‘Adnan’ is the story of an imaginative ten year old Syrian refugee boy who has had to flee his home country with his mother after the rest of their family were killed and their neighbourhood destroyed. Now settled in the UK, he must use all his creativity to break through his mother’s PTSD or risk losing her forever.
At its heart this is a story about a boy and his mother. Two figures on a new frontier, survivors facing fresh challenges, forging towards their future. Although this is a fictional story it represents a reality faced by so many in the world today. By engaging on this most personal, intimate level, we hope to contribute in our own small way to raising awareness about the issues at its core and the people affected.
From the beginning, our intention was always to create a role for a refugee child, to place them at the heart of a creative process as they integrate into their new life. In this, it has been an incredible honour to work with our little leading man, Ayham.
3 years ago Ayham was living with his family in war-torn Aleppo when their neighbourhood was destroyed, killing so many of their friends and forcing them to flee. He and his family are now settled in the UK and rebuilding their lives. To see more details please read ‘Ayham’s Story’ below.
The character of Adnan is an ordinary boy forced into an extraordinary situation, something true for many children across the planet. He is an archetype for the child who carries on regardless, with optimism and can-do spirit.
We have been very lucky that so many talented people chose to work with us, coming onboard for the sheer love of the project. In the beginning BAFTA-nominated producer Tiernan Hanby was the driving force that got us moving. Then BAFTA-nominated cinematographer Kit Fraser found time between shooting features. And it was sheer serendipity that allowed us to work with renowned coach Miranda Harcourt (‘Lion’, ‘Big Little Lies’, ‘Bridge to Terebithia’) who advised on training Ayham.
We worked with BAFTA winner Hassan Akkad who was so integral to our engagement with the Syrian community and together we created many opportunities for refugees to collaborate on this project. Our goal was to facilitate a creative fusion, to have many voices contributing. We also worked closely with the charity Help Refugees and continue to promote the good work that they do.
The incredible generosity and goodwill continued when our producer Julia Taylor-Stanley arranged a meeting with executive producer Gideon Wittenberg and George Weisz, who are trustees of the J+K Weisz Foundation – that was set up by George to honour his parent’s memory. George came to England in 1939 as a Hungarian Jewish refugee. He is a successful retired engineer and entrepreneur, and was delighted to support the film, leading Ayham and his family on to an adventure they may never have dreamed of not so long ago.
We want this film to tell a human story, far from politics, of a boy trying to heal his mother from the damage caused by a war they never asked for. We hope it will contribute to a message of choosing love over seeing difference. A film that breaks down barriers and reminds us that we’re all just people.
This is Ayham’s first role. After their neighbourhood was destroyed in Aleppo, he and his family fled war-torn Syria to seek safety. That was 3 years ago and they are now rebuilding their lives in the UK. With no acting experience at the beginning of this process, Ayham had some doubts about being able to play the lead role in a film. We hope you will agree that he need never have worried and that by his example, Ayham proves that anyone really can do anything. To see more details please read ‘Ayham’s Story’.
Raghad is a Scottish actress of full Syrian descent. Raghad trained in BA Acting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and graduated in 2014. As she was born in Aleppo Raghad has always had a strong bond with Syria. Although she moved to Edinburgh as a baby, Raghad learned to speak arabic from a young age, which she is very grateful for now. When offered the part of Zeynah, Raghad was honoured to tell this beautiful and touching story.
Raghad made her TV screen debut in Peter Kosminsky's ‘The State’. This led to David Hare's ‘Collateral’ directed by SJ Clarkson which was a co-production with Netflix and the BBC. Raghad has just finished filming a Hollywood feature which she can't talk about just yet, and is very excited for what the future holds.
We first met Ayham at his family home in North Bristol and immediately knew this shy little boy was our Adnan. Only 3 years earlier they had been living in Aleppo, Syria when their neighbourhood was destroyed, killing so many of their friends. It was then that Ayham’s father, Ammar, took his wife and three sons to safety in nearby Turkey. An educated man, Ammar wanted a better life for his family and thus made the arduous journey to the UK.
From the outset this project had a defining goal - to put a refugee child at the heart of a creative process and in doing so provide a warm, integrating welcome to a family rebuilding their lives in the UK.
Ayham had absolutely zero acting experience at the beginning of this process and we were profoundly aware that it would take some work to prepare him for walking on to a film set, with all eyes on him and to be our leading man… but we needn’t have worried.
Initially we consulted with Miranda Harcourt, esteemed acting coach who first came to our attention for her incredible work with the little boy in ‘Lion’. Thus began a relationship where she advised on best strategies for training a non-actor child and she became part of the team throughout production.
