Mike Elsherif is a filmmaker living in Louisville who’s best known for his 2013 film “City Strays.” Recently, he was awarded the the 2018 Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship in film by the Kentucky Arts Council.
Elsherif will be using the funds from the fellowship to produce his next film, which is inspired by his own experiences as a Palestinian-American living in Kentucky.
I spoke with Elsherif about his journey to the United States, the portrayal of Arabs in film, and how art informs our reality. Listen to our conversation in the player above.
Elsherif on his immigration to America:
“We immigrated to the United States in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War. So basically Kuwait at that time was freed from Iraqi occupation and everything was pretty much in shambles. There was a lot of… public schools were closed in general and my father thought it would be a better idea to immigrate to the United States. So we came here in in ‘91, and then we’ve been here ever since.”
On how his filmmaking goals have changed:
“I had a script that I wanted to do for a while and it got to a point where I didn’t think the script was relevant anymore. It was a comedy and obviously it’s very dear to my heart, but at the end of the day I was looking around the world that’s changing around us — I thought that I could be of some use in another way, of telling another story that I thought was more important for the time-period that we’re in. And it really focuses on humanizing Palestinian-Americans and I think Arabs in general.”
On using art as a way to challenge misconceptions:
“Whenever we see something that’s set in, you know, in Palestine, usually it’s dire and obviously it’s a very terrible situation, but there’s such a rich cultural history that nobody really taps into.
“People have such misconceptions, you know a lot of times, and I think films really drive how we look at reality. The media and also films and you know music in general really kind of shapes your understanding of all those identities.”