Q&A with Award-Winning Director Sargon Saadi
Q: The Last Plight was just selected for yet another film festival. Congratulations. Can you tell us how the short film has impacted your career?
Thank you! The film impacted my life a lot more than impacting my career. To see our people displaced on the streets of Iraq deprived from all their property and rights is something that I will never forget. It gave me better and more realistic perspective on the state of our people, their needs and hopes.
I believe my two friends who were with my on the trip, Suzan Younan and Sonny Rouel, feel the same way.
Q: Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have seen The Last Plight. What did you hope to achieve through the film?
The goal was to show the world the magnitude of the tragedy of our people. We wanted to make it clear to the politicians and the key players in the geo-political arena that self-administration and a safe haven for our people in the Nineveh Plains is the only viable solution to the Assyrian case in Iraq.
Even though we’re still fighting for the safe haven, I believe we accomplished our goal with this film successfully. People’s reaction to the film far exceeded my expectations. And this was largely because it was recognized on the front page of Vimeo with the “Staff Pick” award.
Q: You’ve managed to release two documentaries on the Assyrian plight in the space of about two years. How was filming Silence After the Storm different from The Last Plight?
Even though the topic is the same, they are completely different films with different purposes. The Last Plight is shorter and is designed to have maximum emotional impact on the audience. Silence After The Storm is a longer documentary—25 minutes—and is made to inspire the new generation to not give in to hopelessness and indifference.
Silence After The Storm is more of an “artistic” documentary, as it is a layered story involving 4 different characters—Fadi Khiyo, Savina Dawood, Nicholas Al-Jeloo, and myself.
Q: You were born in Syria. What was it like going back home again?
It still feels like home every time I go there. I’m immediately more relaxed and comfortable no matter how bad the situation is.
What hurts the most is seeing our community continuously shrinking. Everything can be rebuilt, but it’s very difficult to get people who have migrated to return.
Q: Despite the heartbreaking situation for Assyrians in the homeland, there must have been some good moments. Can you tell us your favorite memory when filming these documentaries?
It was almost like a chapter from a classic novel.
On the very last day of filming [Silence After the Storm], we went on a hike to reach this abandoned Assyrian monastery on top of the mountain in Hakkari. It was in the region of Tkhouma.
As if the hike wasn’t difficult enough, it started raining—pouring hard. The rocks were slippery and the mountain got steeper. Almost losing our breath, we kept climbing. Midway, we got stopped by Kurdish rebels who were hiding behind bushes.
After long questioning, they miraculously let us go. We continued climbing until we reached this beautiful well preserved monastery dating back to the 4th century.
All of a sudden, the sky cleared, and rainbow formed.
As cheesy as it sounds, it was a reward I will never forget.
Q: Do you have a favorite among your films? If so, which one and why?
Silence After The Storm is my favorite film mainly due to the fact that it was so difficult to make. I traveled to 3 countries—Syria, Turkey, and Iraq—filming in more than 30 different cities and villages. It took me 9 months to edit and finalize.
Q: Absolutely amazing. And at the start of that film, you said that the only weapon you know how to use is a camera. Can you elaborate a bit on what you meant by this statement?
A picture is worth a thousand bullets. A camera for me, specifically in these documentaries, is a weapon I can use to fight injustice with. It exposes the enemy and strengthens us.
Q: You mentioned it took you nine months to edit Silence After the Storm. The editing process must be grueling. How do you know when a film is finished?
In my eyes, the film is still not finished. I made so many different versions of Silence After The Storm. I believe there are 6 of them. The versions were getting better as I changed them, but sometimes they would get worse, so the hardest part in editing process is knowing when to stop editing.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
My older brother, Akkad, is largely responsible for instilling this passion in me. When we were still little kids in Qamishli, in Syria, he would make these “karate action” short films with me and my cousins. We would jump, kick, and pretend to be actors in front of this camera which didn’t even run on batteries. It was always plugged into a wall outlet. So all the shots had to be from the same angle.
We had so much fun, and without realizing it, it built this love to make films. My brother didn’t have the opportunity to study film when he grew up, but I was fortunate enough to pursue it.
Q: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your work?
The most challenging part is to not lose track of my purpose. In filmmaking, and especially here in Los Angeles, it’s easy to get distracted and discouraged by society’s expectations and criticism.
To survive in this industry it requires thick skin and deep pockets. The former I’m getting better at, but the latter is a little trickier.
Q: Let’s stray slightly off-topic. You recently launched a fundraiser for an Assyrian boy named Andraos. Can you tell us a little more about him? Why did this one boy, out of thousands, leave such a lasting impression on you?
Each time I’ve gone to Erbil, I’ve come across him randomly in different camps. Andraos is a special kid. He is an 11-year old Assyrian who has been displaced, now living in Ankawa, Iraq.
He has this love for cameras, so I would always give him my equipment to play with. Finally, I decided that I need to buy him his own. So I created a fundraising page in order to do so and to support his education. Hopefully one day he will be able to follow his passion like I did.
Sure enough, 51 people donated to the fundraising campaign. Very soon, he will have a camera and enough money to fund his schooling until he graduates.
I realize that Andraos becoming a filmmaker simply because of this fundraiser is a long shot. I understand that. But what I really want him to understand is that there is hope. Someone out there cares.
Q: Three words that come to mind when you hear the word Assyria:
Strength. Dream. Home.
Q: Pretend you could turn back time—maybe five or six years back—and picture yourself in your native Qamishli. What’s one thing you’d love to do again that you simply can’t anymore?
I would just love to walk around my neighborhood and just casually visit my friends. I can’t do that anymore. Most of my friends have left Syria already, including all of my cousins.
It hurts to see the front doors of their homes closed.
Q: Are you working on anything now? What can we expect next from Sargon Saadi?
There is a new film that I’m writing and developing right now. You can expect a feature length documentary that is very different from all of my other films.
Q: Exciting—we can’t wait. In the meantime, how can people watch your films?
My latest film Silence After the Storm is now available on Amazon, but all of my projects are listed on my website: SargonSaadi.com.