The genesis for local film director Majid Koudmani's film, He Would Say, was drawn in part from his own experiences growing up as a first-generation immigrant. While he grew up just outside of Cochrane and is a first-generation immigrant, his father was born in Damascus, Syria.
"There [was an] idea of wanting to create a story about an immigrant and the kind of identity struggles that they go through. Our team also did research, speaking to a number of other immigrants who have had other experiences that have been similar for first-generation Canadians."
The film, which now streaming on CBC Gem and was shot in Calgary and the surrounding areas, revolves around a young immigrant who after his father's death struggles to reconcile his identity between his home and his family's heritage. Since the inception of the idea, the script for the film has continuously changed and evolved, which Koudmani underlined means that the film is not autobiographical, but still very much representative of his experiences growing up.
"The core of the emotional journey and the conflicts and growth that the two characters - the father and the son go through, I can definitely relate to some of that for sure," Koudmani said.
The film is meant to focus on how first-generation immigrants to Canada oftentimes find themselves torn between the heritage of the place they come from, while also trying to embrace their identity as Canadians.
"When removed from the place that they know so well and the place that makes up so much of who they believe they are; it's easy to easy to feel isolated from who you used to be," he said. "It is common to feel as though you're not sure who you are anymore."
In researching the film, he said that many first-generation Canadians will also deal with the guilt of leaving family behind in other countries.
"If there are people that are of those immigrant groups who watch this, maybe it will help communicate that those feelings and that process of reforming our identity are not unique and that it is shared with other people."
Growing up, Koudmani said that his father would often regale him with stories about Syria, which was not only his father's birthplace but the place where part of Koudmani's heritage comes from and when he himself returned to Syria to visit family, he said it was a refreshing experience and one that gave him pause.
"It was fascinating, a very interesting growth experience for sure. My whole life, especially as a child, I'd hear about this place and be told that it's where my heritage is; it's easy to romanticize it," Koudmani said. "Going there back [to Syria] not only did it add reality to these stories, but it put to bed a mysticism that I had had for a long time about a place that I consider to be part of myself."
His father who has viewed the film gave his seal of approval, which to Koudmani means the world.
"The film is very different from my own life, but the themes [that are] there are definitely relatable to both of us and I think that he is absolutely aware of that, having gone through that journey himself," he said. "And because of that was [he] grateful to see it. Honestly, if nobody else had watched it, and only he had enjoyed it, then it would have made it worthwhile."
However, Koudmani said that for Canadians who are watching the film and are not immigrants themselves, he hopes that they too come away with something.
"Maybe it can shine a light on some of the things that these groups might be feeling themselves, [so as to] hopefully promote better understanding."
While this is the Alberta filmmaker's newest project, he has also worked on other films, including the Netflix hit (also filmed in Alberta) Let Him Go, starring Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, and The Mountain Between Us (2017), which starred Kate Winslet and Idris Elba.