Steven began a process of living with Ayham’s family every other weekend over the summer of 2018 to slowly build the boy up for the role. Initially this comprised of nothing more technical than hanging out, playing jenga, learning origami and building wooden dinosaurs. All to get Ayham in the headspace of arts-and-crafts obsessed Adnan.
Next step was to bring in acting coach Acushla-Tara Kupe and the three spent a full weekend exploring some of the scenes to create a ‘performance architecture.’ When you cast an 11 year old with no acting experience you don’t hand them a script. Indeed, to this day Ayham has never read the ‘Adnan’ script. So instead we eased Ayham into the story and crucially got him used to rehearsing with an actress playing his mother.
Another crucial aspect for Ayham engaging with the story was to incorporate his own experience and that of his family, to make ‘Adnan’ his own. We incorporated their memories of Aleppo and based on these, Ayham wrote his own lines for some sections of the script. Perhaps the most moving aspect was when Steven gathered the family together and Ayham’s father Ammar told his three sons (for the first time) the full story of his arduous journey from Turkey to the UK. A journey that saw him spend 7 days at sea with 250 others on a boat built for 50. A journey where he couldn’t move, had just a pocket full of dates for sustenance, and where seasickness was a constant. By the end of his story Ammar’s sons saw this humble, unassuming man with a whole new level of respect. When Ayham plays Adnan and presents details of the journey to his mother, he is speaking of his father’s experience.
One week before filming we brought Ayham and his family to London - it was their first visit to the capital. Ayham began daily rehearsals at our film studio where we went through each scene. From the outset we worked with Hassan Akkad who has been an integral part of the team. In this week of rehearsals he guided Ayham through intonation and dialect and was an all round ‘big brother’.
For his performance in the film itself, we’ll leave that for you to decide. Suffice to say that we are incredibly proud of this little boy. He and his family all talk of how this experience has changed their lives. When we reflect on our initial aim in making this film we can think about this little boy and his family. Their lives were changed irrevocably by a war they never asked for and nothing can amend the loss of a home and exile from your country. We might also consider all the families who did not survive, all those innocent victims. Life is fragile, life is precious. The charity Help Refugees have a mantra of ‘Choose Love’ and we have tried to embody this principle. Through this film we have welcomed Ayham and his family into their new home and they will be forever in our hearts.
Mark Arrigo & Steven Chatterton are best friends with a big mission. Adnan is their second collaboration, the first being ‘Dorothy’s Theory’ which tells the story of a 9 year old girl's attempts to heal her mother’s broken heart and this demonstrates their key narrative focus - to tell grown up stories from a child’s perspective.
Steven comes from a background of screenwriting and performance, working closely with the actors and narrative. He has had several scripts selected for development programmes in Europe and previously spent long periods as a stand-in/double for major Hollywood actors working under the likes of Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan - this was his directing school.
Mark’s skill lies in cinematography and visual storytelling with a background in fashion film, music video and commercials. He started in documentary, spending 2 years on a project covering illegal immigration from Africa into Europe before honing his visual style as a cinematographer for fashion films including Baz Luhrmann’s H&M campaign.
Outside of filmmaking, Mark set up the charity ‘A Home for Winter’, building shelters for the most vulnerable refugees in the Calais jungle and Steven regularly mentors young people on storytelling and creativity in his home borough of Hackney.
Their mission is to tell global stories from the perspectives of children for all of humankind.
Julia has been the galvanizing force that took our ambitions for ‘Adnan’ to the next level. Her experience producing feature films like Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut ‘Coriolanus’ and Oscar nominated ‘The Tempest’ provided a secure and steadying hand for us and we are very grateful to have her onboard.
Tiernan’s vast experience with many BAFTA and BIFA nominated short films has been an incredible asset. From the very beginning, his integrity and belief in this project has been essential to getting this project from a script to the final film.
Hilary is a veteran of the film industry having set up Bankside Films, the international sales and distribution company. Her successes include Amma Asante’s BIFA-winner ‘Belle’ so we have been incredibly lucky to have received the benefit of her experience.
We consulted with Hassan at the very beginning of our journey and his reaction and belief reassured us that we were on the right path. He told us how timely it was for a story to engage on a creative, artistic and human level to counter the endless and desensitising news stories. He should know - a victim himself of Assad’s regime, he fled to the UK and was a key contributor to the BAFTA-winning BBC2 documentary ‘Exodus: Our Journey to Europe’.
Scarlett has a background working with NGO’s and founded a charity dedicated to relieving poverty, improving health and advancing education among destitute children in India. A deep believer in the transformative power of storytelling she is very interested in using the medium of film as a tool for social advocacy and positive impact, which has led Scarlett to this project.
