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“First Person Plural” – The Twin Cities-based film of star-crossed lovers and family drama sees a special preview at the Cedar

By Erik Tormoen

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The son of a Somali imam and the daughter of a white Baptist preacher meet in a Twin Cities camera store.

First Person Plural - A Somali Man And A White Woman Navigate Love
Faysal Ahmed as “Faysal” and Amanda Day as “Bettina”

They both love movies, and, soon, each other—after bonding over their filmmaking styles and their upbringings as kids of clergy. Both contend with tradition and convene at the church of cinema.

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They begin to film each other. They fall lens-first. This is a movie—the new First Person Plural—so we know what must happen. Their families butt in. Deep-seated shame comes out. Thanksgiving arrives, and he invites her to dinner at his parents’ apartment. She accepts. But her own intrusive parents have something else in mind.

First Person Plural - A Somali Man And A White Woman Navigate Love
Fathia Absie as “Kaleefa” and Michelle O’Neil as “Joyce”

As their relationship deepens, so does a parallel narrative about the Twin Cities. “Culturally, the story’s two families represent a new Minnesota,” says director Eric Tretbar, referring to how the Somali community here has grown to the largest in North America over the past 10 years.

First Person Plural - A Somali Man And A White Woman Navigate Love
Barkhad Abdirahman as “Isma’il” and Mikey Johnson as “Vernell”

Tretbar worked with his local cast on the script. He developed it while observing cases of political extremism. Prejudice seemed to trot out “grim and violent caricatures.” Film, he thought, could unmask Muslim and Christian stereotypes—in the tension-breaking tradition of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The racism, the questions of assimilation, are serious, but humor can open surprising paths to empathy.

The 94-minute, all-ages movie gets a special preview screening at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, at 8 p.m. on April 12. A post-show discussion encourages contextual thinking at 9:40 p.m.


https://vimeo.com/313009105

First Person Plural

Written and directed by Eric Tretbar
USA 94 min, drama, color+b/w

Starring Faysal Ahmed (Sicario 2, Captain Phillips) and Amanda Day (The Seeker, The Lumber Baron). With Barkhad Abdirahman (Fargo, A Stray), Mikey Johnson (Supermoto), writer Ahmed Ismail Yusuf (A Crack in The Sky, The Lion’s Binding Oath), filmmaker and poet Fathia Absie (The Lobby), Pearce Bunting (Boardwalk Empire) and Guthrie Theater great, Michelle O’Neill.  With soundtrack music by Somali pop stars Nimco Jamaac and Nibo Hudon, Ethiopian superstar Gizachew Ligabaw, traditional songs by Abdi Salam and Fathia Absie, sitar by Mark Ilaud, and score by Helsinki composer Alex Freeman.

https://vimeo.com/313002887

Storyline

How can two people save the world? Love each other. On Thanksgiving Day, two Minneapolis filmmakers–the son of a Somali imam and daughter of a white Baptist preacher–fall in love through their lenses and discover that their lives and families are mirror images. With empathy and humor, FIRST PERSON PLURAL shows two families–one Muslim, one Christian–grappling with doubt and imperfection to discover their common conflicts of love and faith.

With empathy and humor, First Person Plural shows two families grappling with doubt and imperfection to discover their common family conflicts of love and faith.  Created before our eyes by its film making characters, First Person Plural takes us inside the creative process—of Cinema, belief, and love—showing how the images we create and consume can bring understanding, but also destruction.  With a cautionary twist, First Person Plural expresses hope and tolerance at a time when we need them most.

https://vimeo.com/313006866

When Faysal and Bettina meet in a camera store, their painful Thanksgiving plans are pleasantly interrupted by love at first sight. They dive into a lively discussion of life, love and their personal filmmaking styles.  Both children of clergy, they’re consumed by questions of doubt and faith in their family traditions, and in their common, personal religion – Cinema.

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As the lovers’ plans converge, so do their Thanksgiving film projects, revealing unexpected truths as they remove their camera masks and step in front of each other’s lenses. In filming each other, they see themselves. But the closer they become, the more their families begin to intervene. Their little brothers are spying on them, angered at their worldly ways and interaction with perceived enemies. Faysal is angry to be judged by his little brother whose condemnations rekindle his own self-judgement. Bettina also judges herself harshly, still anguished over the family and church she left long ago.

https://vimeo.com/313004466

Faysal invites Bettina to dinner at his parents’ apartment, and she accepts. Little does she know her family has tracked her down, her mother intent on reuniting her estranged children.  Soon, the two families are thrown together for an impromptu meeting of cultures and rituals that will test their love and belief. In the end, it is Cinema itself that expresses hope–that a story of sad love might begin again and go a different way, a better way.

PROJECT BACKGROUND 

Director, Eric Tretbar, met a number of the cast working on Musa Syeed’s A Stray.  Faysal Ahmed and Barkhad Abdirahman signed on to play the male lead and his younger brother, then helped develop the script, along with other Stray actors Ifrah Mansour and Ahmed Yusuf who plays The Imam.  Tretbar discusses the project’s process:

https://vimeo.com/313000424

“Political extremism was on the rise as we developed the script, and I asked myself how we could counter the demogogues’ grim and violent caricatures.  If ‘cinema makes visible the invisible,’ as a Japanese cinema master said, it was time for some serious uncloaking!  Time to reveal the truth—of each other, in each other, for each other.  We began with two families so often portrayed as enemies—one Muslim, one Christian.  But before the families meet, their oldest children fall in love at first sight, an undeniable bond even a demagogue can’t question.  Looking through their cameras into each other’s eyes, we participate in the birth of their love.  Throughout the film, characters reveal their intimate selves and realities, encouraging viewers to see themselves in people who might at first look unfamiliar.”

First Person Plural also documents the ever-changing realities of its setting.  Physically, the action takes place in familiar Twin Cities locations, some of which are already gone, such as Intercontinental Video.  Culturally, the story’s two families represent a new Minnesota that, in the last decade, has become home to the largest Somali community in North America.  Set in this increasingly international Twin Cities, First Person Plural points beyond the Midwest toward the many conflicts now threatening to take shape around the world.  While posing questions about interfaith understanding, gun control and the exploitation of vulnerable youth, it’s also a story of happy love that shows that love can conquer all.  But there’s sad love, too, reminding us that love is fragile, and needs our care and courage.”

“Aesthetically, this project allowed us to explore the changing language of Cinema in a way central to creating empathy for its characters.  The title, First Person Plural, alludes to the film’s visual and emotional strategy to create such empathy.  As it moves from character to character, the film collects individual first-person points of view to build a plural portrait of each family, moving from ‘I’ to ‘We’.  The lovers, their brothers and family members each use a specific image device that identifies them to viewers and shows not only what they see but how.”

“Through the images of these families and their film-making children, First Person Plural brings viewers inside the conflicts of desire and belief common to all families.  What it ultimately expresses are the many paradoxes of love.”

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