The Dead Die Once

2018, 9mins

After settling into her new life in America, a Syrian refugee receives a visit from her past. Based on a surreal short story by Syrian writer Jehan Sayed Issa, T​he Dead Die Once follows a refugee living in the U.S. whose evening is transformed by the power of memory. When her kitchen radio picks up familiar voices demanding freedom, she is drawn into a space where food unites the living and the dead.

Produced, Directed & Edited by Max McGillivray and Alex Morelli

Written by Jehan Sayed Issa

Produced by Hiba Hariri and Mahmoud Hariri

We met Jehan and her family during the tumultuous winter of 2017, just after the newly

elected U.S. president had signed an executive order halting refugees from Syria. Her

husband was then a Harvard Scholar at Risk, a trauma surgeon who had stayed behind in the

bombed-out hospitals long after his family had fled for Turkey. As Jehan told it, she would

keep a Skype call open nearly 24 hours a day just to confirm he was still alive.

Though her personal experiences and those broadcast by her husband, Jehan gathered

images of war and mementos from the destruction of her homeland. From these, she began

to spin stories that use magical realism to illuminate the courage and suffering of the Syrian

people, along with the experience of being displaced.

We were inspired by one story in particular, a young woman's determination to share a meal

with friends and relatives she has lost to war. With the help of countless volunteers, we

worked with Jehan to bring her story to the screen. Jehan's protagonist, played by Reem

Atassi, transposes the original tale onto the author's refugee experience in the U.S. The result,

we hope, is a little magic. Max McGillivray and Alex Morelli


Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2020

Oneota Film Festival, Decorah, IA, 2020 (Best Student Narrative Short)

International Amity Short Film Festival, Istanbul, Turkey, 2019

JAYU Human Rights Film Festival, Toronto, Canada, 2019

London Migration Film Festival, London, UK, 2019

North Dakota Human Rights Film Festival, Fargo, ND, 2019 (Mia Eh’Desh Courage Award for

Narrative Short Film)

Global Peace Film Festival, Orlando, FL, 2019

CRITICA Festival, Shanghai, China, 2019

Lost Land International Film Festival, Manchester, UK, 2018

Boston Palestine Film Festival, Boston, MA, 2018

Arab Film Festival @ Arab American National Museum, Dearborn, MI, 2018 (World Premiere)


Director's website


Vimeo details will be available on this page during Refugee Week 

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