A Syrian Love Story, produced by Wadham alumna Elhum Shakerifar (Oriental Studies, 2000), has won Refugee Award at the Cinema for Peace Awards in Berlin.

Play A Syrian Love Story trailer

From the very first rushes I saw in 2010, I knew there was something special in the intimacy and incredible openness with which the family spoke to Sean about their reality in Syria

Elhum Shakerifar

The film, by renowned filmmaker Sean McAllister, was also named third Best Film of 2015 by The Guardian, and Sean and Elhum were nominated for Outstanding Debuts by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Filmed over five years, this is an intimate and deeply moving portrait of a family torn apart by the Assad regime.

“We've had an incredible run”, commented Elhum who studied Persian literature at Wadham. “From the very first rushes I saw in 2010, I knew there was something special in the intimacy and incredible openness with which the family spoke to Sean about their reality in Syria - it was very unusual to see such clear anti-government sentiment on screen. Of course, we had no idea how long and far our journey with the family would go, and at the point where we were ready to release it, how relevant it would be to understand the journey of a refugee family from Syria.”

Sean and Elhum have been overwhelmed by the audience reaction and critical response to the film. “It's so validating that the film resonates with people from all walks of life, with all sorts of experiences, often no knowledge or specific interest in Syria and of all ages. It's also incredibly humbling to receive so many letters, emails and tweets from people who have felt compelled to write about how the film opened their eyes to refugee experiences. One person wrote to us saying: “I have watched the news coverage of the Syrian crisis on the news for months but nothing has brought home the real cost of the tragedy like this,”” she said.

Elhum’s move into a career in films was an organic one, firstly as a result of her MA in Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths but also because she has always loved visual mediums, photography, film and so began collaborating with people who used those mediums to tell stories. She began working with Sean in 2010 as he was filming in both Yemen and Syria and A Syrian Love Story is the second film they have produced together.

Describing her role as producer she said: “A producer's role can be varied and depends on the project but there's generally a part strategic angle (raising funding, positioning, putting partnerships in place) and a creative angle. With this film, I was involved from early on but we only managed to raise funding very late in the process (mainly from BBC Storyville and the British Film Institute) - possibly because of how little Syria was understood when we started filming over six years ago now. I was very involved in the film's edit, which took a year, and also distributed the film in the UK - meaning that I determined the release strategy as well as actually booking cinemas, devising and delivering the press, outreach and marketing strategy.”

Currently Elhum is involved in producing a number of new films. Even When I Fall by Sky Neal and Kate McLarnon tells the story of Nepal's first and only circus, which was set up by survivors of child trafficking. “It's a beautiful film merging participatory performance with traditional observational documentary that looks to the seldom told aftermath of trafficking and sees the coming of age of an incredible group of young women.” She is also producing Lawyers by Hikaru Toda, which tells the story of two openly gay lawyers in Osaka. “In daring to represent themselves as 'the nails that stick out' of Japan's conformist society, they attract a case load of minority rights that paint a portrait of modern Japan in transition.” Elhum is also working with fellow anthropologist Yasmin Fedda on a film about the disappeared in Syria, and with Sean on his next film which will be about his hometown of Hull.

Related news