When I first met Tarek Abouamin, he was filming a man throwing a sink through the roof of a $100 Lincoln in the back lot of a KOD near the Macdonald Bridge.
That was 2002. I was a journalism student and he was director of photography on a film called Mr. Pirc.
Five years later, we're sitting in his Creighton Street studio, listening to Scottish tenor Kenneth McKellar's 1968 gospel tune "God Be in My Head." The song features significantly in Abouamin's short film The Motorcycle, which will be screened along with Aram Kouyoumdjain's The Lullaby of Mike Bossy and Brad Horvath's One Hit Wonder at the Oxford Theatre next Wednesday.
Abouamin describes The Motorcycle as a surreal account of memory through the story of a five-year-old boy, Joseph, and his experience in the picturesque Nova Scotian landscape.
The three films were made possible by the CBC/Film Nova Scotia Bridge Award: an award for emerging producers offering funding and a broadcast licence for short-film projects.
"The Bridge Award is a step in the door," says Abouamin, who is also a film arts instructor at NSCAD University, and cinematographer on local films Masquerade and Serious Miracles. It allowed him to double his funding for The Motorcycle when he won in 2005, and most importantly, the broadcast licence (a filmmaker's golden ticket) got him a debut of the film on CBC TV on May 8.
As a producer, Abouamin says his golden ticket came up because, as a producer, he knew how to do his paperwork.
"If it doesn't happen on paper, it doesn't exist," says Abouamin. He says it's frustrating to be an artist and a businessperson at the same time, but learning to navigate the sea of forms and applications is the only way to make headway in the film industry. The Bridge Award has been a sturdy paddle in that regard.
He defines himself as a "creative producer," meaning he's involved in almost every aspect of his film—casting, cinematography and editing.
Don't mistake this for a coup on set, though. While the work is ultimately Abouamin's project, he stresses the importance of having everyone involved in the process, and making it a real collaborative work.
"The process is the work," he says, sounding a bit like Marshall McLuhan. "It doesn't matter what the work ends up being, we'll all grow and continue to grow, and have something else to make."
This may seem like talk, but when The Motorcycle opens, you don't see a big, bold "Tarek Abouamin Presents..." with everyone else as just a footnote. Before the film begins, all those involved have their names displayed at the same time in a big block of text.
Part of Abouamin's philosophy of collaboration is: for every opportunity, give one in return. He found himself on the receiving end of this equation after the open casting-call for The Motorcycle.
Abouamin gave the part of 12-year-old Joseph to Joshua Miguel. Joshua is the son of Rodolfo "Rudy" Miguel. Rudy Miguel was a crewman on the infamous Maersk Dubai, a Taiwanese freighter where two Romanian stowaways were set adrift at sea, with a third hidden safely by Miguel until the ship arrived in Halifax.
Abouamin's next project-in-development is a documentary about Miguel's witness to the Maersk Dubai incident. Abouamin says Miguel has been approached for documentaries before and refused, so he would not have landed the project if it weren't for Joshua.
"For whatever life reasons that brought us together, there's this wonderful warmth and openness between us that was immediately felt in the way I was dealing with him and with his family so, yeah, I stumbled onto the next wonderful piece."
CBC/Film Nova Scotia Bridge Award screening, Wednesday, November 28 at the Oxford Theatre, 6408 Quinpool, 7pm, free.