Director Sam Kadi Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

For most Hollywood directors, it takes many films before they break into the industry and make a fan-favourite. Syrian-American director Sam Kadi’s third film, The Citizen, was his golden ticket to global success.

At the San Jose Film Festival in California, The Citizen was voted one of the top three audience favourites out of 250 films from 43 countries.

The film tells the tale of a Lebanese man, Ebrahim Jarrah (played by Khalid Al Nabawy) who arrives in New York one day before the September 11 attacks, and is arrested by federal agents who suspect he is involved. The film is now showing in UAE cinemas and on Thursday, Kadi visted Dubai to attend at a private screening of the film.

The director said the film was unique in that it tackles the issue of xenophobia from a different perspective.

“I am not aware of too many movies that discuss this in world cinema, in an American format or a Hollywood format. I don’t think this was ever made, and that was a huge reason [for] having this movie made,” Kadi said.

Speaking of the inspiration behind the film, Kadi said it was the discussion of how it would be impossible to make. Being an American immigrant of Arab descent also allowed him to relate to the character.

“[Xenophobia] still is an issue, absolutely. It’s not just ongoing, but it could even be growing. The media has a lot to do with this, so our job is to use the same tool but in a positive manner to balance the case,” he said.

“It’s a dream that I had to work hard for. I believed the determination that I had, with the group that I worked with, was much bigger than the challenges. If I listened to everyone who told me how hard it is to break into Hollywood, I wouldn’t have made the film,” he added.

Such challenges included finding funds for the film, leading Kadi had to seek sponsorship from private investors when he realised that studios would not provide finance.

“The topic is not their normal. In Hollywood, it’s an assembly line. There are certain formats that you make, and [the studios] know where to take it, where to sell it, what to do with it, and there are certain subjects that they like to tackle.

“To have a film in an Arab positive light, an international film, an Arab star leading the Hollywood movie, this is not the format they want to touch,” Kadi said.

Also among the challenges was bringing the film to the Middle East. Kadi received offers to show the film on cable and DVD, but he insisted the film be shown in cinemas, which is why it took around a year to show the film here. However, he said this was not a long period for an independent film.

Though it took a total of six years to finish the movie, shooting, in New York and Michigan, only took 21 days.

Kadi, who is also one of the scriptwriters, spoke fondly of the cast and crew, calling them “top-notch”.

He said he picked Al Nabawy as he was looking for a, “talented, smart, and competent actor who has presence in international cinema and in Hollywood.”

Kadi had already written and directed two short films called Schizophrenia, and Raised Alone, which were released in 2007 and 2009. Looking into his future in cinema, he said he would like to work on a film tackling the current conditions in Syria.