Anouar H. Smaine – Circassian culture is very rich, very diverse, and very folkloric

ANOUAR H. SMAINE

Award Winning American Filmmaker of Algerian descent

Writer, Director, Producer, Actor

Lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Director: "Modern Times" (2009), "Axis of Evil" (2010),  "Street Law" (2010), "Breaking Free" (2010), "My Love" (2010), "Sharia" (2015), and the upcoming "Battle Fields" (2017).

Producer: “Ménages” Short, “Ménages” Feature, “Honor among thieves”, “Screw it”, “Axis of Evil”, “Sharia”, “Battle Fields”

 

– Anouar, your social film "Sharia" talks about the complexity of international relations and hints at the importance of dialogue between cultures and civilizations. Do you consider Cinema a strong key to mutual understanding?

– Anouar H. S: Absolutely. Filmmaking and Cinema are such important tools to communicate ideas and express feelings and emotions about who we are, what we are going through, and what we aspire to be. Telling a story through film expresses that which connects us to people we have never met or know anything about. It brings people together regardless of religion, culture and traditions, nationality and politics, around what unites us all as a specie; our humanity.

The world we live in today is polarized and so societies are becoming more and more closed upon themselves while fearing and sometimes even rejecting anything they perceive as different. Filmmaking and Cinema help introduce us to one another, break ice between us all, and highlight our commonalities. That’s a power that is unique and almost exclusive to filmmaking and cinema.

 

– What do you think about Circassian culture and whom do you know among Circassian artists?

– Anouar H. S: I know of Circassian culture to be one that is very rich, very diverse, and very folkloric if I may describe it that way. I know that Circassians have amazing family values, a great sense of honor and dignity, and an unshakable pride in their identity and the history that shaped it. As a matter of fact, as an American of Algerian descent, I can see so many cultural similarities between Circassian and Algerian cultures specifically with the beautiful traditional clothing, the refined gastronomy that has been transmitted throughout the centuries, and how history has shaped the will of both peoples to always better themselves through knowledge and innovations.

Some of the many remarkable Circassians I know of are: ballerina Ludmila Tcherina, conductor Yuri Temirkanov, folklore singer Cherim Nakhushev, internationally acclaimed filmmaker and musician Amina Zhaman.

– You have studied mostly in foreign languages and received two Masters degrees in Political Science and French respectively, and also attended New York Film Academy at Universal Studios. Does knowing such difficult language as Arabic made it easier for you to learn English and French?

– Anouar H. S: While I very much value the many cultural heritages I have, I feel fortunate to call myself a citizen of the world who can not only speak Arabic – a beautiful language – but also French, English, and some Spanish as well. Being able to communicate with people of other cultures in their own language has always made me feel closer to others in a way that makes me better understand their feelings and hopes, their joys and pains, and most importantly – their outlook on this beautiful and complex world we all live in. When you speak different languages with people you do not necessarily know, an emotional bond is created highlighting the most important thing we all share; our humanity.

I was lucky to grow up in a household where both Arabic and French were spoken at all times. I learned English at a very early age between school and my love for American culture and its language.

– On set of Oscar's qualified film “Reign” (directed by Kimberly Jentzen, 2012) you worked as an actor, a Cultural Consultant, and a dialect coach. Does knowing your native language give you more opportunities in Hollywood?

– Anouar H. S: I was very fortunate to work on such important film and I thank Director and top Hollywood acting coach Kimberly Jentzen for bringing me on board.  Knowing an extra language whether it is Arabic, French, German, Swahili or any other beautiful language that exists is definitely a plus. Hollywood productions are in constant need for Actresses/Actors who know different languages as we have entered an era where we are not only telling American stories, we are also telling stories that take place in other parts of the world. Contrary to what many may think, International audiences are very sophisticated and know it when an actor is simply mimicking as opposed to really speaking a language. Although there still are productions that still do not give much importance to this detail, many US productions tend to hire natives of a specific language to speak it on screen for the sake of authenticity, respect for a given culture, as well as connecting with international audiences.

 

– You have collaborated with the legendary cinematographer Jack Green ("Unforgiven", "Space Cowboys"), Academy Award Winning sound designer David MacMillan ("Indiana Jones", "Paranoia"), acclaimed character actor Will Wallace ("The Thin Red Line", "The Tree of Life") and Hollywood star/TV host Sean Stone ("Natural Born Killers", "JFK", "The Movie Man", RT America's "Watching the Hawks", Gaia.com's "Buzzsaw"). You have also worked with actors that are unknown to international audience. What's the difference between work with famous and unknown artists?

– Anouar H. S: Every person you mentioned in your question has been very kind and generous with me and for that, I am very grateful and honored to have worked and learned from all of them. I especially want to thank Sean Stone who not only was very supportive but also generous with his valuable time, advice, and friendship throughout the making of “Battle Fields”.

I have a great deal of respect for artists from all walks of life, regardless of how famous or less famous they may be. From my personal experience, I think it all depends on the kind of pressure one puts herself/himself under. All of us in this industry are into this beautiful thing called art and creativity and need to support one another, especially on set where pressures and tensions may build up. Many people have encouraged me and forgave my gaffes on Set, and that is exactly what I do; set your expectations for your actresses/actors, but also be human in a sense that people have circumstances and things they deal with in their personal lives that may affect their attitudes or performances, you are there to help them manage all that and deliver the best performance they can. You can be demanding, but always be kind, be understanding, and be human.

