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Acclaimed Filmmaker to Discuss Documentary
at UW-Eau Claire

RELEASED: March 18, 2005

Ziad H. Hamzeh
Ziad Hamzeh

EAU CLAIRE — Filmmaker Ziad H. Hamzeh will visit the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to discuss "The Letter," his controversial documentary dealing with the subject of black Muslim immigrants post 9/11, on Thursday, April 7.

"The Letter" will screen at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, April 7-10, in Davies Theatre. On Thursday Hamzeh will talk about the film and answer questions immediately after each screening. Refreshments will be available in the Skylight Lounge adjacent to the theater.

"The Letter" is a feature-length documentary that explores what American news outlets dubbed the "Somali invasion" of Lewiston, Maine — an insulated, predominantly white, former mill town struggling to maintain its equilibrium in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy.

A firestorm of controversy erupted when Lewiston Mayor Larry Raymond sent an open letter to 1,100 newly arrived Somalis, advising them that the city's resources were strained to the limit and asking them to tell other Somalis not to move to the city. The letter was interpreted as racism by some and a rallying cry by white supremacist groups across the United States.

Hamzeh's film documents the ensuing cross-current of emotions and events — culminating in a "hate" rally convened by The World Church of the Creator and a counter "peace" rally involving nearly 4,000 Lewiston residents supporting ethnic and cultural diversity.

"This story and the plight of these good Somalis became my obsession," Hamzeh has said. "I set out searching for the truth, tracing the events that led to the chaotic, roiling, dark cloud that engulfed this city — a city I thought I knew so well. What had happened? Why did things change so drastically, so quickly? Is there one ultimate truth that serves as the answer?

"By making 'The Letter' I offer a comprehensive look at the dynamics of immigration many cities and countries worldwide now confront in this age of 'globalization,' and the clash of alien cultures and religions that inevitably follows."

"The Letter" premiered theatrically in New York City in February 2005 to rave reviews from every major New York newspaper, as well as Variety, LA Weekly, and The Christian Science Monitor. It was named Best Documentary at the Boston International Film Festival, and was chosen to open the 2004 Amnesty International Film Festival

"This frantic, unbearably tense documentary about the influx of Somalian refugees into a sleepy Maine town and the explosion of hatred that resulted isn't just an arresting look at an important, little-known news event," wrote New York Magazine. "It's an expertly woven narrative, as nail-bitingly effective as any good Hollywood thriller."

The 76-minute film is not rated.

Tickets are $2 for International Film Society and UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff and $1 for UW-Eau Claire students. Tickets are available at the University Service Center, (715) 836-3727, in Davies Center's east lobby.

Born in Damascus, Syria, in 1959, Hamzeh has earned over 40 critical awards for directing, producing and writing, including the Kennedy Center Meritorious Achievement Award for Directing, The Chairman's Award from Who's Who Among Outstanding Americans and the Medal of Honor from the Damascus International Film Festival.

In Los Angeles, Hamzeh created two extraordinary theatres, The Open Fist Theatre and The Egyptian Arena. Artistic director of the award-winning venues, he has directed and produced over 60 major award-winning stage productions, among them Roxy Ventola's "After The Bomb," Brecht's "Baal," Sam Shepard's "True West," Arrabel's "Car Cemetery," Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Fassbinder's "The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant," and Tennessee Williams' "Vieux Carre."

Artists Hamzeh has mentored through The Open Fist Theatre include Burr Steers, writer and director of "Igby Goes Down"; Marc Sandler, actor, co-producer and screenwriter of Hamzeh's 2001 feature film "Shadow Glories"; and Juan Carlos Valdivia, creator of the breakthrough film "Juno and the Pink Whale." Hamzeh also teaches aspiring graduate and undergraduate students in directing, acting, and writing for film at The Maine International Film and Television Workshops and Rockport College.

Hamzeh earned an M.F.A. in directing from California State University, Fullerton; an M.A. in writing and criticism from California State University, Los Angeles; and a B.A. in Theatre from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

The event is sponsored by the UW-Eau Claire International Film Society.

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JS/NW

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