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Leila (2002)

Courtesy of GMAC

Main image of Leila (2002)
Digital video, 10 min, colour
DirectorIan Dodds
Production CompanyGMAC
In association withScottish Screen
Supported byUK Film Council
ProducerSkye Reynolds
ScreenplayRoxana Pope
CinematographyEnrico Harvey

Cast: Sara Ansari (Leila); Sahar Fadee (Sara); Mojdeh Ziai (Yasaman); Narges Fadee (Maryann); Stephanie Houston (Steph); Nicola Rintoul (Niki)

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Leila is a ten year-old Iranian girl seeking asylum in Britain with her family. They end up staying with Leila's aunt, where Leila meets her cousin, Sara, who has been brought up in Scotland. How will they cope?

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This deceptively simple short film depicts the life of a ten-year-old Iranian girl as she seeks asylum in Britain with her mother, Yasaman, as well as her grandmother and baby brother.

The film begins bravely in near pitch black, with the family's covert nighttime journey in the back of a lorry, catching only fleeting glimpses of the passing landscape through slats in the lorry's sides before a blinding light - as a customs officer opens the rear doors - heralds their arrival. In Edinburgh, Leila and her family are taken in by her mother's sister, Maryam, who is living in a small tenement flat.

From here on, the film charts Leila's struggle to adapt to her new environment. Sent to enrol at the local school with her cousin, Sara, Leila - who appears to understand English, but remains altogether silent throughout - is shunned by Sara's white friends and mocked by two boys when the school nurse discovers she has nits. Meanwhile, Yasaman has little time for her daughter as she forlornly attempts to find a lawyer to help them in their application for asylum, while suffering her sister's impatience for them to leave. Hurt and frustrated after her mother shouts at her, Leila goes outside and adopts a popular local means of expressing her identity - by writing her name (in Farsi) on a graffiti-covered wall.

The film contrasts the outsider status of Leila and her mother with Sara's and Maryam's estrangement from their native culture. "You've become so British," complains Yasaman, shocked at her sister's abandonment of the Iranian traditions of hospitality and family support. When Sara and her friends stumble on Leila's act of vandalism, meanwhile, Sara is unable to explain why her cousin writes backwards, and says nothing when one of the friends offers her own explanation - "because she's a Paki". In the end, it is a universal gesture that bridges the cultural gap between Leila and Sara's gang - she offers them sweets.

Leila was shot on digital video with a budget of under £10,000, in line with the brief of the UK Film Council's New Cinema Fund. Director Ian Dodds, a graduate of the Royal College of Art, was already an experienced director of photography when the film was made. Writer Roxana Pope, a British-Iranian based in Edinburgh, later directed documentaries, including Tehran Backyard (2008), which followed the life of a 60-year-old cleaner in Iran's capital city.

Gemma Starkey

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Video Clips
Complete film (10:11)
Short Films