Award-winning writer and director Rana Kazkaz discussed her 10-year journey in making her first feature-length thriller during a community screening of 'The Translator' at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q).
The film follows the story of a Syrian translator living in exile in Australia who returns to Syria when his activist brother is taken prisoner by the Assad regime during the 2011 protests.
Since its release in 2020, the film has premiered in several countries including France and the US and has been featured in numerous international film festivals and film societies, including the Institut Du Monde Arabe in Paris.
Marwan M Kraidy, dean and CEO of NU-Q, introduced Kazkaz before the screening and noted that the film is “about courage and redemption in the very worst conditions,” underscoring how the film captures the human toll of wars.
Kazkaz was joined by Prof João Queiroga for a conversation about the film. She told the audience that at the outset of the protests in Syria, she was forced to leave the country as the unrest made her fear for her children’s safety.
“People started looking at one another suspiciously immediately when you go out in the streets; friends and family stopped knowing how to talk to one another,” recalled Kazkaz. “My children were small, and I was really scared to let them go to school.”
Using her foreign passports, Kazkaz was able to take her children and leave the country, but her husband stayed behind. “I thought I was leaving for a month. I packed a small suitcase for me and my children,” said Kazkaz. As tensions on the ground in Syria rose, her dreams of going back started diminishing.
Leaving was not easy for Kazkaz, who was haunted by the feeling of guilt for not participating in the protests and leaving her husband behind. As time passed by, she said the conflict took its toll on her relationship with her family.
But Kazkaz saw an opportunity in her plight. “We couldn’t talk about seeing one another but we could talk about making a movie,” she said. “Figuring out what kind of story we want to tell allowed us to be able to communicate again,” which inspired her to make 'The Translator'.
Kazkaz began writing the film script but soon faced the challenge of finding a central theme that captures reality on the ground. “I was really lost; there were a lot of sub-themes,” said Kazkaz. “At first, I thought I would talk about a man who finds his courage and then tried to focus on the slogans of the protests: freedom and dignity.”
Two years went by, and Kazkaz was still working on the script. But during her short film Mare Nostrum’s screening at Sundance, she met with a screenwriter who helped her find the missing piece.
Kazkaz, an assistant professor at NU-Q, is an award-winning filmmaker focusing on Syrian stories.