September 29 2006 
 Independent Filmmakers Alliance Newsletter
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The IFA presents Ruba Nadda - Storyteller.

 Ruba Nadda - Storyteller

by Anya Wassenberg

I have to have a story I can't walk away from, explains internationally acclaimed film maker Ruba Nadda.

As a prolific short fiction writer whose work has been published in over 400 literary journals worldwide, presumably, Nadda's problem has never been the lack of a story to tell. Turning words on the page into film, however, requires a different level of commitment. The problem with making a movie is, it takes 2 years or so to get the funding. You have to be 100% passionately in love with the story, she insists.

Such a story was Sabah, (www.sabahthemovie.com), writer/director Nadda's 2005 release. The film received its worldwide premier at the Rotterdam International Film Festival to sold out houses and critics' raves, which included a lot of media attention that followed the film wherever it played. So many people told me I shouldn't have made it, she remembers of the buzz generated by Sabah, because I didn't go through the expected route of film school, then having my shorts screened at TIFF.. Since its premier, Sabah has gone on to receive awards in Spain the Premio de la Juventud at the 50th edition of Semana de Cine de Valladolid (outside official section) and actor Shawn Doyle won an award for Best Male Actor at the Festival International de films des femmes de Cr teil in Paris. It was voted in the top ten audience favourites in Rotterdam, and at the Commonwealth Film Festival in the UK.

Despite her off-the-beaten-path route, Nadda's international exposure prior to making Sabah attracted the attention of the established film world. Atom Egoyan serves a co-executive producer of Sabah, and noted Canadian actress Arsin e Khanjian, (Egoyan's wife,) plays the title role. Sabah is the story of a 40 year old Muslim woman living in Toronto in a traditional household dominated by her brother after her father's early death. She takes one small step towards liberation that leads to love and reawakening, and an examination of the need for those traditional cultures to adapt in modern North American society.

Nadda's passion for storytelling began early. I started writing early, like at 14, and went crazy for a few years, sending my stories out to publishers, getting rejection after rejection. Oddly enough, I was first published at 19 had a flurry of stories published till I was about 24. Then, I decided it was time to make movies. She laughs. I was so na ve, but maybe sometimes it's better to be na ve when you start out.

After studying literature at Toronto's York University, Nadda was accepted in a Film Production programme at New York's Tisch School of the Arts. It's a progression that for her was a natural. I was a fiction writer for a long time, but my stories were always very visual, she explains, it was a simple transition to make. A literary background clearly shows in her work. To make good films, you have to have good stories. People undervalue literature in terms of making film but it's the same principles understanding character, the details.

She may have begun as a somewhat na ve writer, but Nadda's output as a film maker has also been prolific - 16 films in all, including numerous shorts dating back to 1997's Lost Woman's Story, and a handful of features, like 2001's Unsettled. Unsettled follows a small time drug dealer on his rounds one day. As in many of her films, Unsettled plays with the conventional uses of sound and dialogue, without losing its emphasis on story. With screenings in over 450 film festivals, and more than 20 restrospectives of her work shown from Stockholm to the Middle East, from Regina to Princeton University, it's evident her approach is one that resonates with both audiences and critics.

Like most artists, her work tends to revolve around recurring themes. The short films always dealt with an immigrant woman, people in love, she explains. I grew up in a traditional Arabic culture.

Born in Montreal, Nadda spent much of her formative years on the move with her family from Montreal to Manitoba, BC, Ontario, and several times back and forth to Damascus, before finally settling in Toronto in 1989. The problems of fitting different cultures together is one she's experienced in several different permutations. Even what I'm doing in the future, it revolves around the same themes, she says. You take what's inside of you.

In a quote from a press release, on winning the Premio de la Juventud in Spain for Sabah, Nadda's concerns are more specific. There exist many women in the whole world, not only Muslim women, who sacrifice their life (for others). In the setting of the beautiful surrounding nature, it seems rather 'unnatural', incongruous, if not absurd, that these women should suffer such injustice, harsh destiny beyond their control and imposed on them by (often incorrectly interpreted) 2000 year old books..

Funded by Telefilm Canada, Nadda is writing 3 scripts, with one in process, but too early for much comment. We're in the middle of arranging things, she explains. Basically, it's a love story set in Egypt, Cairo. She hopes to start filming in spring 2007.

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