Austin Film Festival 2021
Greetings again from the darkness. This compelling film is the debut narrative feature film from co-writers and co-directors Adam Sjoberg and Seanne Winslow. Filmed on location in Oman (not sure I’ve ever seen another filmed there), it’s based on a true story and features first time actors in the key roles.
Local teenager Tariq (Rami Zahar) and privileged Westerner Cai (Rupert Fennessy) are best friends working at a rundown zoo. Cai is the more idealistic of the two, and dreams of rehabbing animals and releasing them back into the wild. Tariq is more grounded, and views it mostly as a job that allows him to help his family make ends meet. He does, however, enjoy learning about the animals from Cai.
When Tariq’s recently married sister Alia (Noor Al-Huda) confides to him that she wants a divorce from her abusive husband (“a bad man”), Tariq agrees to help. In this culture, a divorce is no simple matter. Her family must pay back the dowry – money the poor family doesn’t have. It’s here where the clash of cultures comes to a head. Right versus wrong means different things to Tariq and Cai. One is committed to doing right by his family, while the other wants to do right by the animals. The friendship is tested as Tariq sees opportunity in selling animals on the black market … in particular, a much valued trained falcon.
Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Nicholas Bupp, it’s fascinating to see the contrasting cultures of two close friends. In fact, friendship, family, and devotion are the prevalent themes here. The closing credits include clips and photographs of the real life friends.