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Interview: Ann Shin Talks My Enemy, My Brother


Every time when we watch the news we hear how one man kills another. Even when we look around, we don`t see that much kindness anymore. And if you try to help someone, there is always questions why you do something good to someone who you don`t even know. But that is what helps us to get better, to become better person. This is why after seeing Ann Shin`s My Enemy, My Brother I realized what exactly we need to hear more on TV that would help all of us to look forward hearing more fascinating stories like the one happened with Najah Aboud and Zahed Haftlang. My Enemy, My Brother is a real life story about two former enemies who become blood brothers for life.

When it comes to interviewing filmmaker, you as a journalist, blogger or film critic must always remember one rule: never miss an opportunity to turn your interview from ordinary into special one that would help the reader understand filmmaker`s intention better. And when it comes to such sensitive subject such as Iran-Iraq War, you of course, need to know something that you will never be able to read in the newspaper or see on TV. Here is why I am very pleased to introduce an in-depth interview with Ann Shin which I am certain you will find interesting to read.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you find out about the story of and Najah and Zahed?

Ann Shin: My friend Greg Kelly from CBC Radio told me about Najah and Zahed. He had done a radio doc about them and he told me about their amazing story and that they happened to live in Vancouver. As soon as I heard the story I was really moved by it. When I went to visit my parents who live in Vancouver, I sought them out and called them up and said, “I heard about your story, it’s so moving; I’m a documentary filmmaker and I’d love to just meet you.” So we sat down with cups of mint tea and they told me their story. Three hours later I was like, “Oh my goodness, I really do want to film with them, I really want to share the story with more people.”

MOVIEMOVESME: The film has an interesting narrative and the story has been exceptionally executed. While talking to them initially were the scenes of the film playing inside your mind already?

Ann Shin: The challenge of this film is that the miraculous moments of their story happened in the past. In the documentary I ultimately wanted to catch that on film as it happened. I was wondering if I can really make a compelling documentary with the story set in the past. Sure, it can be a script for a dramatic film which can be re-enacted but can this be a good doc? I struggled a lot with ‘how to do’; I didn’t want to do a recreation of the moment they meet. I knew somehow that the telling of the story had to happen so that the emotion between these two men and the bond in the present day is shown in relation to the past story as it unfolds. So I did a lot of advance thinking of the structure in this way: How to tell a past story as we show them in the present day life and to see how the past is part of the way they relate now, in the way they meet, in the way they talk, in the way they hug? So that kind of thinking I did a lot of.

MOVIEMOVESME: What was it you wanted to deliver to the viewer, telling them that this is what you must know?

Ann Shin: In this day and age most of the stories coming out of the Middle East are negative stories; stories about conflict and danger. This is one story that’s positive, it’s a real story about two regular, ordinary men who did something very extraordinary when they were put to the test. The bravery and the humanity that they show in that moment is so inspiring and commendable; it’s something I hope that I would be as brave on the battlefield if I’m ever in that situation myself. I just thought that it’s such a positive universal message and even more importantly it was such a positive message coming out of a troubled area of the world where most of the images of men from there are not favorable at all. So that also made me feel really devoted to this story in trying to get it told. To say this is another story from Iran and Iraq and it’s a positive one and there’s so many more like this. There are millions of people who are being brave, humane, kind and courageous in this time period and have so many positive stories; I wanted to celebrate that. It’s something really remarkable about the human spirit and we can see this happening in the Middle East now.

MOVIEMOVESME: In the light of the film being shortlisted for an Oscar, do you think that this will get the universal message of humanity, from your film, further promoted?

Ann Shin: Yeah, I think that any awards, jury or bestowing of awards are somewhat about chance and luck and stuff. So in that regard one can’t bank on these things or play so much stock because there’s so many amazing films out there. But in a sense it has given some more visibility to the film; I’m very grateful and appreciative. Also as a filmmaker, who put in a lot of work and sweat into their work, which is not necessarily compensated with money, it is personally gratifying to know that this story has moved other people as well as much as it has moved me. You just feel connected that way and that is very gratifying.

MOVIEMOVESME: My brother my enemy is going to be a part of the Regent Park Film Festival. Can you talk more about your involvement in it?

Ann Shin: Regent Park is a very culturally vibrant neighborhood in Toronto downtown neighborhood and the festival has got some really interesting programming going on. Even the fact that the neighborhood has a film festival is remarkable and is a testament to the vibrancy in the neighborhood. I feel particularly proud to be part of this festival because the neighborhood has gone through so much; it had the reputation for being a troubled area and it’s still trying to, in some ways, get past that reputation. In that way I feel like this festival has a lot of significance to Torontonians and particularly those in the neighborhood. The festival a wonderful addition to the transformation they’ve had in that neighborhood.

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