Filmmaker Bentley Brown was born in Dallas, but he moved to Chad with his family when he was eleven. It was in high school there that he began making short films with friends.
Brown returned to the States for college at Emory and, for a time, suppressed his post-grad predisposition to filmmaking as he worked as a political analyst throughout Africa. In Sudan, though, pen went to paper, and Faisal -- the fictional refugee at the center of Brown's new film about Dallas neighborhood Vickery Meadow -- was born.
On his return to Dallas, Brown gathered a core team of filmmakers and created a Kickstarter account that raised a modest production budget, and perhaps equally helpful, generated buzz that landed them on CNN. Filming was done in Vickery Meadow, the Dallas neighborhood where the film's lead actor, a Sudanese refugee from Kansas City, walked among others living out experiences like his and his character.
Bentley Brown talked with Unfair Park about the film, Faisal Goes West. Here's what he said:
This story deals with a family that comes from Sudan to Dallas. It's based on a number of stories -- friends of mine, their families, all across the United States. While I focused on a Sudanese family in this film, the story's a global story. And this whole American Dream genre film; it holds value to people around the world, both from a positive and a negative regard.
It's not a documentary; it's a drama. The film's a fiction. So much of the material that deals with Africa or the migrating experience is documentaries, and they're not necessarily bad, but they can portray people in an objectifying manner, as case study subjects. What I wanted to do is to tell a similar story, but show it through the art of cinema.
I actually wrote the script for Atlanta at first, for Clarkston -- I hear it's majority refugee population. And a friend of mine, Justin Banta, who is the script supervisor on the film, convinced me to shoot it here. Basically, the idea of going west is even more enhanced when you come to the West of America. We've got this whole chicken farm, cowboy theme so it just made a lot more sense here.
I love Vickery Meadow. We filmed in Vickery Meadow. So, we went into one of the IRC [International Rescue Committee] apartments there, had an agreement with them to shoot on location. So, Vickery Meadow is Faisal's home.
One thing that is very characteristic to the film, it's something that I actually added after coming back to Dallas to work on it, is that you know White Rock Trail -- it goes right through the Park Lane area, Abrams, Skillman. During the day, it's yuppies and a lot of people running with their dogs on the path, and it's a really interesting mix of people, but in the early mornings and towards sunset, even the people change on the path, and you start to notice people commuting. People literally use it as a road. I love that. It does show the internationalization of the area. So, Faisal uses this a short-cut to get to and from his DART station.
Faisal is the oldest son in the family that comes from Sudan. His parents have high hopes for him to study at college in America -- to integrate in the system immediately, get a good job. He fails the TOEFL, like completely bombs the TOEFL, and winds up getting a job at a chicken farm outside of Dallas. We often have this idea about people from Africa that they're already accustomed to rural life. But it's actually the opposite in this story. This kid's a city kid. He comes to Dallas, Texas -- America -- the land of dreams and opportunities, and winds up working with chickens in the country.
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The person who played him, his name is Ramey Dawoud. Like most people on the project, he has his own unique story that influences the way he interacts with the project. He grew up in Egypt and then moved to Kansas City. He started a hip-hop career, and he actually contacted me during the Kickstarter time to get some of his music on the movie. And then when I saw him, I'm like, 'You'd make a great lead character, would you like to try out for the role?' And he did and he got it.
People come from countries around the world to America with qualifications, with experiences, both academic and professional, and just life experience that just really doesn't get reflected here. It doesn't get noticed. So, it was kind of about giving a voice to those people in their new home. They may be limited by language, but they're still like PhD holders speaking four languages.
One thing the actors nailed, they just brought so much to the film through their passion, through their own personal experiences, and one thing that they nailed was the issue of responsibility and of guilt and grief in coming to America. The family does encounter hardships and they encounter things they didn't expect to encounter when coming to America.
We're in post-production right now. Our rough-cut was at the Cannes film festival last week as part of the short film corner. But we're still working on the final cut -- there is still a lot of work ahead of us. We're still raising money to get our sound engineering done, the composition of the music and movie soundtrack as well as any and every studio touch to the video. It's all on faisalgoeswest.com. We want to get the word out and have the film premiere at some serious festivals in the fall. I just hope it can be a window into the life that exists here everyday but we don't always notice.