Local director’s “Threads” lands European distribution; plays Sept. 30 at Film Center

Taking a rare break from a year-long festival tour that has taken him to Marrakech, Venice, Bangkok and beyond, Hakim Bellabes is back in town to screen his debut feature “Threads” at the Film Center Sept. 30.

Laura Marks stars as a young Chicago woman who accompanies her dying father (Azeddine Bouayad) to his hometown of Bejjaad, Morocco?where Bellabes himself grew up. Bellabes tapped into his considerable documentary background, interspersing a significant amount of verit? footage with the scripted story.

The good press and audience feedback for “Threads” has been inspiring, Bellabes said. “I didn’t expect the kind of reaction I’ve gotten to the film?it was very uplifting.”

“At the same time, it gets to be tiresome,” he lamented. “I’m supposed to be in Alexandria, Egypt for a festival right now, but I just can’t keep up.”

Laura Marks in “Threads”

“Threads” had its U.S. premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival last year. In May UPM Omar Chraibi opened the picture theatrically in Morocco through his company La Cit? en Fet?. Chraibi is negotiating with Moroccan distributors 3Dis and Royal Sodifilm for wider theatrical release.

Producer Don Smith, who runs Columbia College’s Semester in L.A. program, sealed a deal with Steeven Distribution and Draveil Cinemas of Paris for theatrical, video and TV throughout the French-speaking countries of Europe, with a premiere scheduled for January.

But Bellabes still hasn’t landed U.S. distribution.

“I’m still learning that it’s a good idea to start looking for ways to get the film distributed before attending the festivals, and to make sure to have someone with you to represent the film,” he said.

“It’s hard to find someone to take the risk on a film in three different languages, that’s not a ?commercial’ film. I’m not a salesperson, and that’s been hard for me.”

Bellabes shot the 35mm “Threads” in Morocco and Chicago in 2002 on a $300,000 budget supplied by Channel 1 TV Morocco (TVM) and U.S. private investors.

Bellabes got his MFA in Film at Columbia in 1993 and taught there for several years. He’s been a frequent freelance director for Luminair and Salton. His documentaries “Boujad: A Nest in Heat,” and ” Whispers” are distributed by Arab Film.

Bellabes is at work on two feature scripts, and said he’s ready to shoot whichever film gets financed first.

One script is an adaptation of Moha Seouag’s novel “A Soldier’s Wife” about a woman living with her husband’s mother while he’s off fighting in Morocco’s southern dessert. Smith and Bellabes are soliciting funds from “Threads” investors, the Moroccan Cinema Fund, and French financier Fondsud.

The other script is an untitled original screenplay about an Arab-American family on the South Side of Chicago, which Bellabes plans to submit to the Sundance Directing Lab.

“I’ve been invited to submit to the lab, and I’m hoping that script gets picked up and I can develop it there” Bellabes said.

“That story sounds more urgent to me considering the state of affairs in this country. That urgency might dictate that we go digital if that can help us get going on the production.”

“Threads” plays 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Belabbes will attend. Reach him at bhakman@yahoo.com.

– by Ed M. Koziarski, edk@homesickblues.com