As Philadelphia grapples with the potential repercussions of being a sanctuary city, a local filmmaker is re-imagining the American Dream.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Independence Hall, Irish Memorial and other familiar locales serve as the backdrop for “Americano,” a new film about a Muslim immigrant trying to make the United States his home.
The movie, which will wrap up filming this week, is written and directed by Philadelphia native and Temple University alum Tim Viola. It tells the story of a Syrian refugee who comes to the United States with his wife in hopes of starting anew, only to have their dream shattered by a corrupt politician.
The film is being shot entirely in Philly. Adding to the local team is co-executive producer Kevin Frakes, who worked on M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” and the “John Wick” series. His production company, PalmStar Media, is located on the Main Line. Shyamalan lives outside Philadelphia.
“[Americano] tackles the preconceived ideas we have about Muslim immigrants and turns them on their head,” said Viola on his Kickstarter page. He raised $21,790 on the crowdfunding website to make the movie.
“I wrote the draft a year ago before Trump even appeared on the scene and now we’re moving into production as chaos is unfolding around the new administration’s radical views on racial and religious persecution.”
While the timing might be coincidental, the casting was not. Lead actor Adam Budron is the son of two Palestinian refugees. Both of his parents were born in Lebanon - his father in the Shatila refugee camp where hundreds of people died in a 1982 massacre. Budron’s dad later returned to Lebanon to help 20 people escape the bloodshed.
Growing up outside Chicago, Budron heard these and other stories about the hardships of refugee life. His grandmothers, at least one of which lived with his immediate family at any given time, only spoke Arabic. They told him what life was like in the camps and in their native lands. It seemed like a distant kind of chaos until Budron started to understand that he was different from other kids.
“Showing up to school with falafel and hummus, back then, it was like ‘What are you eating?’” Budron said. “But it was just part of my bicultural identity. I also loved the Bulls.”
Budron’s character, Isaac, is hired by an American politician to investigate a rival campaign staffer. As events unfold, Isaac realizes he is actually a scapegoat in a larger plot to demonize Muslims in the U.S. He must chose between playing the game or becoming a whistle blower.
“It’s about redefining what it means to be an American patriot,” Burdon said, comparing his character to Edward Snowden. “We’re all taught to be cowboys - to fight for your land if you really want it no matter where you’re from.”
Syrian immigrants and refugees made headlines in the region after several families were detained at the Philadelphia International Airport earlier this year as a result of President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Their stories were shared throughout the country and became a rallying cry for those opposed to the executive order.
Trump has remained defiant in recent days despite several federal courts ruling against the ban. He has promised to take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney joined other leaders throughout the nation in declaring opposition to the travel ban and other immigration actions.
While the politics continue to play out here, thousands of refugees are fighting for their lives thousands of miles away, Budron said.
“We’re at a point where the suffering of Syrian refugees is showing up in our [social media] feeds at the same time as pop culture stuff,” he said.
“It gets the same mind space, and that’s just the nature of our information age, but through that we have to reconnect with people’s struggles because we only learn who we are as people when we confront that.”
Despite obvious similarities, “Americano” is not about the current political climate, insisted executive producer Kris Mendoza. Instead, it’s a universal story about coming to a new land and fighting to hold on to what you hold dear.
“The idea of what an American patriot looks like is changing,” Mendoza said. “It’s about being open to what that is and not locking ourselves into stereotypes.”
“Americano” will be filming on location this week. Keep an eye out for the cast and crew throughout Philadelphia’s most iconic sites.