Gather Around, Composing, 17/07/2017

So I’ll get back to the walk with Milton Friedman tomorrow. Today, I want to talk about yesterday, the film shoot for our documentary. Working title is Around One Table.

Sunday, Khalil and his family met up with Nancy and her family for a big vegetarian buffet dinner in Nancy’s backyard in East York. It was a tough shoot in some ways – technical difficulties, barking dogs interrupting interviews, rain, fear of rain, some typically Canadian social awkwardness. Well, really Ontarian social awkwardness.

Not only that, but the food was pretty damn good. Conceptually,
potato soup and spiciness could never really go together. But
they did it – I could tell it involved some strategically placed
chillies. I was impressed. 
But we had some beautiful moments that I think are going to make for a fantastic film. Let me tell you about some of them.

About a month ago, we filmed an interview with Khalil and his wife Samar while they prepared an iftar dinner and sent it along to a couple they’d met earlier through the Welcome Dinners program. Samar spoke about the meal she prepared, and shared happy memories of her early married life with Khalil and childhood in Syria.

Khalil gave us a long interview in Arabic, his first language, where he’s most comfortable.* So I sat with him while my co-director Maher asked the questions, and Khalil remembered for us what it was to leave Syria.

* He told me at the shoot today that I speak beautifully, but much too fast for him to follow what I’m saying.

I don’t know all the details. But he’d mentioned to me in English earlier that this interview would tell the story of his travel down the Road of Death. There are several Roads of Death in Syria, but this is the one leading out of Homs, eventually going through Damascus and into Lebanon.

So Khalil, in Arabic, told the story of how he jammed his wife Samar and their five kids into a car and chugged along a highway pockmarked with bomb craters, whose shoulders were dotted with the burned out – and sometimes still smoking – skeletons of cars and their drivers.

Families just like his run off the road, robbed, and slaughtered, as they were fleeing the mass air war that would pummel their city.

We recorded it in closeup, because you’d have to be a fool to tell that story in wide shot.

That interview was back in June, as we were shooting some meal exchanges our Syrian participants made with their partner / host families to celebrate Ramadan.

Sunday, we talked with Nancy and Tim, the hosts for Khalil, Samar, and their kids today. Nancy told me a story that wasn’t quite as harrowing as Khalil’s worst road trip ever. But it was a shock to her.

Hey, White Supremacist. Do you want to get the fuck out of my
whimsical old-growth Canadian urban community?
So do you remember a few days after Donald Trump won the election to be President of the USA? And these posters asking white people to mobilize against multiculturalism appeared in a historic neighbourhood of Toronto in the East York borough?

Nancy teaches at a very ethnically and culturally diverse elementary school that was in the epicentre of that poster blitz. She was horrified. She ran exercises at her school to teach even the youngest children about our fundamental solidarity as humans.

She helped organize a group that distributed buttons reading “Unite Against Hate” for people to stick on their clothes and backpacks. Her neighbourhood is now covered in rainbow-coloured posters and lawn signs reading “Unite Against Hate” in English, French, and other languages like Hindi and Arabic.

It’s very easy to say that such actions don’t mean anything. But they’re communications that are constantly present in the community. They always blast the message that this is a community that stands against racism and embraces solidarity regardless of who you are, as long as you too embrace that same solidarity.

But they are also targets on every house. That same courage is at the heart of a community’s solidarity too.

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