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The Filmmaker Screening His L.G.B.T.Q. Movie Across the Middle East

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Photo courtesy of Kelly Levacher.

When Sam Abbas was in fifth grade, his father—a conservative Muslim man—didn’t want him attending his school’s sex-ed talk. Unfortunately, Mr. Abbas accidentally checked the wrong box on Sam’s permission slip—and his son didn’t correct him.

Abbas, who was born in Alexandria and raised in New Jersey, still laughs when he thinks about this moment of early rebellion. He’s now a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, with a company called ArabQ (pronounced “Arabic”), which aims to tell stories with L.G.B.T.Q. themes that are linked to the Middle East. Abbas is pretty sure his parents don’t know about his business: “They’ve never even looked me up, thank God,” he said in an interview.

That could change with the release of his first movie for the company, The Wedding, about a closeted Muslim man. The Wedding opens at Cinema Village in New York City in December—but Abbas also began screening the movie in theaters across the Middle East on Tuesday, though he is not allowed to say exactly where those invite-only screenings are taking place. And for his own safety, Abbas is not traveling to attend the screenings.

His Egypt-based business partner helped to secure the screening locations; their secret nature means guests are also able to watch the film without censorship, which a representative for Abbas added in an e-mail is never usually done in this part of the world. His team expects to release The Wedding on video on demand once its run in theaters is over, giving potential viewers another avenue to discover the movie.

The film focuses on Rami (played by Abbas) and Sara (Nikohl Boosheri_), a Muslim couple planning their wedding—while Rami secretly sees men on the side. The film, shot with a wide 16-mm. lens, has no close-up shots, which gives it a voyeuristic effect. “I wanted people to feel that you are looking into something you shouldn’t really be looking at,” Abbas said. “I wanted it to be as naturalistic as possible.”

Abbas considers himself to be a romantic—and though the film focuses largely on heartbreak, it has dreamy moments as well. Sara and Rami have a Blue Valentine poster hanging in their apartment; Rami can also be seen plucking the ukulele, just as Ryan Gosling did in that film. Though neither Blue Valentine nor The Wedding is exactly cheery, Abbas is not the kind of filmmaker who finds beauty only in happy films.

“I’ve watched [Blue Valentine] so many times, but it wasn’t until I watched it with somebody else that he said, ‘This is a sad story,’ and I was like, ‘Oh shoot, this is a sad story,’” he said. “But it’s so beautiful. This guy loves this person so much.”

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