“My wife and producer Hanan and I both come from families who’ve experienced being immigrants. My family escaped apartheid, and of course Palestinians have often had to escape conflict. Right now we’re seeing a new hard line rhetoric about immigration all over the world. Therefore I wanted to explore what it might take for two young women, one evangelical Christian, one Palestinian Muslim, both ingrained with certain beliefs about each ‘other’, to step outside the unspoken barriers between them to become friends and, ultimately, fall in love. Setting it in Manitoba in the prairies created opportunities. It’s an incredible location visually. There were also some challenges in finding crew and bringing in cast from elsewhere in Canada.” Filmmaker Shamim Sarif on how POLARIZED came together, which screens at this year’s Canadian Film Fest
Welcome to CFF 2023! Are you attending your screenings in person? What excites you most about attending CFF for the first time?
POLARIZED was completely made in Canada and it’s a unique, contemporary story set in Canada – so I’m thrilled to be attending our Canadian premiere at CFF along with our key cast and the film’s producer
While working on a project, what is your creative process? Do you have any particular ritual or tradition when working on something?
Writing is always to music – there’s a shorthand to accessing a mood or moment. And when shooting, it’s not a ritual but I like to stay close to the actors, right behind the camera. Being right there for a question or feedback is crucial for a close working relationship and to build trust.
If you had one favourite moment out of this entire project, the “Yes, this is IT” moment, what would that be?
During post, we couldn’t find the right end credit song. Brooke Palsson, who wrote the songs that feature as Lisa’s songs in the film, teamed with our composer Kevon Cronin to write an incredible song. She sang the English lyrics, found a wonderful Canadian singer Malayka to sing the Arabic parts. Strings were recorded in Bulgaria, and durbeke drums were contributed by Palestinian musicians in Chicago. All that boundary-crossing felt like a metaphor for the film, and it was amazing to see that song coming to life.
I love to get technical, so I would love to know about the visual design of the movie from the cameras you used and the formats and your relation to the cinematographer.
There was no doubt in my mind that we should shoot in Cinemascope for those landscapes. I used a Red camera for the first time, and I have to confess I would not use it again. I prefer the look and colour range of ARRI. We also had some cool vintage Russian lenses that gave a softness to the image and a nice fall off at the edges.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your project at CFF 2023?
I’m very proud of POLARIZED being a Canadian film, financed by Telefilm, CBC, CMF and Manitoba Film & Music. It means a lot to be able to watch it in Toronto with some of our cast, our friends and family.
Where is this going next? More festivals or a theatrical or streaming release?
We’re thrilled that POLARIZED is releasing theatrically this summer with Photon Films in Canada. We definitely have more wonderful festival appearances coming up worldwide too.
How do you feel about the current moviegoing climate? Are you wishing more people to see movies in theatres, or is it okay to opt for a streaming release where more people could potentially see a movie?
All our films reached an online audience who really needed to see women of colour in queer films. So I think the wider the reach the better. A theatrical experience first is the dream. We took so much care to make POLARIZED look and sound truly cinematic. So playing at CFF is a wonderful opportunity.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival and why?
I’m old enough to have seen so many amazing festival films. So I’m going to choose one of my own, I CAN’T THINK STRAIGHT. Mainly because there was a screening at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco that has 1500 screaming attendees, an organ that rose up and played before the film, and the most beautiful theatre. It was incredible!
POLARIZED and many other features will be showing at the Canadian Film Fest taking place from March 28-April 1. For more information point your browser to Canadian Film Fest (canfilmfest.ca)!