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, The 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
SCREENINGS & AWARDS
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)
This film was available for Refugee Week 2020.
We believe in the power of film to open up opportunities for dialogue and community reflection. We’ve designed post-screening discussion guides for all films, to be used as a starting point for conversations inspired by our Moving Worlds programme
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