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Interview with Bucher Almzain, Director of The Outcast

Bucher Almzain’s film, The Outcast, was the winner of the 2017 Fine Cut Film Festival Viewer’s Choice Award.

Biography:

Bucher hails from one of the oldest cities in the world: Damascus, Syria. He has previously worked professionally on several TV series in Syria, broadcast throughout the Arab World via satellite. His varied film experiences include his service as an associate producer, assistant director, and producer on numerous productions. In 2012, Bucher was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to pursue an MFA in Cinema Directing at Columbia College Chicago. He is fascinated by the dramatic human element of the mixing, merging and clashing of different cultures. These themes form the core of his work, most recently depicted in The Outcast.

 The Interview:

Bucher Almzain
Bucher Almzain

Do you think filmmaking is important for society?

Bucher Almzain: Filmmaking reflects society's culture and influences it in many ways. Filmmakers are like painters, poets and storytellers of the past. They have a strong point of view about society that they feel is crucial to communicate. In our modern day, filmmaking has a unique power to engage emotions, change opinions, create empathy and role models.

What do you hope an audience takes away from your film?

BA: I hope they take a new perspective through a story coming from a different culture. The characters in the film are just like everybody else. They are trying to make a better life for their families and loved ones. But what I really hope is that everyone draws his or her own conclusion from the events of the film. Eventually I think everyone may take something different from the film. I like to avoid telling the audience what they should take away.

What does having your film play at Cannes mean for a filmmaker?

BA: It is quite an accomplishment that I hope would open doors for my career as a director. Cannes is still the center of world cinema, and I am very excited about this opportunity.

Why did you make this film?

BA: This film tells the story of many people who come from where I was born and raised. I haven't seen this important story told yet. So I felt that I needed to bring it to life.

How do you come up with an idea for a film?

BA: It depends on each individual project. In the case of "The Outcast", it was based on real life images and events that happened to many Syrians, based on what my wife and I gathered through our research. Many of those stories stuck with me. When the Syrian crisis first unfolded, families were left to deal with the repercussions of their separations. I have also used many techniques people use in the new world. For example, the yellow paper that the main character writes street directions on, which are very different from her own country, was inspired by a real person I know. He figured out this simple technique to navigate the streets of a metropolitan city.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced?

BA: One of the major challenges was finding a lead actress who speaks Arabic. In terms of logistics, it was mainly finding an airport to shoot at. I started preproduction long before the shoot, and that helped with the variety of options.

How did you finance your film?

BA: I had to pitch the film to different sources. My funding came mainly from family, friends and personal funding. I had the support of Columbia College Chicago and the Fulbright program as well.

Why did you want to become a filmmaker?

BA: I have been directing "home plays" since I was a little kid. I felt in love with cinema later on during my adulthood. I belong to the generation that is passionate about watching world cinema. I also loved dark comedy shows.

What is your next project?

BA: I am always writing and developing concepts for future projects. There's a web series that I am hoping to get-off the ground soon. In a way, it belongs to the world of "The Outcast" film, but it deals with different characters and structure. I also have a feature and a documentary that I am in the process of developing as well.

What would you tell an aspiring filmmaker?

BA: I have been asked this question on many occasions by younger aspiring filmmakers. I tell them, don't do it if you are not ready to "burn" so many resources for it. In other words, the passion isn't enough if there's no determination. Because sometimes we think, especially in entertainment, that we love it when we are actually infatuated with the glamorous lifestyle. The road is not easy but it's rewarding on a personal level. One of the best things in the world for an artist is connecting with the audience emotionally and personally through his/her storytelling. When people start to find relevance in your story to their personal life, it is most rewarding. However, it does take a lot if sacrifices. And lastly, I am reminded of this great quote from the "Ben-Hur" film: "Remember: First to finish... Last to die".