One of the most important untold stories in American history is finally getting the attention it deserves. “The Arab American story is the American story. We’re all immigrants,” said filmmaker Abe Kasbo, who will be coming to Toledo to show his new film, A Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab Americans on Saturday, March 5 at University of Toledo’s Driscoll Center Auditorium.
The screening is organized and presented by the Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP) Toledo, telling the rich and largely untold story of the Arab American immigrant experience. Kasbo hopes that this film will educate people and open their eyes to the importance of Arab Americans in American history.
The Journey Begins
Abe Kasbo came to America in 1980. “I grew up in Syria, I came here as an immigrant,” said Kasbo, adding that, “There are misperceptions about people from Syria and the Middle East, Arabs in general. I found that there’s an extraordinary piece of history missing that is built on these people and their accomplishments.”
This realization became the inspiration for a documentary film which would tell the story of the Arab American experience. “In 2007, I decided to do something about it because, at that point, my kids were about three years old and I didn’t want them to go through the same thing I did.” According to Kasbo.
Although he had no formal background in filmmaking, he was inspired to try to tell this story. “I run a marketing and PR firm, so at the time, I didn’t know much about making documentaries.” Kasbo said, “I learned on the job.”
“Doing the research for the film was an extraordinary process,” Kasbo recalled, “We had to get the people who made an impact on history. We made a roster of Arab Americans who we wanted to get in the film, which included Jamie Farr, Ralph Nader, Senator George Mitchell, Anthony Shadid and General John Abizaid.”
This was not the limit of the scope of the interviews. According to Kasbo, “We also spoke with folks who are not famous. This is not the ‘famous Arab American story,’ this is the Arab American story.” Many parts of the research process contributed to Kasbo’s own understanding. He said, “The process of making the film is very humbling because as you’re going through the historical process, it’s really breathtaking the breadth and depth of impact that Arab Americans have had on American history.”
About a particularly interesting story Kasbo recalled, “One of the inventors of the MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit is Dr. Michael Debakey,” he continued, “And of course, Jamie Farr played an iconic character in MASH.” Without Dr. Debakey’s innovation, that opportunity would not have existed for Farr.
The filmmaking process took Kasbo to diverse locations across the country, from Toledo to Washington DC, all the way to Kansas..
“It became an all consuming project and there were times when I just wanted to quit,” said Kasbo, “The challenges, I thought, were beyond me.” However, Toledo turned out to be a pivotal location for this film. While trying to decide which locations to visit, because of the large Arab American community Jamie Farr told Kasbo he had to go to Toledo, and he did.
“We went right to the Beirut restaurant and there must have been 50 or 60 people there,” Kasbo recalled. “The welcome was overwhelming. I didn’t know any of these people, I didn’t know this was going to happen.”
The event was organized by local Dr. Samir Abu-Absi. During the evening a man came up to Kasbo and said, “My sister is a producer.” He didn’t think much of this at first until he decided to contact her. “His sister gave me two or three leads to very well known producers who have done this before.” This ultimately helped Kasbo get in touch with producer and writer Gia Amella who ended up writing the film.
An American Story
“This story is just the beginning,” said Kasbo, “The film itself is an hour and a half, but easily could have been five or six hours.”
“The Arab American story is unique because of what is happening right now [the widespread misconceptions about Arab Americans], because of what is happening in the political life cycle of the country,” Kasbo said. “It’s more important now than ever to be able to tell this story.”
Kasbo has been inspired by the response to the film, saying “Fellow American citizens would come up to me and say, ‘This is wonderful, I just didn’t know.’” Kasbo is unsure whether or not he will make future films but he hopes that this film will begin a wider discussion.
“This is not the all-encompassing Arab American story,” said Kasbo, “This is the first step.” Kasbo concluded. He then described how an elderly woman from Toledo approached him, slipped some money into his pocket, and encouraged him to keep going. Kasbo said that people from the Arab American community would frequently send him encouraging emails about the film because they “need some hope and good news.”
Doors at 6:30pm. 7pm screening. 8:30pm Q&A with Kasbo to follow. Saturday, March 5. $15
UT Driscoll Center Auditorium, 2801 W. Bancroft St.
Find out more about the film at arabamericandoc.com
Check out NAAP Toledo at naaponline.org/toledo