When director Darin J. Sallam came to make her feature debut with Farah, she always knew what the subject matter would be: as a little girl, Sallam’s mother used to tell her the story of a teenage girl who was locked up in her room during the partition of Palestine in 1948. “She was locked up by her father to protect her life,” Sallam recalls. “She survived [the conflict] and she made it to Syria, where she met a Syrian girl and shared her story with her. This Syrian girl grew up, got married and had a child, and she shared the story with her daughter—and this daughter happened to be me.”
The tale had a big impact on Sallam, who talked about the film’s genesis during a panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event. “It’s a story that’s stayed with me since I was a child,” she recalled, “especially because I was claustrophobic, and I kept thinking of this girl. And as I grew up, the story grew up with me, so whenever anybody asks me, ‘How did you find the story?’ I always tell them that the story kind of found me. And when I became a filmmaker, I felt that I had to share this story with the world.”
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Re-creating the world of 1948 came with its own difficulties, but these paled next to the need to find an actress who could carry the film—half of which takes place in the locked room. Said Sallam, “I always told my producers: ‘Making the film is a journey, but finding Farha is another journey entirely.’ We don’t really have actors in Jordan who are this age, so I was looking for a girl that I could stay with for 52 minutes inside a room. When I first saw Karam [Taher], who plays Farha, the audition was really bad. She was shy, and the audition didn’t really go well. But what really stayed with me was her face: she had a very specific face and very expressive eyes. From one side, her face was like a child, and from the other, she was a young woman—it’s a coming-of-age story.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.