Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival are two of the many major reasons why my first feature film, The Taqwacores, is debuting in New York City at the Village East Cinema this Friday (October 22) and there will be a special screening in Los Angeles at the Levantine Cultural Center on November 10 before the film releases wider. The Taqwacores is as indie as it gets. It's an ultra low-budget film about a subculture of a subculture--punk rock Muslims. Sundance Institute helped our modest indie flick get to the finish line, while the Sundance Film Festival catapulted our film out to the rest of the world.
My relationship with Sundance began back in 2007, as a Fellow for the RAWI Middle-Eastern Screenwriters Lab. Rawi is partnership between the Royal Jordanian Film Commission and Sundance, to help develop screenwriters and filmmaker from the Middle-East. As a first generation Syrian-American, I was eligible to take one of my projects to the Lab. The Lab was quite incredible and one of the most important experiences I have had in my development as an artist. It was then that I realized how incredible Sundance Institute was, and how their work is priceless.
A little more than a year later, I was in post-production with my first feature film, The Taqwacores. This was a different project then what I had taken to Rawi, so I didn't think Sundance Institute would be able to help. Fortunately though, the Institute called me into their offices one day in the summer of '09 while we were still editing. They were interested in the film, and they wanted to see a rough cut. They shared with me that our film might be eligible for a grant that was aimed to helped Islamic themed films.
After watching our rough cut, Sundance Institute decided to in fact help us. They gave us a small grant to help us with our sound design at Snap Sound, and they also connected us with Creative Advisors to help in the editing room. Michael Taylor and Suzy Elmiger were two fantastic editors that volunteered to give assistance to our film. They helped us get over a few difficult humps that we would most likely not have gotten over on our own.
With a polished film, we had a much better shot of getting into the Sundance Film Festival. I'll never forget the call we got a few days before Thanksgiving last year, when we were informed that The Taqwacores had been accepted into the inaugural NEXT section for the '10 Sundance Film Festival. There was no better place in world for us launch The Taqwacores then at the Sundance Film Festival.
We came out of the Festival having secured distribution deals in the U.S. (Strand Releasing) and France (BAC Films). The spotlight Sundance put on us also helped festival programmers from around the world discover us. At this point, we have played in over 20 international film festivals, and we have won four esteemed awards.
For those who question if Sundance helps the little guy, I say look at us. Had it not been for Sundance who knows where this film would be right now? Sundance was one of the first to believe in this film, which in turn, has to lead to many others believing in us too. We are forever grateful to the entire Sundance family.