SARNIA OBSERVER: Khoya was written and directed by Sami Khan

By Paul Morden, Sarnia Observer

Sami Khan will be on familiar ground when his feature film, Khoya, is screened Nov. 26 at the Sarnia Library Theatre.

The New York-based filmmaker was born and raised in Sarnia, where the downtown library was a regular stop while he was growing up.

“It was really important for me, as I learned about the world and read books and borrowed movies,” he said.

The volunteer film group, cineSarnia, is hosting a 2 p.m. screening and reception Nov. 26 for Khoya, Khan's first feature film, which premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival in India. That was followed by a short run in Toronto and screenings at other festivals, including one last weekend at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

“My parents will be there, and old friends from high school,” Khan said about the upcoming Sarnia event.

“It definitely will be a much more intimate screening.”

Khan, who graduated from New York's Columbia University, spent more than six years making Khoya, a film he wrote and directed, about the story of a Canadian man who travels to India to find his birth family following the death of his adoptive mother.

While the story is fiction, it came “from a personal place,” Khan has said.

Khoya was shot in Toronto and Jabalpur, India, the hometown of Khan's father, and some of the locations there included homes and farms of his uncles, aunts and cousins.

Khan said he usually enjoys talking about his films at screenings, but said he's “freaking out” a little about the upcoming Sarnia event.

“The subject matter is inspired by personal history, so it is difficult to talk about,” he said.

“It is very close to not only me, but my family.”

But Khan added the film has resonated with audiences at previous screenings, “and I hope it does in Sarnia, as well.”

Khoya was supported by a Tribeca Film Festival fellowship, and two Khan short films were shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, including 75 El Camino, a 2009 film the Northern Collegiate graduate shot in Sarnia.

Khoya will be available Nov. 22 on iTunes in Canada, and is expected to available later on other online platforms.

Since completing the feature film, Khan has been working on a documentary about four young Cuban defectors chasing their dreams of playing major league baseball in the U.S.

He said one of his collaborators on documentary recently asked him what it was about the subject that caught his interest, leading him to the idea that baseball acts as a bridge between Cuba and the U.S.

“It had me thinking about literal and metaphoric bridges,” he added.

With the Blue Water Bridge between Canada and the U.S., the Sarnia area has a unique feeling of being between different places, Khan said.

“Being bi-racial, growing up Muslim, yet being in an overwhelmingly white and Christian place, meant that I had that sense of being in two places,” he said.

“I think that kind of character of Sarnia, really, is quite similar to my own make up.”

The documentary project is now moving into an intensive post-production phase, and the filmmakers are searching for the financing to complete it.

“It has been an incredible adventure,” Khan said.

“Stories about that metaphoric bridge between cultures are more important than ever.”

Khan said he finds it frightening to see how people are retreating into racial, religious or national enclaves, often through social media.

“As a human species, if we're ever to succeed and make it beyond the next 20 or 30 years, we have to start bridging those divides,” he said.

“And, I hope I can play some small part in that.”

If You Go:

What: Khoya, a feature film written and directed by Sarnia-native Sami Khan, is being screened by cineSarnia.

Where: Sarnia Public Library Theatre, downtown.

When: Nov. 26, 2 p.m.

Details: Tickets to the screening and reception, $15, are available at Gourmet Passions on Front Street and the Book Keeper at Northgate, and the regular cineSarnia season evening screenings, Nov. 20 and 21, at the library theatre.