‘Lamya’s Poem’ Producer Sam Kadi on Why the Syrian Refugee Crisis Is Worsening — and How Hollywood Can Help

“Lamya’s Poem” centers around a Syrian refugee girl named Lamya who draws strength from the verses of ancient poet Rumi after violence forces her to flee from her country. The animated film was recently released digitally in the U.S. roughly around the anniversary of Syria’s 12-year uprising and in the aftermath of massive back-to-back earthquakes that have hit Turkey and Syria.

The timely tale’s impressive voice talent includes Mena Massoud, the star of Disney’s most recent “Aladdin,” as Rumi when he was a young poet; Millie Davis (“Wonder,” “Orphan Black”) as Lamya; and Faran Tahir (“Iron Man,” “Star Trek”) as Baha Walad, Rumi’s father.

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“Lamya’s Poem” is directed by Alex Kronemer and produced by Sam Kadi, Los Angeles-based Syrian director who helmed the doc “Little Gandhi,” which focuses on the life and death of young Syrian peace activist Ghiyath Matar.

Kadi spoke to Variety about how “Lamya’s Poem” ties in with latest developments in the ongoing plight of the Syrian people, nearly half a million of whom have been killed in the conflict while half the country’s pre-war population has been displaced.

The war in Syria has been raging for 12 years and, as though that wasn’t enough, your country was also recently struck by deadly earthquakes. How does “Lamya’s Poem” tie in with all of this?

It’s hard to believe that after 12 years of suffering, and as you said, over half a million people killed in Syria and millions displaced, we find ourselves facing a 7.8 earthquake. And we have almost 6,000 victims because of the earthquake. So if I look at the film — which was definitely made way before the earthquake — I keep thinking that it was inspired by a Rumi quote, which is, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” We really tried to put together a beautiful film about overcoming, about believing, about finding a sliver of hope within this suffocating reality that we live in.

It seems ironic that international sympathy following the earthquake has sped up regional rapprochement. After the disaster, formerly hostile Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia delivered aid to the government-held part of Syria, along with Assad’s traditional backers, Russia and Iran. The Syrian government seems to be benefiting from it.

I think one of the worst aspects of what just happened with the earthquake is how this huge human crisis is being politicized to make it okay to normalize relationships again with Assad. And unfortunately the international community is pushing in this direction, thinking that: “Oh, we have a crisis right now. This is a good way to get things back on track.” I don’t think they understand. I mean, this is a person who killed over half a million of his people. And now we are going to use an earthquake to go and start a bunch of meetings to normalize ties and to deliver almost 10 times the amount of aid to Assad versus Northern Syria, which is where actually most of the affected people live?

“Lamya’s Poem” was released across the Middle East and other parts of the world. Now it’s coming out in the U.S. How do you think it can help heal the wounds of the Syrian people wherever they are?

Our politicians have failed us big time. And that’s why this movie is so unique and so topical. Rumi was a refugee, but look at where Rumi is now. Rumi is the world’s most beloved poet. He’s the top-selling poet in the United States, where he never actually set foot. It’s because of his words of wisdom, his vision — the hope-seeking, love-seeking person that he is. I think Rumi made so many people able to recover and find hope and believe that as Syrians, as refugees overall, it doesn’t really matter where we are in the world: we are going to make it, we going to overcome and we going to be successful again. We are going to make up for it, but we will never forget who was on the right side of history and who was on the wrong side of history. History will never fail us. Our politicians are the ones who failed us.

What can the international film community do to help?

I want to say something to the producers, the directors, the people I look up to in Hollywood: Let’s talk about the Syrian people. Let’s make movies like “Schindler’s List.” Let’s make movies that could actually inspire us all and could lead other governments and institutions to overturn the regime and help these people. You are our role models; you are the people that we look up to. And these people watch you. I watched “E.T.” when I was in Syria, when I was a little kid, and I fell in love with Steven Spielberg. I watched “Taxi Driver” when I was a kid and I fell in love with Scorsese. Now I am here in the states, I’m making movies. I’m making my dream come true. I’m giving my people a voice as much as I can. But at the same time, I need these role models to also help us because these people deserve that attention. And these movies [about the plight of the Syrian people]… I am confident that they will be successful; they will be impactful and they will inspire so many people in dire need.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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