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Creating New Tradition: The Lowell House Film Series Welcomes Waad al-Kateab and Graham A. Sack ’03

By Tomás Guerrero Jaramillo, Contributing Writer

In the second week of November, Lowell House will be hosting two award winning filmmakers. On Nov. 14, Waad al-Kateab will host a screening of her latest film, “For Sama,” which won the Best Documentary award in the Cannes Film Festival this year. The following day, award winning screenwriter and director Graham A. Sack ’03 will showcase some of his experimental work in virtual reality film to help expose students to this new frontier in media.

“For Sama” guides us through the five-year period in which the Syrian journalist and documentarist spent with her husband in Aleppo during the ongoing Syrian Crisis in which she also gave birth to her daughter, Sama. The film has won no less than 20 different awards across many film festivals around the world. A question and answer session with students will follow the screening of the film.

The second event will be a presentation of Sack’s work. Sack has directed “Lincoln in the Bardo,” which was commissioned by the New York Times for their VR App and shortlisted for an Emmy Innovation in Interactive Programming Award. Lowell will provide attendants with virtual reality equipment so that the alumnus is able to show students the full immersive experience of his work.

“At previous events that he has hosted they hadn’t been able to do that,” Andrew Castillo from the Lowell Programming Committee said. “He’s coming here to expose students to the new frontier filmmaking.”

This event in Lowell House arose from a series of fortunate coincidences. After renovations were unveiled at the end of August, the house programming committee had a brand-new screening room in the house basement to host events that were not possible in the past.

“Now we’re talking about creating dialogues with people on different sides,” Nina Zipser, faculty dean of Lowell House, said. “We think that is very important: as we go out into the world, not just to have an agenda, but also to be able to look at intellectual ideas from different perspectives.”

After some brainstorming, Shadi Kourosh, resident scholar and assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, brought up the idea of screening the Syrian documentary, “For Sama.” Shadi had coincidentally met the director of the film, Waad al-Kateab, on the plane returning from the Cannes Film Festival.

“Her art and her personal story were an inspiring example that I thought would be great for our students to be exposed to” Kourosh said. “As a mentor, I see my role first to listen to [student’s] interests and see how I can pull from the resources and the connections that I have to bring that to life.”

“The fact that there is a resident scholar also is due to renewal. Shadi is here because there’s a space that was included in renewal for resident scholars, and then she brings all these ideas and energy to the house,” David Laibson, faculty dean of Lowell House, said. “It’s a great renewal story.”

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