Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan is a short film produced through the FILM 5 program at the Atlantic Filmmaker’s Cooperative (AFCOOP). It is a queer fantasy romance about Shadia, a Syrian refugee newly arrived to a small house on the coast of Nova Scotia with her aunt and uncle. When she finds a shell carefully placed on her dock one morning, she takes an interest in her new home for the first time. More gifts follow, and Shadia leaves her own in return. She is soon shocked to discover that her benefactor is a mermaid. Shock gives way to friendship, and friendship to something more as Shadia and the mermaid share wonders from their very different worlds.
About the Film
FILM 5 is a development program that provides support for emerging Nova Scotian filmmakers. Nicole R. Slaunwhite and Tim Hanley’s Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan was one of four films chosen to move into pre-production in January 2019, and they’ll shoot over the course of a weekend in May 2019.
The film comes from a desire to make a contemporary, relevant version of a classic fantasy romance. Nova Scotia is proud to be a new home to many Syrian refugees, and the province is known for its deep connection to the ocean. In Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan, the two are paired through a mermaid, a representative of the sea and of Nova Scotia itself, welcoming a new refugee to our shores.
As a college instructor, Nicole has taught immigrant and refugee students and gotten a glimpse into their lives, but neither Nicole nor Tim are themselves Syrian or immigrants. As such, they have worked with the local Syrian community from the beginning of the project to ensure an accurate, authentic, and respectful portrayal of Syrian culture and the refugee experience. The film will be shot in Arabic, and consulting producer Lina Arafeh has been especially invaluable in this regard, translating the script and offering input on every level of production. Accurate representation is key to this project, and the entire team is working together to keep authenticity at the forefront of each creative decision.
On the ocean side of things, Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan has an actual mermaid! Raina Norman of Halifax Mermaids will be starring as the mermaid, bringing both a realism and charm that will work wonderfully on the screen.
With Nicole directing a majority female cast, the importance of women telling women’s stories is paramount to this project. The production aims to prioritize diversity of all kinds behind the scenes as well, with a special focus on female and non-binary crew members. Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan will shoot locally in Hubbards, NS, with a crew comprised of professional technicians and trainees.
Although AFCOOP provides funding of $8,000 cash and in-kind services (equipment rental, training, post-production services), Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan is a unique project. Between shooting outdoors, a sizeable crew, and a climactic underwater scene, additional funds would go a long way to making the film the best it can be!
FILM 5 shoots are run as professional sets, with all of the costs therein. While many of the cast and crew operate on a basic honorarium, the project has all of the usual expenses associated with transport, craft services, locations, and the like. This is our current budget breakdown:
The additional $1500 from the Kickstarter campaign will be split in three ways:
1) The Climactic Underwater Scene – SPOILER ALERT!! There is an underwater kiss at the end of the film, requiring us to shoot in a special tank. With extra money we can:
a) Provide more time for Raina to train the lead actress on how to move and act underwater.
b) Have more time at the tank itself, allowing us to film more shots and angles.
c) Bring in specialized crew to maximize our shooting time and ensure some amazing shots.
2) Better Pay for the Crew – Crew members take huge pay cuts to work on FILM 5 projects because they believe in supporting emerging filmmakers. Several folks have even generously offered to donate their time entirely. With additional funds we can ensure that everyone gets paid, and maybe a bit more than they expected.
3) Topping Up Funds Across the Board – Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan is tightly budgeted, and with these extra funds we can make it even better. For example, more money will allow us to purchase higher quality props, wardrobe, set design, and craft services. There’s literally no aspect of production that won’t be improved with additional resources to take things from good to great.
Nicole R. Slaunwhite – Director, Co-Writer
After her debut novel won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in 2016, Nicole has published several new novels each year and branched out into game writing, comics, and now film. She is the recipient of AFCOOP’s First Thing Grant for her upcoming short documentary about Nova Scotia’s Victim Services Program.
Tim Hanley – Producer, Co-Writer
A pop culture historian and author, Tim’s first book, Wonder Woman Unbound, was named to the 2015 Amelia Bloomer List for recommended feminist reading. He’s since published two more books, contributed to several publications, and edits Nicole’s comic Wild Rose. Now he turns his eye for detail and project management to film production.
Hillary West – Production Manager
A mainstay in the local film community, Hillary is a graduate of the Screen Arts program at Nova Scotia Community College and currently works as a junior producer at the Cannes Lions award-winning Current Studios. Her years of pre-production and on-set experience will be a great asset to Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan’s swift shooting schedule.
Lina Arafeh – Consulting Producer
A Syrian immigrant herself, Lina is a community interpreter at ISANS with over fifteen years of interpretation and translation experience. She has also worked as a consultant on several BBC productions, including BBC Radio's recent Syria-set retelling of A Tale of Two Cities. Lina has translated the script for Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan, and continues to work with the team to ensure proper cultural accuracy and sensitivity.
Paul McCurdy – Director of Photography
With over a decade of work as a cinematographer, Paul has built a lengthy, versatile body of work. He shot the feature Ariyah & Tristan's Inevitable Break-Up, as well as a number of short films, including the 2016 Best Atlantic Short winner at the Atlantic Film Festival, Hustle & Heart. He's also done commercial work for clients ranging from Intel to McDonald's to Ford and more.
Raina Norman – The Mermaid
A performer, environmental activist, and educator, Raina brings her years of experience to the project. Her custom silicone tail is built to shoot well on camera, and her familiarity with it will give her a lovely fluidity and realism in the water. There is no one better to bring the mermaid to life, and Raina is key to ensuring underwater shots are executed as safely and effectively as possible.
Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan is still in pre-production and some crew positions have yet to be confirmed. This includes the role of Shadia, but auditions will begin soon and we will have more exciting announcements before the campaign ends!
Risks and challenges
Welcome – Ahlan wa Sahlan will be made regardless of the outcome of this campaign. With AFCOOP’s guidance and mentorship, shooting will begin in May 2019, but your kind support will allow us to realize the full scope of our vision for the film. Post-production will wrap in Summer 2019 and rewards will be sent out then.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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