When filmmaker Ruba Nadda began writing the indie thriller Inescapable six years ago, she never dreamed she’d receive so much attention before the film hit theatres. And I don’t mean attention in a good way.
Set mostly in politically torn Syria, the film’s trailer immediately went viral a few months back when it debuted on YouTube.
“I was excited until I read the comments,” admits Nadda during a recent interview at the Toronto International Film Festival alongside the film’s lead, Alexander Siddig. For the Syrian-Canadian auteur, those comments soon revealed “the most graphic thing I’ve read in my life.”
Choked up by death threats and warnings from apparent supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the YouTube comment section was quickly dismantled for the director’s security — not that it put Nadda at ease.
“I’m paranoid by nature because I’m an Arab, so I feel like I’m always being watched,” half-jokes the filmmaker. “In the last year and a half, (Syria) exploded and (the movie’s) become very timely, but I’ve always known just the extent of how dangerous the government in Syria is.”
Nadda’s aim is to shed further light on the poisonous police state where civil strife broke out in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.
The fast-paced drama tells the story of a Syrian officer (played by Siddig, also the star of her 2009 romantic hit Cairo Time) who ditched his military life to raise a family in Canada. When his daughter goes missing in his former homeland, the ex-operative returns to rescue her. On the surface it’s reminiscent of the Liam Neeson thriller Taken, a connection Nadda is quick to diffuse.
“Since actually Romeo and Juliet, the core of original stories have not been original,” says Nadda. “So it’s not really that similar to Taken except that a daughter is kidnapped. If people are comparing our little baby to that then fine, let’s go for it.”
“It’s really the question of what are we doing with it that’s different, that makes it special, that makes it nourishing for an audience,” adds Siddig, quickly coming to the defence of his director. “What Ruba has done is taken a framework that is familiar and done something really intriguing with it.”
Perhaps most famous for his role as Dr. Julian Bashir in the long running television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Siddig embraced the role of a desperate father, even if he did not see him as an action hero.
“I don’t think people should be going to the cinema expecting to see this kind of high-adrenaline thing. This is very much an indie movie and he picks up the gun for two seconds and he gets rid of the gun as soon as he can,” admits Siddig. “He turns into a kind of serial loser and he gets into a lot of fights and doesn’t actually win any of them.”
Nadda and Siddig are battling a few fights of their own. When the movie premiered at TIFF earlier this month, the thriller was blasted with mixed reviews. Sure, it may not compare to death threats from supporters of the Syrian regime, but surely it’s bothersome, no?
“For Cairo Time, (bad reviews) were so devastating on my nerves, (then) later it was the best reviewed (romance) film on Rotten Tomatoes so you just don’t know,” says Nadda who admits she’s trying to avoid reading reviews, based on the advice of Atom Egoyan, her filmmaking mentor.
“There are reviews out there that are raving about the movie and people are talking about it and they’re loving it so Atom’s response to me was: ‘Don’t be controlling, you made a movie and in this climate, there are going to be people who love it and people who don’t like it. Get over it, move on.’”
Whether it’s attacks from jaded, cynical film critics or supporters of an oppressive regime, that’s probably the best advice for any filmmaker.