Syrian director Sam Kadi talks to Elnaz Toussi about his debut feature The Citizen, his hopes for his homeland and the American Dream.

Kadi’s feature directorial debut The Citizen was inspired by personal experiences. It tells of an Arab immigrant who wins the American Green Card lottery and arrives in New York City the day before 9/11.

“The inspiration behind the story is the American Dream,” Kadi, 37, says. “It is a story of courage, love and perseverance.”

The plot is based on a series of true events that took Kadi close to three years to write with the help of Jazmen Brown and Arab-American playwright Samir Younis, who added his own experiences to the story.

“This movie belongs to every single American because we are all immigrants,” Kadi says.

Born and raised in Syria, Kadi became an engineer but decided to switch careers and become a filmmaker. He moved to the US in 2000 to pursue his dream of telling the stories he felt compelled to convey.

Kadi attended the Motion Picture Institute Of Michigan and went on to produce a series of short films after graduating in 2007. He now lives in Detroit.

“In a debut for a feature film, it was a dream,” Kadi says. “To take it from paper to picture – that was a journey.”

The dynamic was great between Kadi and an experienced cast that includes The Princess Bride’s Cary Elwes, Blood And Chocolate’s Agnes Bruckner, and William Atherton from Ghostbusters and Khaled Nabawy.

Kadi reminisces about one of the actors in the film. “He said this is your first feature film, but we signed on, we are on board with you and you are the director. You melt us the way you want.”

“I thought to myself, this is a pro. He did not care how long of a career he had. He cared about this movie being done right. It is heaven working with actors at this calibre.”

Kadi, Chris Wyatt of Napoleon Dynamite fame and Alan Noel Vega produced the 3K Pictures project, financed by private American investors. Ameer Kabour and Tarif Kanaan served as executive producers. Cassian Elwes represents US rights and will screen the film for buyers at Toronto in September. International rights have not been assigned.

The film was recently honoured with a private screening at Cannes and the director received much recognition at The Cinema For Peace Foundation for raising human rights issues in his films. This led to the opportunity for Kadi to address the International Criminal Court at The Hague on the ongoing crisis in Syria.

“It was an honour to accept the invitation and it was very important because with the Syrian crisis right now it is something in the human existence that none of us can afford to ignore,” Kadi says.

By way of advice to up-and-coming filmmakers Kadi offers this: “You have to be up for the challenge. You have to stop complaining and move forward. You will face a lot of challenges. It will not be easy. Surround yourself with professionals. People that take you up and not take you down. That is really the key.”

Kadi continues: “There are so many obstacles along the way that are enough for you, so you don’t need any help with people bringing you down. Stay focused and determined. Hollywood will open its doors for you, but it will not open right away.”