  

– Your father Mohamed Hadj Smain is an internationally acclaimed stage and screen actor, director, and playwright. He also worked as a production supervisor on Oscar-nominated 1966 Italian-Algerian film "The Battle of Algiers" (directed by Gillo Pontecorvo) which premiered at Venice International Film Festival in 1966. He is your biggest inspiration in art and life. In "Sharia" (2015) actor Said Faraj looks at a picture of your real father in one of the film’s scenes. Was that a symbolic tribute to your father?

– Anouar H. S: I adore my father, I love my dear mother so much as well. My father, in this specific context, has been such a powerful but discreet force and inspiration throughout my life. My father is the kind of artist who gave absolutely everything to Theatre, Film, Writing, and Directing. The man worked so hard that I remember him not being able to spend that much time with us simply because he would be preparing a play, rehearsing for a film role, or teaching at the Algerian National School of Dramatic Arts which he was one of the main founders. He had the incredible opportunities of working as an actor, a director, a producer, or a writer on some interesting plays and films at the time. The two most important ones were Gilo Pontecorvo’s iconic film “The Battle of Algiers”, and The Festival de Cannes’s Golden Palm Winner “Chronicles of the Years of Fire”.  By showing my father’s picture in the hands of the main character of the film “Sharia”, I wanted to remind myself that while I am working on telling stories that matter to me, my source of inspiration and passion is constant through the presence of this beautiful artist that my father has been his entire life.

 

– Tell us a little about “Battle Fields”, what is it? And why tell this story now?

– Anouar H. S: “Battle Fields” is a story that is close to my heart and that I really wanted to tell since it brings awareness about the devastating psychological effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) on Veterans, many of which sadly commit suicide at a staggering rate of 22 suicides per day, but also on their families who have to live through it all. There’s also a great victim of PTSD in the civilian populations of countries that were devastated by war in the past decade or so and whom on top of having lost loved ones in the conflict, have to carry on and live with those psychological wounds for the rest of their lives. It’s a very sad reality, but one that has to be told, reflected upon, and drawn lessons from. To sum it up, I wanted to show that War has real and lasting consequences, it is not something one can turn on and off at the push of a button. Three amazing people I’d like to acknowledge and thank for greatly helping with this film are Jonathan Angelier, Sean Stone, and Jake Clark. Jonathan Angelier has been a good friend and a producing partner for many years now. He is the force behind the producing of multiple award winning film “Sharia”, which I had also written and directed.

I had brought up the idea of “Battle Fields” to Jon a few years ago and he immediately liked it. By the time our film “Sharia” had hit the festival circuit, I had already written the script for “Battle Fields” and Jon started working on all the logistics that would go into play to make the film assuring me that he would handle it all and he did. When you step onto a Battle Field you want a reliable soldier to watch your back and Jon was that soldier and I’m deeply grateful to him. I was very fortunate to have Sean Stone as part of this production as well. After reading the script and joining the film’s cast to play Bobby (A veteran whose life is devastated by PTSD), Sean provided incredible insight, advice, and input about his character and how to best portray Bobby as a vulnerable human being who had a decent life before the war, but who later was transformed by all the things he may have witnessed during the war, leading to his life falling apart. For the sake of authenticity, Sean brought on board Jake Clark; a veteran himself who spent a lifetime serving this country but who also served multiple Peacekeeping tours to the former Yugoslavia where he witnessed the aftermath of genocidal atrocities, greatly affecting his worldview.

Jake, a man I greatly admire and respect, is doing some incredible healing work with Veterans with PTSD through his “Save a Warrior” Non-profit organization. He was an incredible source of information, moral support, and generosity with regards to bringing “Battle Fields” to life. His valuable input and expertise about what Veterans and their families go through reinforced my determination to tell this story about the humanity that exists within all of us no matter our personal circumstances, our political convictions, our religion, or our nationality. As JFK once put it: “We all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

 

– What are you working on at the moment?

– Anouar H. S: I am actively working on finding sources of funding for a feature script I have written a few years ago about the importance of giving hope to young minds through education in countries that have been ravaged by conflicts fueled by extremes of all kinds. The script itself made it to the final selection stage of the Doha Institute’s Grants program a year ago, but ended up not getting any grants in the end – it’s a tough competition out there.

The importance of making films out of storylines like the one I just mentioned is that so many innocent children in the Arab/Muslim world are indirectly pushed from a very early age to choose between economic despair and poverty they witness through their parents, and joining those who promise them some kind of instant salvation through acts of violence. If I am able to inspire just one parent, one aunt or uncle, one politician, or one citizen to help a child understand and believe that there is hope through a good education, and that poverty and despair are not necessarily their ultimate fate, then I will be satisfied. Being a filmmaker in this day and age is a great responsibility in my humble opinion. There is so much misunderstandings, intolerance, rejection, and xenophobia coming from all directions and my ultimate goal is to make a difference by telling stories that bring societies and civilizations close to one another as opposed to what is happening today in the world.

On a final note, I’d like to thank all people – there are many – who supported this project and contributed directly or indirectly to the making of this important film and especially our talented cast and our dedicated crew who spared no effort to bringing this important story to life.

 

 

Anouar H. Smaine’s Official Filmmaker’s Website:

http://anouarhsmain HYPERLINK "http://anouarhsmaine.com/"e HYPERLINK "http://anouarhsmaine.com/".com/

Anouar H. Smaine Official Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/AHSdirector

Anouar H. Smaine on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Ahsmaine

Anouar H. Smaine’s IMDb page:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3731039 

Official Facebook page for “Battle Fields” (2017) movie:

https://www.facebook.com/BattleFieldsMovie

Official Twitter Page for “Battle Fields”:

https://twitter.com/BattleFieldsMov

“Battle Fields” IMDb page:

http://m.imdb.com/title/tt6346970/