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Shamim Sarif's �I Can�t Think Straight� Goes Around the World: Interview

Shamim Sarif's �I Can�t Think Straight� Goes Around the World: Interview

Shamim Sarif takes I Can’t Think Straight message around the world. I Can’t Think Straight, starring Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth, and Antonia Frering explores the clashes between East and West, love and marriage, tradition and individuality.

It has been a little more than a year since I Can’t Think Straight had its world premier at the Hamburg International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Since then it has been shown at dozens of film fests both in the US and around the world and the film’s reception has far exceeded writer/director Shamim Sarif’s expectations.

I Can’t Think Straight tells the story of Tala, a London-based Jordanian of Palestinian origin preparing for her wedding, who meets Leyla, a British Indian woman who is dating her best friend. As different as the two women are they discover an immediate attraction beyond friendship but Tala, not ready to accept where her heart is taking her, flees to Jordan. Leyla tries to move on with her new-found life and deal with her traditional parents. I Can’t Think Straight explores the clashes between East and West, love and marriage, tradition and individuality.

The film is adapted from Sarif’s novel of the same name. It was written, produced, directed and financed almost entirely by women by Enlightenment Productions, co-owned by Sarif and her professional and personal partner of 14 years, Hanan Kattan.

Sarif spoke with SheWired, from her home in London, about the film and other projects in her very busy life.

SheWired: I Can’t Think Straight has been shown around the world, what has that experience been like?

Sarif: It has been phenomenal … much more than I expected it to be. It’s tough enough with your first movie to get any kind of theatrical release … it has been fantastic … but I think even better than that has been being able to go to a lot of the festivals because feedback from the audiences has been wonderful. A lot of directors don’t sit through the films again and again but I always do with Hanan because we enjoy watching what different audiences respond to. It’s been a wonderful journey for us.

SheWired:Any surprises as you have made the journey?

Sarif: The surprises, if any, have been pleasant … I was worried that in certain areas the  politics or the fact that the relationship is between two women might be controversial. In general we have had positive feedback from a lot of Arabs, some negative too, but mostly positive.  And the film has shown in Israel as well so it has been really good on that front. We have had one or two hiccups where India censored the film quite heavily  and were not supportive of it but in general it’s been good … people have found that it opened their view of what a romantic comedy could handle in terms of politics and back story.

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SheWired:What do you want audiences to take away with them after seeing the film?

Sarif: I would like audiences to take away the feeling that it’s always a good idea to be true to yourself no matter what how difficult the circumstances or how many people tell you differently you shouldn’t be afraid the challenge the traditions and the ideas and the conventions

SheWired:This was your first experience as a director?

Sarif: Yes, it was the first shoot I was ever on, actually. It was sort of hair raising … but they say if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger and I have Hanan with me and a great director of photography, and Lisa Ray [who plays Tala] is such a phenomenal friend and we kind of pulled it together and just kept going and by the end of it I felt that if we could get through that we could handle anything as a director.

SheWired:Would you like to do direct again?

Sarif: Definitely! I absolutely loved it … I loved the writing part, as well. I think directing is much more about people management, so a large percentage  of your time is spent on that that so that by the time it’s all over, I’m ready to sit in a room quietly by myself but I really loved the experience … It’s like juggling 20 plates and you never know which one is going to drop first.

SheWired:You are an author – novelist, short stories, music lyrics – a screen writer and a film director – what do you like to do best?

Sarif: That’s a tough one. I think ultimately it’s about telling stories and getting ideas and themes across and I feel lucky that I have been able to do that in all these different ways. But I really couldn’t pick one. I would really hate to say that I could only be a novelist for the rest of my life or only a film director. I enjoy all of the facets of all of those.

SheWired:You wrote the lyrics for two songs in the film – how did that come about?

Sarif: I wanted an Arabic language song over the love scenes and we couldn’t get permission for the ones that I wanted because of the nature of the scenes between two women. So Hanan said, ‘You always wanted to write song, why don’t you write something and we’ll get it translated?’ Once she sowed the seed I started thinking about it between two and four in the morning in my spare time and just sort of came up with these lyrics. Our amazing composer helped put the music together for us and before I knew it they were recorded. It’s a phenomenal feeling to have them on the sound track.

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SheWired:Tell us about Enlightenment Productions?

Sarif: We started it because as a writer I was shopping scripts to Hollywood and had a couple of things optioned and had a couple of those typical Hollywood experiences where you write an unrequited love story and they’ll do it but you have to put in two sex scenes. It occurred to me that I was going to lose all sorts of control over my work but I didn’t feel confident enough to go out there and sell the concept and produce so  I persuaded Hanan to come on board even though she has no film background. I just knew instinctively she could do it and she did. So we started Enlightenment Productions together and really the growth of that as a production and sales entity is due to her.

SheWired:What’s in the future for I Can’t Think Straight?

Sarif: Hopefully sell a lot more DVDs … we are putting the film up for digital download on our website in the next two or three weeks, which is great for us because we have a lot of people who have contacted us from the Middle East and countries that traditionally have a hard time importing DVDs so we think that’s a plus if we could stop some illegal downloads. We’re also working on I Can’t Think Straight as a TV show and trying to set that up in the States.

SheWired:What are you working on now?

Sarif: We have two feature films -- Despite the Falling Snow – based on my second novel and The Dreaming Spires,  based on a short story that I published a while back … actually the unrequited love story that was  once optioned in Hollywood … So now we can try and make it make it without any sex scenes, which would be nice.

We’re working on a cooking show… I absolutely adore food and cooking… that’s another passion of mine. And we’re just working on setting up the Middle Eastern cooking concept. Hanan is a Palestinian from Jordan and we think that people are so much more aware now but still do not know how to cook at home… so we thought that might be a fun idea.

You never know what things are going to come up first so we always have two or things on the go and I am always working on other scripts and stories as well.

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Edie Stull