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Film by MPT Alumnus Shady Srour, Sense of Need, Achieves Critical Success

Images from the trailer for Sense of Need
Images from the trailer for
Shady Srour's film Sense of Need

Shady Srour, an alumnus of the Academy of Art University's School of Motion Pictures & Television, has been incredibly busy since graduation. His first film, Sense of Need, has received critical acclaim from both festivals and print publications, including the New York Times. He has several film projects in production, both in Israel and in America, working on a television spin-off of his film, considering offers to teach film at several universities, has been accepted to a prestigious film workshop in Morocco, and even has taken time to act in stage productions.

With so much going on, it's a wonder that he had time to sit down and chat! Luckily, amid the chaos of work and success, he was kind enough to speak about his busy career, his time at the Academy, and his promising future:

Your film, Sense of Need, has been touring for the last year or two. How did you develop and execute the concept for this film?

I think it was definitely a labor of love, and also an attempt over four years to come to terms with myself as a student émigré from the Holy Land of Israel and Palestine, living in the United States. Although I know this sounds a bit clichéd, but it was a kind of "portrait of the artist as a young man" experience for me, and one that compelled me to share the experience with others. For some people, it is expressed in music and art, and for me, it took expression on reel.

A funny thing that folks have noted is how my appearance changes from one part of the film to the next. I start with woolly long hair, and by the end, I'm without any! Making the film was a kind of artistic cleansing process for me over the four years, and I guess that's also apparent on screen.

Poster for <i>Sense of Need</i>, a film by Shady Srour

The film has received a lot of great press since it debuted. Can you speak about this a bit?

Well, I think that we've been very lucky as a first feature film, but also everybody has been so supportive of the film, both in the Holy Land and in the United States, from Sense of Need film team members to a host of organizations that reached out in ways that was a real surprise to us.

A listing of press can be found on the film's Web page. I think it's safe to say that none of us were really prepared for the unusually good word of mouth the film has generated. Even at the festivals, it was usually nominated for an award category. At the Golden Colorado Film Festival, it received the "Festival Best" award, and recently it was added to the New York Times Critic's Pick List for 2006, so you can imagine.

Back in the Holy Land, there's been governmental support as well, from the Al Qattan Foundation (a part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO), to the government of Palestine, and also some friendly corporate press sponsorship as well.

In the beginning, a few critics said that the film wasn't going to fly because it had an experimental look and feel about it, but recently they've been silent, so hopefully we've also won their support as well along the way!

How did you enjoy your time at the Academy?

I'm so grateful to the Academy of Art University. I especially connected with my professors who taught me the dramatic arts and the philosophy of modern filmmaking. I've sometimes been described as a lover of the abstract, and I think the Academy definitely prepared me mentally and practically to translate this tendency toward the abstract ideas into something people can relate to emotionally, and in a vivid way.

I'd like to thank Jack Isgro, Diane Baker, John Dobson, Miguel Balboa, Diane Brody, and Eduardo Rufeisen. They were marvelous instructors and mentors, and that's only to name a few.

What advice would you give a novice filmmaker who wants to produce and market a film such as yours?

First, always show a successful and optimistic face always, because this is what attract others to your project. Find yourself, and make a movie about what compels you personally; then it becomes a natural process, like giving birth. Also, believe in your ideas, even if you find critics along the way. It is crucial to be a good listener, but to know how to filter the criticism you receive.

Finally, persevere despite difficulties, whether they are interpersonal, technical, or logistical. A filmmaker must believe in his film and in his ideas; otherwise, he cannot inspire anyone else, and the biggest obstacle is not the lack of finances or resources, or genius. The biggest obstacle to any artist is self-doubt. Once you can overcome doubt, production and other issues become peripheral.

Also, remember to stay nice and stay in touch with everyone who helps you along the way, and stay humble. It's so easy to forget the screening house manager who gives you some complimentary screenings, or the artists who volunteered their insights when you were at the thirteenth hour. It's so important to stay close to your film family.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm writing my next movie, Sense Of Will, which was selected to the MFD Program, a three-session workshop in Morocco that selects ten films from the Middle East. I'm partnering with Laurel Hunter in the United States to work on a feature film, Line of Despair. Financing is currently under research for that project.

Back in the Holy Land, there's been some exciting developments concerning a television spin-off to Sense of Need. We're in the middle of talks to raise financing, and we're currently actively researching additional European partners to generate more interest. I've been asked to teach in some places, such as Jerusalem University and the Arab Cinema School of Nazareth. I've been asked to sit as an honorary board member on the production of a film that is being produced by one of my Sense of Need team members, and shooting should begin on that project on the east coast of the United States sometime in the near future. Also, I'm acting in some stage plays.

So with these activities in the United States, I hope to maintain somewhat of an artistic presence, while focusing on productions that will do well in the world cinema market, especially in the Holy Land, where my parents and family reside.

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