New Film by Award-Winning Professor Explores Hope, Voice, and Protest

September 06, 2020

A new film, The Translator, written and co-directed by Rana Kazkaz, assistant professor of communication at Northwestern Qatar, is a political thriller that tells the story of a Syrian man living in exile in Australia. The story takes place 11 years after the character, Sami, had implied a lack of support for the Assad regime while translating for the Syrian Olympic team in Sydney, causing him to fear the consequences if he were to return to Syria. 

The film has just been named one of 30 indie films that will be featured at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of its inaugural TIFF Industry Selects sidebar.

Explaining the theme of the film, Kazkaz said that “it is about finding your voice, with a subtheme focusing on how peaceful protests can contribute to that journey,” adding that audiences can recognize these themes both within the specific context of the film, but also in the larger global movements for political reform happening near them.

Within the film, Kazkaz pointed out, these themes are meant to show how the peaceful protests in Syria started and continue to this day because of hope – “the hope that their lives could change, that their influence in their own political process might increase, and that there might be a bit more freedom with their ability to express themselves.”

At a time when “people from Hong Kong and Belarus to Venezuela and France are being inspired by one another to go out into the streets,” Kazkaz hopes the film’s dominant messages will be familiar to a global community that is already politically active, serving as a reminder of the need to examine one’s accountability toward their countries and reflect on what it means to be a member of a community when that community is suffering or undergoing a crisis. 

“That is exactly what the main character is doing throughout the film,” she said. “He is examining – in not using his voice and just being a translator – just translating the words of others instead of saying what it is that he believes and thinks – how he has not been accountable to himself or his country.”  She added that this is also what resonates with her as an American of Syrian descent. 

This is Kazkaz’s first feature film, coming four years after her widely acclaimed silent thriller Mare Nostrum, which earned a Silver award at the 74th UFVA conference this year. Since its release in 2016, Mare Nostrum, which chronicles a Syrian father's decision to give his daughter a better life at the risk of putting her in danger, has been selected for more than 90 film festivals, winning more than 30 international awards in the process.

An aspiring actress turned screenwriter and director, Kazkaz cofounded her production company Synéastes Films in 2010, along with her husband Anas Khalaf, to highlight stories from the Middle East. Her films explore stories of struggle in the region, more recently focusing on the various human consequences of the Syrian Civil War.

In addition to Mare Nostrum and The Translator, her producing, screenwriting, and directing portfolio includes Searching for the Translator (2015), Ham (2013), Deaf Day (2011), Exquisite Corpse (2009), and Kemo Sabe (2007).

The main character in The Translator is male, and Kazkaz said she “began to really understand the political choice in that decision,” while making this film. “I recognize how important it is for me to make sure that my next main characters are female.”

Kazkaz received her MFA degree from Carnegie Mellon University/Moscow Art Theater and a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College. She earned certificates from the American Film Institute where she attended the Directing Workshop for Women and from the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.