Asad, an 18-minute movie written and directed by Bryan Buckley, has been
nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Narrative Short. This
extraordinary tale about a 12-year-old boy who has to choose between
becoming a pirate or an honest fisherman was filmed in South Africa and co-
produced by local filmmaker, Rafiq Samsodien.
“Elation’ is the word Buckley, Jarjoura and Samsodien use when describing their
reaction to the Oscar nomination. “We feel really good about going into the big
Their confidence is not misplaced as Asad has already won a host of awards.
These include Best Narrative Short Film (Austin Film Festival), Best Short Film
(HollyShorts Film Festival), Audience Award (Los Angeles Film Festival), Best
Narrative Short Film (New Orleans Film Festival), Grand Prize (Rhode Island
International Film Festival) and Best Short (TriBeCa Film Festival).
The project was sparked in part by a United Nations short documentary entitled
No Autographs, which brought director Bryan Buckley and producer Mino
Jarjoura, both from the US, to refugee camps in Kenya and Sudan in the summer
of 2010. There they encountered Somali refugees in Kakuma in the harsh region
of northern Kenya.
“Their stories and their outlook on life haven’t been fully told and haven’t gained
the exposure they deserve. Writing a film about these people was the next
logical step,’ says Buckley.
“Bryan really wanted to make a film about this subject matter, a film that had a
voice. He sent me a draft. It was insanely good. We really didn’t change a word,
even when we translated it,’ adds Jarjoura.
Shooting in Somalia was just not an option in the current political climate as it is
simply too dangerous. With that in mind, Jarjoura and Buckley narrowed down
the possibilities to film in Kenya and South Africa.
Jarjoura called on Samsodien to research whether he could find a Somali
community to cast in Cape Town. To their surprise, Samsodien discovered that
there was an influx of Somali refugees in Bellville in the Western Cape.
This resulted in the entire cast consisting of refugees who had fled to South
“Though we shot in South Africa, it was important to tell the story with as much
reality as possible. We committed to the decision to cast all Somali refugees
knowing we’d have a film entirely of non-actors.
“Bryan saw it as an exciting challenge. Once we met our cast and learned their
stories, we adapted the production and learned a lot of things on the fly,’
“We were faced with some challenges, that’s for sure. Firstly, our two leads
Harun and Ali, didn’t speak English. We had anticipated that. Then, we learned
that they couldn’t read or write. They had never been to school and they had to
memorise 18 pages of dialogue.
“Then we found out that Harun couldn’t swim. In fact, he had never been to the
ocean. Half the film takes place on the water!’ says Buckley.
“The boys are extremely bright. They learned the dialogue by listening to it
being read aloud. Then, every morning, they went for a swimming lesson,
followed by a tutor lesson and then a rehearsal. They did a lot of work,’ Buckley
Asad’s location presented itself in the form of Paternoster, a coastal village in
the Western Cape. The film was shot on RED Epics by cinematographer Scott
“I spent a lot of time reading and interpreting stories and articles about coastal
villages. It was through a great deal of dialogue that Bryan and I discovered
how we felt about Somalia and its environment. We used these emotional
discoveries to design the environment,’ says production designer David Skinner.
With great care the crew created hand-designed and painted businesses out of
small houses that exist in the community around Paternoster, and then brought
brutal and senseless destruction to them.
“We built and then burned and built again. A sense of community and fellowship
surrounds the meagre commercial area in Asad that will not be overpowered by
the violence. Our intention was to transform this beautiful vacation destination
and local fishing village into an equally beautiful representation of the spirit of
the Somali people,’ adds Skinner.
Despite Asad receiving numerous awards at international film festivals globally,
the filmmakers insist that the movie’s most astounding achievement is boasting
an array of brilliant performances by a cast of Somali refugees.
Buckley and his team are doing everything in their power to get Harun and Ali,
who need special permission to travel due to their refugee status, to the
Academy Awards ceremony on 24 February.
By Martie Bester
screen africa magazine – feb 2013