“The Blessing of this Chaotic Life…”: An Interview with Chicago Alum Rana Kazkaz


 OpEd Chicago alum, Rana Kazkaz, is skilled in capturing distant worlds through a video camera lens– and has   a selection to the Tribeca Film Festival to prove it. But when she’s not behind the camera lens, seated in a director’s chair, or chasing her young kids, she writes. It’s her own story that compels her to write to change the world.

A Chicagoan at heart, Rana calls the World home. Hers is a blurred, bittersweet, bicultural identity, a unique and vulnerable position, but a position shared by many. We sat down with Rana last week and she told us a little bit about her fascinating journey.

OEP: Please tell readers and followers a little bit about yourself and the projects you’re working on.

RK: I’m a filmmaker and writer.  The last film we made, DEAF DAY, was shot in Damascus just days before the unrest started in Syria in March 2011.  It tells the story of a deaf boy whose mother is desperate to teach him how to live in a hearing world.  But in the end, it’s the boy who reminds his mother of the value of silence.  It will be screened at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in October.  Our next film HAM will be shot this winter in Chicago.  I also have three screenplays, feature narrative films that I wrote, which are all in various stages of development.  Two of them take place in Damascus.  The third one is a biopic based on the life of Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet.  Our films are international co-productions that we make with companies based in other countries, such as France and Australia.  The screenplays of all three films have been recognized by programs affiliated with the Sundance, Tribeca, Dubai, Thessaloniki, Melbourne and Abu Dhabi Film Festivals.

OEP: Why did you decide to attend The OpEd Project seminar this year?

RK: Similarly to the op-ed world, female directors get less than 10 percent of the directing jobs in Hollywood.  In order to address the disparity, the American Film Institute in LA launched a program nearly 30 years ago that selects eight women every year to go to film school for free and direct a film.  This was the beginning of my work as a director.  So when I learned that The OpEd Project was founded for similar reasons with similar goals, I naturally signed up for the seminar, hoping it might also launch my work as an op-ed writer.

OEP: Are there aspects of your identity or personal experience that compelled you to make change?

RK: When you have a name or a look that doesn’t fit in with your surroundings, such as I do, you often get asked, “Where are you from?”  It’s a simple enough question.  But when you come from a multi-religious-lingual-cultural-national home, like I do, the answer is complicated.  Having to explain or justify my existence to people definitely inspired my interest in change.  I’ve traveled a lot, but I’ve also lived in the US, Syria, France, Lebanon, Algeria and Russia.  The blessing of this chaotic life, as Gibran said, is that you learn to take the best from what each place has to offer and then share that knowledge with others in the hopes that everyone might be led to changes that promote a healthier way of living for all of us.

OEP: If you could write an op-ed tomorrow, what would it be about?

RK: We left Syria abruptly, believing we would soon return, so most of our things are still there… toys, books, pajamas, car… there’s still food in the refrigerator, we still pay the water bill.  Obviously, the current crisis is on my mind constantly as I also have family and dear friends who are still there.  I’m desperate to explain the complexity of the problem, to share the stories I hear and to discuss the future of Syria.  I’m writing a book of short stories, a sort of memoir, about the five years I spent living in Damascus.  I think pieces of this book would make for compelling op-eds.

The interview was conducted by Claudia Garcia-Rojas and Hira Khanum

The next Chicago seminar is October 13, register here

Join our upcoming Chicago seminars on October 13; Level I, “Write to Change the World” and Level II, “Generating Good Ideas.”


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