“Traces of Home” earns Kartemquin support

Hosni and Iza Ghunim

Hosni and Iza Ghunim

Chicago filmmaker
Colette Ghunim
gets a massive boost
for a doc about
her family’s
Palestinian and
Mexican roots

Hosni Ghunim met Iza Planas on the day he arrived in the United States in the mid-1970s. He was a Palestinian refugee who had spent three decades living in Syria, a relocation forced upon his entire village by the violence and persecution occurring in the ancient village of Safad.

Iza was a Mexican immigrant who had arrived with her mother in Los Angeles when she was four-years-old. They fled the family home in Mexico City to escape Iza’s abusive father.

Four months later, Hosni and Iza got married. Now, their daughter Colette is making a film about it.

“I always knew that my parents were forced out of their homes when they were children, but the gravity of their situations did not hit me until the 2016 Elections,” says Ghunim. “Arabs and Latinos became the targets of family separations, refugee bans, and discriminatory policies.”

Titled, Traces of Home, her inspiration officially became an “in-development” documentary with Kartemquin Films on Monday.

“That’s the stage before going to co-production,” exclaims Ghunim. “We were incredibly thrilled and grateful for the opportunity.”



An exemplary film
According to Kartemquin Director of Communications and Distribution Tim Horsburgh, the legendary production house got involved for a number of reasons.

“Ever since Colette joined our Diverse Voices in Docs program (DVID), we’ve been impressed by her skills as a producer and director,” he says. “Traces of Home promises to be an exemplary film in its blend of intimate personal storytelling and global social impact.”

DVID is a mentorship and development program for documentary filmmakers of color, organized by Kartemquin Films and the Community Film Workshop of Chicago. It boasts a legion of award-winning alumni including Bing Liu (Minding the Gap), Kelly Richmond Pope (All The Queen’s Horses), and new KTQ Board Chair Pamela Sherrod Anderson (The G-Force).

“DVID was the catalyst for this entire film,” says Ghunim. “They provided connection to the film industry, grant support, and partnered me with Dan Rybicky, a filmmaker and professor at Columbia College.”

Besides providing “the initial foundation to bring the film into production,” Rybicky helped Ghunim prepare to interview her parents, a somewhat tricky and intense proposition, even for an experienced filmmaker.

“In terms of documentary filmmaking, it’s usually better to add depth to your subjects, and that often means displaying their flaws,” she explains. “It’s easier to tell people what you need when they’re not your family, especially your parents.”

But, she adds, the challenge supplied its own reward.

“The greatest joys have been learning more about my own parents and really understanding more about where I came from,” she says. “I have learned so much about my family that I never would have known.”

Among the things Ghunim has learned is that her father grew up in a mountaintop village with cobblestone streets and a stunning view of the Sea of Galilee. While filming there last year, she was delighted to discover that many of the people living nearby were as welcoming as the sights.

Ghunim discusses 'Traces of Home' with the Jam TV morning crew
Ghunim discusses ‘Traces of Home’ with the Jam TV morning crew

“Palestinians in neighboring towns took us in,” she recalls. “It was beautiful.”

The demands of shooting on-location also helped increase her familiarity with the place.

“I took my (Panasonic) GH5 with me and found the rest of the gear and crew locally,” she says. “My DP was Rafic Saadeh, who filmed with a Canon C300; and my sound person was Raja Dubayah, who had his own microphones and a really heavy-duty mixer.”

The road to Mexico
The next stop is Mexico City, where Ghunim intends to connect with a great aunt who can shed light on the fate of her grandfather, the one who more or less forced his wife and daughter to seek refuge in America decades ago.

Colette Ghunim
Colette Ghunim

“She’s really super excited to meet us,” says Ghunim. “She actually knows where the house is.”

To get there, Ghunim has launched a Kickstarter campaign that must reach a goal of $35,000 by noon on October 4th.

So far, she has attracted 170 backers and generated $16,437 in pledged funds. To get involved, click here.

To see an interview with Ghunim that was broadcast on Univision earlier this year, click here.

About Colette Ghunim
Colette Ghunim is the Chicago-based director of the award-winning documentary The People’s Girls, which investigated the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt. She is currently working on her first feature-length film, Traces of Home.

About Kartemquin Films
Chicago-based Kartemquin is a collaborative center empowering filmmakers who create documentaries of global consequence and foster a more engaged and just society. In 2016, Kartemquin celebrated 50 years of sparking democracy through documentary. The 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization’s films have received four Academy Award nominations and won six Emmys, two Peabody Awards, and multiple Independent Spirit, IDA, PGA and DGA awards as well as duPont-Columbia and Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards. Kartemquin has also helped hundreds of artists via filmmaker development programs like KTQ Labs, Diverse Voices in Docs, and the acclaimed KTQ Internship.

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