Born in Amman, Jordan, an alumna of a law school in Bristol, UK, and now residing in Canada as a graduate of Film Production from the University of British Columbia, Yassmina Karajah continues on her quest to see much of the world. Her short character-driven films that challenge dominant social narratives have been selected to screen internationally in festivals including the AFI Film Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, and Vancouver International Film Festival — which is where I first saw her latest project, Rupture.
For the benefit of anyone that hasn't yet seen the film, can you briefly describe what Rupture is about?
Rupture follows the journey or four young Arabs whose traumas surface during their quest to find a public pool in their new city. It was co-created with first-time actors and survivors of war: Asaad Al Arid, Salam Almarzouq, Hussein Al Ahmad and Wazira Al Ahmad.
What initially inspired you to make this film?
I wanted to create a film about accent reduction training which is a form of training newcomers may go through to get rid of their accents and speak more “passable English”. While doing my research I met Asaad Al Arid at a settlement agency in Vancouver. He told me he wanted to be an actor and shared with me a story about how on his first day in Vancouver he roamed around downtown Vancouver looking for a public pool with his brother — I loved that. There’s something really inspiring about that quest for self-determination in the midst of social and political displacement. After that, I spent over a year working on the script in collaboration with the cast.
Are there any directors you can name who inspire you personally?
There are so many. Kieślowski, The Dardenne Brothers, Bergman and Elia Sulieman. And more recently Wong Kar Wai, Claire Denis, and Andrea Arnold.
How did you find your cast members?
We had a casting process very different from the regular process films go through. Our Casting Director, Leen Issa and I spent a few weeks in Surrey BC reaching out to the Arab-Syrian community there. They welcomed us to their homes, we met with them and they shared their stories with us. I met Salam, Hussein, and Wazira at one of their homes.
Once we got all cast members together, the audition process was very informal. I just gave them a scenario and asked them to react to it and then to react to each other. I was so impressed with Asaad, Hussein, Salam, and Wazira — not only in terms of their creative abilities and how they handled the scenes — but it was also clear that each one had a story and something compelling to say.
Had they had any experience acting previously?
No, working on Rupture was their first experience in acting.
Can you tell me a little bit about their background and how they felt first arriving in Canada?
Asaad, Hussein, Salam, and Wazira are all originally from Syria and arrived in Vancouver around two years ago. They are incredibly talented and they taught me so much, not just as a director but also as a person. There’s incredible strength, humor, and talent inside each and every one of them.
What kind of reaction did you get from Rupture? Was it the kind of reaction you expected?
The reactions have been positive towards Rupture, and we are really grateful that the film is being seen in Canada and internationally. I try not to expect any reactions — I just wanted to tell the story truthfully and in a simple way. I’m always aware of the social and political contexts of the films I’ve made so far, and I understand that such stories may bring about certain assumptions. I enjoy subverting those assumptions by showing immigrants, refugees, newcomers, or war survivors as they are — beautiful multidimensional humans first and foremost — and not necessarily how the world may perceive them to be.
Did anything surprise you about making the film?
When we started to work together a lot of the conversations were about the latest iPhone gadgets, Bollywood films, fashion choices and everything in between. Slowly, as we started to build trust we almost always ended up going back to the concept of loss (sudden loss to be exact). In some ways, the collective experiences that made this film were all about loss. Watching the film now, I think it reflects that journey from obsessive noise over the mundane details of everyday life to facing the fear of loss almost identically.
How long did it take to make the film?
It took around a year to complete the film.
Where was the film shot?
There were many locations involved in the film. We shot in various locations across British Columbia, Canada, including East Vancouver, UBC, Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey to make the script come to life. Our Producer, David Findlay did such a fantastic job in making it all happen with the time and budget restraints.
Was there a particular message you hope Rupture will send to those watching?
In the early stages of development, I thought I wanted to make Rupture to explore my interest in language and linguistic trauma, but after working with Asaad, Hussein, Salam, and Wazira, I realize that I wanted to connect with those who have experienced sudden loss, and was able to triumphantly overcome it day in and day out. I hope that together, the team and I, brought a human gaze to the trauma of war, away from the news headlines and orientalist perspectives we see. The experience of a newcomer is a nuanced one — it’s not all about the suffering — it's also about how one deals with it, and makes meaning of it.
I can see from your IMDB page that you have a fair bit of experience as a Director and Producer - are there any projects besides Rupture that stand out as being favorites of yours?
Light, my first short film was special for me. Perhaps it’s because it was my first film and right after law school, it felt like I was really waiting to create something and there was a lot of catharsis in its development. Also, the lead actor in the film is my dear friend Ahmed Muslimani who brought to life a performance that matched the weight of a very personal story.
If viewers were unable to get to a film festival to see Rupture, when and where can they expect to see the film?
The film will be screening at the Dubai International Film Festival in December. There is nothing confirmed yet for online but we will announce all that on our website.
What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects in the works?
Right now I am working on my first feature film which will take place in Jordan.