Reggie has worked across multimedia production for the past four years as a script supervisor, production assistant and researcher for international productions. Reggie is of Syrian, Palestinian and Libyan descent, and spent the latter half of 2016 with Help Refugees in Calais, as a volunteer aid worker and English-Arabic-French interpreter.
CAMILLIA LANGOUX + BEN RENOLDS
There is no doubt that the sets are the third character in our film and to deliver this was a MASSIVE job. Enter Camillia & Ben who gave their everything (while raising a 3 year old) to bring Adnan’s creative visions to life. Having spent time in Syria and with a history in creative projects that have a positive social impact they were the perfect match for us. What they created is incredible.
Lucy brings a wealth of experience from her work on features such as ‘Snow White: Winter’s War’ and Joe Wright’s ‘Pan’ and it showed in the way she efficiently orchestrated both the film studio set builds and the locations. She also worked tirelessly in the Calais Jungle building shelters and maintains a strong engagement with the Syrian refugee community in the UK.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Kit was one of the first people to join our team and he did so out of pure belief in the project. Kit featured on BAFTA’s ‘Breakthrough Brits 2017’ list and we are so blessed that he found time between shooting 2 features to lens our short. Kit’s first feature ‘Under the Shadow’ won a BAFTA and also gave him experience on a film not in the English language - very useful for working on ‘Adnan’.
There’s an incredible story of serendipity around how we came to work with New Zealand-based Miranda who has coached Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA award nominated and winning performances. Her experience casting and coaching Sunny Pawar, the little boy who led the first half of the film LION resulted in advice that was invaluable for our work with Ayham.
Kiwi Acushla-Tara’s chance meeting with director Steven Chatterton led to the Miranda connection and then the three of them worked out a plan to train Ayham for the lead role. Acushla brought a warmth to our production and was integral to Ayham developing the confidence and techniques required to inhabit the role of Adnan. An experienced actor herself she has previously worked with that other wonderful New Zealander Taiki Waititi.
Australian Brendan is responsible not only for writing the entire score for ‘Adnan’ but he also assembled a string quintet plus a Syrian Oud to record at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. His understanding of how to convey the emotion of this story has been a joy to witness.
This New York based Dutchman holed up for three weeks in Mark’s East London spare bedroom edit suite to cut our film. The patience and diligence of this man is remarkable.
Danny’s love for colour is evident through his work in 'Adnan'. He carefully constructed a distinction between the gritty scenes in reality and those with a more magical, fantastical element. Danny is the lead colourist at Envy Advertising who have been so generous in supporting ‘Adnan’.
Mike took on the final and most crucial stage required for completion of our film - the sound mix. This is where every single thing you hear is considered and perfected, from sound effects to ADR, everything required to bring the world of Adnan to life. Mike is a magician with sound and we’re very grateful to him and 750mph for all of their work and support.
And last but absolutely not least... our First AD. Sascha held us together throughout the shoot, running a calm and controlled set despite the many pressures. His incredible scheduling meant we managed to complete all of principle photography in just 6 days. It's hard to imagine what we achieved without Sascha.
From the very beginning we have been working with the charity Help Refugees, both seeking their advice and also endeavouring to promote the good work that they do.
With the launch of this film our work will continue and grow. If you would like more details please take a look at their website and/or contact us below.
“We are so honoured to be your charity partner. Thank you so much. What a journey these last 3.5 years have been for all of us. It feels so special to still be working together.”
Philli Boyle & Josie Naughton, Help Refugees
Family in the Park
Written and Directed by
2nd Camera Assistant
Standby Art Director
Art Department Assistants
Hair & Make Up Designer
Hair & Make Up Assistant
1st Assistant Director
2nd Assistant Director
Ayham ADR Recordist/Mixer
Production Sound Mixers
Post Production Producer
Lead Flame Artist
Music Production Company
1st Violin and Solos
BTS Interview Videographer
Camera & Grip Equipment
Funding Support From
Ali el Helafi
Mark Arrigo & Steven Chatterton
Kester Jones Hanby
Ahamd Nasif Jamal
Zac Martin Transport
Charlie Tuesday Gates
Bryony Selway Taylor
750 MPH Ltd
Richard De Mowbray
Room Two Create
Waref Abu Quba
Clockwork Sessions Ltd
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Gabriella de Gaetano
SHL Film Lighting
Peacock Film Studios
Joir & Kato Weisz Foundation
Simons Muirhead and Burton
Ince Gordon Dadds
‘RADIO’ AMJAD KABI
STEFANO DEL FREDERICO