In pursuit of a deeper familiarity with Islam, Danyal, a young American man studying Arabic at the University of Alexandria in Egypt befriends a group of Muslim men who preach an extreme form of the religion. To follow them, he must decide whether to reject the things he loves, including his gay brother, Omar. But he unexpectedly discovers a greater joy when he meets and falls in love with his Egyptian T.A.
SAMEBLOOD is a creative feature-length documentary in post-production.
I was working at the University of Maryland as a Language Partner for students in the Arabic program when one afternoon a saw a very unusual character. He didn't seem to belong to that place, or even time. The young man was dressed head-to-toe in what looked to me, an Iraqi, like Taliban clothing. It was as if he had just walked out of Afghanistan and somehow landed in Maryland. The first thought that came into my mind was that the place was about to be blown up. I thought this man must have so much hate inside him for others that it's only a matter of time until he harms those around him. The second thought that came to mind was that if I, an Arab, could so easily pass judgment on the man without knowing him, what must a regular American think of him? Two days later I was informed that I had a new student. To my surprise it was the same man, Danyal. He spoke Arabic fluently. He seemed innocent and kind, yet peculiar. In time we formed a bond of friendship. He spoke of his community and family with love and respect. This seeming dichotomy was not easy for me to understand.
To me the people who have roots in Islam but were not raised in it, who are far from their heritage but become curious about it, they can be more dangerous than someone from the Middle East who grew up with this religion permeating their lives. The people rediscovering their birthright are hungry for a culture to belong to. But there is no clear “Muslim” path for someone to adopt. There is not just one guidebook that lays out the best way to live Islam. There are thousands of interpretations, some of them extreme and violent. Some sections of the Quran speak about jihad, but in a manner that even native Arabic speakers cannot understand on their own—they must go to the tefsir, the meaning of the text. However, each group follows their own tefsir. So whose did Danyal follow?
When I saw Danyal, he didn’t look like me, a regular guy who grew up in a modern society with Islam a daily part of my life. His exterior was that of a fundamentalist. I was therefore both curious and warry about what was going on underneath, what he truly believed. If he could adopt their costume, maybe he also adopted their ideas.
I was born in Baghdad in 1981—the year that the war between Iraq and Iran began. Between 1981 and when I left in 2009, I lived through three consecutive wars. All my life I witnessed people fighting. I became an actor and my theatre company and I created plays that dealt with the political issues of our day. As research for my characters I interviewed many different kinds of people, including people who came from the West to Iraq in order to fight. Meeting Danyal— someone who could just as easily and violently oppose a differing group, but who lives a peaceful life and exudes only love—was the opposite experience. But at the time, he still didn’t have a complete picture of Islam.
Danyal is a reasonable, intelligent person. He is extremely religious, but his family is not. His brother is a gay opera singer, but in spite of their differences, they are close. The love they have makes each of them view the other with kindness and respect. Danyal told me he lived in Saudi Arabia and I wondered how his views hadn’t changed after the experiences he lived through. To me Danyal appeared to be easily manipulated and usable. When he told me he was going to Egypt, I knew he would be entering an environment with many conflicting influences: Salafists, Wahhabis, Muslim Brotherhood, Shia, Sunni, liberal, conservative… How would he resist listening to the extremist sheikhs he might encounter? How could he maintain his neutrality? Would he continue to love his family unconditionally and not reject them? This is the story I set out to follow, and will now present through a dramatic, insightful, and daring film.
Oday Sadoon is from Baghdad, Iraq. As an actor, he co-founded the Red Zone theatre company in Iraq. After a number of performances that garnered national and international acclaim, Oday shifted his focus to film. In Iraq, he worked as a gaffer, and also as an assistant director on several films, including Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al-Daradji, 2008), Ahlaam (Mohamed Al-Daradji, 2009), and Baghdad Nights (2006), and was a crewmember for news television as well as documentary films. He continued working in film when he moved to the U.S., on projects such as The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt, 2012), and then began directing. His first feature length documentary, Sameblood (produced by Kate O. Wagner), is currently in post-production. With Kate O. Wagner, Oday co-founded Sameblood Productions, and wants to use this company to continue bringing art to those for whom it could be most constructive.
Kate O. Wagner is a filmmaker, producer, and photographer from Washington, D.C. Kate studied video production at The Catholic University of America and began working in documentary film in 2012. But it was during a trip to South Sudan in 2014 to document the ongoing struggle of international aid groups to meet the needs of local communities that she decided to focus her work largely on contemporary issues of peace and social justice. She aims to use her work as a platform for awareness, education and dialogue, and a catalyst for action.
Nada Riyadh is a film producer based in Cairo, Egypt. Since 2008, she has worked with several film production houses and cultural institutions in Egypt, where she took part in many international, regional and national productions. Since 2011, She has also designed and led filmmaking workshops to support and empower distressed communities with the help of different cultural institutions and N.G.Os in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. In 2016, she established her own production company “Felucca Films”. The company's debut feature creative documentary “Happily ever after” premiered at IDFA in 2016.
Born in Beirut in 1975, Simon obtained his Diploma in Audiovisual Directing from the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts (ALBA) in 1998 and graduated from Femis (Paris) in Film and Video Editing in 2000. Since 2001, he has been teaching video and visual expression as well as film and video editing. He is also a member of the cultural association for the development of Arab cinema, Beirut DC. Simon built a strong reputation in Lebanon and the Middle East as an editor and worked, among others, with Ghassan Salhab on his video POSTHUMUS (2007) and his documentary 1958 (2009). Among his other editor credits are THE PLANET OF SNAIL (Seung-jun Yi, 2011) (winner of Amsterdam International Documentary Festival's award for Best Feature Documentary), and VERY BIG SHOT (Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, 2015) (Toronto International Film Festival and London Film Festival nominated, and winner of Beijing International Film Festival's Forward Future award). In 2008, he wrote, produced and directed an award-winning, feature documentary THE ONE MAN VILLAGE, which screened at 30 festivals, including Berlinale, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Jeonju International Film Festival and Vision du Réel, and won Hot Docs' Best International Feature Award in 2009.
Jan has been composing for international projects in contemporary dance, ballet, music theatre, and film, and performing live in concert for almost a decade. He works in Munich, Cologne, Saarbrücken, Berlin, and New York.
David Loscher is a media artist from Southern Germany. He studied Musicology & Literature and graduated from Mediaart at University of Arts & Design Karlsruhe, Germany in 2014. In 2011, David got a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he focused on analog photography and installation. Yet most of his art is related to sound & performance. As a sound designer he has worked for television, theaters and various short films.
Belal Hibri is a colorist and co-founder of Lucid Post in Beirut. His unique approach to color grading is informed by a background in Fine Arts and art history. In the past 9 years, he has color-graded and mastered over 40 feature films, many of which premiered at major festivals including Sundance, Cannes Film Festival, Berlinale, Toronto International Film Festival and others. Several have gone on to receive international distribution from companies such as Lionsgate and Pathé. Belal has graded commercials for major international corporations such as Coca Cola, Nissan, Pepsi, Puma, and Porsche. Projects he has worked on with artists are held in the collections at Museum of Modern Art (New York), Tate Modern (London), and Centre Pompidou (Paris).