By: Laura Huie
Claire Fowler, the winner of our 2016 Short Film Fund for SALAM, is a powerhouse writer and director, driven by her compassion and desire for bold, cultural storytelling. Her winning screenplay was initially titled LIFT, and it is about a New York Lyft driver named Salam who happens to be female and happens to be Muslim. It follows her through one night of driving—and during that night, we meet her family, see her work, and meet her passengers, particularly one whose decision to get into Salam’s car has an impact on both of them.
We had the chance to catch up with Claire—fresh off directing an episode of the Netflix show Manifest— to acknowledge and celebrate her accomplishments since winning our Short Film Fund competition, including the film’s world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018.
How did you come up with the initial idea for SALAM?
I spent quite a lot of time in Palestine over a period of about three years and I made some friends out there while making two documentaries. The plight of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian people themselves had a huge impact on me. I always knew I wanted to return to the subject in some form or another.
When I was coming up with the idea for this film, it was around the time that Trump was elected. And it was the talk of the Muslim ban that made it feel like a good time to revisit the subject. I don’t claim to be an expert on the Middle East or Arab culture, but I thought that by referencing the friends that I knew and using the knowledge and experiences that I had, I could make a story that would help at least some Westerners- maybe Americans who were susceptible to Trump’s rhetoric- to understand that the Middle East is a very complex place with individuals who are equally as complex as they themselves. I wanted to make something that shook people out of that superiority complex.
What was your writing process like?
I was living in New York at the time and that definitely inspired me. As New Yorkers we all come into contact with people of completely different cultures constantly. It’s quite a special place for that reason. You get in an Uber or Lyft and you’re in a very confined space with somebody who you might have absolutely nothing in common with. The city forces us to make connections as we navigate it, which is fascinating to me.
I specifically wanted to make my main character Palestinian for the friends that I made who said so many times to me: “When you leave Palestine, you’re going to forget us because everyone does.” I think that was one of the things that stuck with me most about my time there was how hopeless people felt, and how little faith they had in the rest of the world because they had been hurt so many times.