• Osamah Sami stars in the largely autobiographical film 'Ali's Wedding'. (Nixco)
"It takes a slice of Australia that's otherwise not represented on the big screen, and if it is represented then we're usually the ones doing the killings."
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

8 Aug 2017 - 4:10 PM  UPDATED 8 Aug 2017 - 4:10 PM

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction. Sometimes almost unbelievably so.

In the case of the new Australian movie Ali's Wedding, Osamah Sami had to play down some of his real life experiences when making the autobiographical film.

In it, Sami plays Ali, the Melbourne-based son of a Muslim cleric who, burdened by the weight of expectation from his parents and his community, tells a lie that sets off a disastrous series of events which culminates in an arranged marriage that lasts less than two hours.

"We had to tone down a few things here and there," Sami tells SBS Movies ahead of the film's national release on August 31 and showing at the Arab Film Festival later this month.

"For example, the scene where I get interrogated at the airport [in the United States] - that was a 26 hour interrogation and it ended up being one short scene in the film. And 'Saddam the Musical', that's a three-hour show that ended up being a scene.

"But the events themselves happened. Yes, it might be bizarre and some of the events are, on reflection, extraordinary, but at the time they were happening they were just life."

Sami's life has certainly been anything but ordinary. He was born in war torn Iran to Iraqi parents and escaped with his family to Australia as a teen.

It was only when Sami told director Tony Ayres and actress Claudia Karvan about his short-lived arranged marriage while they were filming the telemovie Saved in 2009 that the idea of adapting his life for the big screen was considered.

"The more he talked the more unbelievable we thought it was... it was a rom-com," Ayres has said.

Now Sami is credited with delivering Australia's first rom-com by a Muslim director, and presenting one of the most culturally diverse on-screen casts of any Australian production.

He's proud to have made a film that presents a migrant story and a Muslim story in a relatable and funny way to mainstream Australian audiences.  

"It takes a slice of Australia that's otherwise not represented on the big screen, and if it is represented then we're usually the ones doing the killings," he says. 

"There's more than half a million of us in this country, and yet the narrative that we're exposed to about my community is one that the majority of the majority of us don't experience, but we're affected by those negative portrayals.

"So this takes the everyday experiences of us as migrants, as people from the Middle East, or as Muslims, and we're treated like just another feel-good rom-com." 

Ali's Wedding had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival in June, where it won the audience award for best narrative feature. 

Sami says the recognition from the audience "means the world and more" to him, and he believes it shows a desire for more films like it.

"After the Sydney Film Festival State Theatre screening, a young woman came up to me and she said, 'I'm Ukranian Jewish, and this is my story'," he says.

"And yesterday we had a community screening in Parramatta and this 63-year-old father-of-six came up to me and he said 'This is my story', and he explained why he hadn't seen his mother because of Saddam Hussein. And then this 20 year old Iraqi girl came up to me and said 'this is my story'.

"It's a film for everybody. It could have been a Chinese story, it could have been a Ukrainian story. At the end of [the day], it's an Australian story."

The film is based on a few chapters of Sami's 2015 book Good Muslim Boy, which recounts his childhood in Iran, his journey to Australia, his quest to fit into his new life, and then 2013 journey he made with his father back to Iran. 

It was on that trip that his father died suddenly, aged just 50, and in the midst of his own grieving, had to organise for his father's body to be shipped home to Australia. 

Ali's Wedding is dedicated to his father, without whom, Sami says, the film would never have been made.

"He taught me to be free, to be myself, and to be true to myself," Sami says.

"Without his guidance and wisdom and friendship I wouldn't be able to put one frame of that movie on the screen, and I wouldn't be one per cent of the man I am today, really."

Now a father himself to two girls, Sami says he tries to ensure his daughters feel free to be whoever they want to be.

"I try to pass that freedom to my girls that I learned from my Dad and letting them be who they want to be without those pressures that they might feel," he says.

"But it's just a wonderful feeling, it's a wonderful thing being a Dad."