Hakeem and his son Abbas live in poverty. They also live in an area of the Mideast frequented by drone strikes. In the middle of a journey to make a crucial sale, the two stop and set up camp for the night. It is during the meal that Abbas struggles with what we Americans know as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, his fragile psyche' aggravated by the presence of overhead drones. Soon, two men (played by Steven Soro and Georges Chalhoub) will arrive on the scene and conflict will ensue.
Acknowledging that he draws inspiration from the likes of Werner Herzog, Peter Weir, and Laura Poitras, writer/director Ian Ebright has intentionally crafted a film that is both minimalist in presentation yet immersive in the ways in which you are surrounded in this world in which Hakeem and Abbas live out their daily lives. From the Sky is a nearly eighteen-minute short film that doesn't so much examine its themes as it immerses its audience in them. It is a film about what it means to grow up in conflict, the impact of the cycle of retaliation, and the price of peace.
Ebright immersed himself in gaining knowledge prior to writing and directing From the Sky, a dedication that shows in the film's casting of a fluent Arabic-speaking cast and a devotion to factual and cultural authenticity. Ebright created an ongoing dialogue with Muslims and other American advisers in the Mideast including Oscar-nominated producer John Sinno, Syrian actor Jay Abdo, and others.
A former film critic who then studied at the Seattle Film Institute, Ebright has surrounded himself with a cast and crew that clearly understands both Ebright's intellectual and artistic vision for From the Sky. Together, they've created a film that is artistically pleasing, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally impactful. D.P. Ty Migota's lensing nicely captures a setting that is both beautiful yet eerie, his camera refusing to let us simply relax into our seats as we watch the story unfold. Similarly, the film's electronic score by internationally acclaimed Ioscil companions the film in a way that adds to its emotional impact.
There are life experiences that are beyond words. While I've never lived in a land where drone strikes occurred, I'd have to imagine that having such a day in and day out experience would be one of those experiences. Ebright's dialogue is both fundamental yet complex, capturing the simplicity of this life yet never allowing us to believe it is simple. Of course, it helps that Ebright has also cast the film perfectly and that his words are brought wondrously to life by the likes of Maz Siam (Argo, Scandal, The Mindy Project) and the relative newcomer Mohamad Tamimi, a Baghdad-born actor who may very well be familiar to Heartland Film Festival moviegoers for his key performance in 2011 Best Short FIlm Thief, a short film that also won a Gold Medal in the Student Academy Awards.
From the Sky is proving to be similarly successful with multiple festival awards already snagged including top honors at the Spokane International Film Festival where Ebright was also named Most Promising Filmmaker. The film has also had successful screenings at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival, Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival, and several others.
It was interesting, perhaps, to see on the IMDB page for From the Sky a tip o' the hat to Thief director Julian Higgins, whose film I found myself pondering even before I realized that the two films did have a connection. While the two may very well have a connection, rest assured that From the Sky has a unique vision all its own made even more powerful by a filmmaker with immense talent and a respect for the story he's telling and the characters he created that helps everything unfold in a way that is thought-provoking and unforgettable.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic