A Conversation with Filmmaker Idil Ibrahim

Idil Ibrahim is a U.S. based filmmaker of Somali descent. She is an alumna of University of California, Berkley and attended graduate school at NYU. Her award winning film projects have led her to travel all over the world. She has a passion for social issues and marries that passion to her talents as a filmmaker, actress, director, and producer. Her film projects have screened at some of the most prestigious film festivals such as Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam and Los Angeles International Film Festival just to name a few. Her extensive filmography includes films such as Fishing Without Nets, Homecoming (African Metropolis), Am I Going Too Fast?, Trece Años, and Laredo, Texas amongst many others. Her most recent project led her to Senegal to produce and direct a short film called Sega, starring Alassane Sy, which explores the issue of migration. Idil is currently based in New York City, but is often at an airport near you.

IA: Idil, it's really wonderful to have the opportunity to speak with you. What is the earliest memory you have of feeling moved by a film?

Idil: I am not sure if I can recall a specific moment, per se. What I remember most are the more immediate responses of feeling fully immersed in a film, emotionally connected, with full on suspended disbelief. The films I love are the films that stay with me and linger in my brain for a few days. But if I had to pick one film, my earliest memory of being moved by a film was probably Splendor in the Grass (1961) which I saw when I was pre-teen.

IA: When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker and what did the road to that realization look like?

Idil: I officially knew I wanted to be a filmmaker at UC Berkeley when I took Professor Loni Ding’s filmmaking course. She was such a passionate professor and a practical filmmaker--she wanted all her students to fully understand all aspects of filmmaking and feel confident doing so. It is no coincidence many of her former students are filmmakers! The “road to realization” continued through various production internships, wonderful mentors, a nurturing and supportive creative community of friends and fellow collaborators and a relentless commitment to storytelling by any means necessary! Lol. Now I get to do what I love full time and I am very grateful.

IA: Are there filmmakers that helped shape your filmmaking tastes and technique?

Idil: Oh yes, of course! I proudly consider myself a film nerd and I am inspired by so many filmmakers. There are many, but a few of my favorite directors are Andrea Arnold (Wasp, Fish Tank, Red Road), Ousmane Sembene (Black Girl), Walter Salles (Central Station, Motorcycle Diaries), Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Fernando Mereilles. There are also many contemporaries and colleagues whose work inspires me on a regular basis. Teachers come in all forms.

IA: What does an average day look like for you when you're actively working on a project?

Idil: Filmmaking and production is akin to cooking. I often use this analogy because there are always different phases at different stages. At the height of production, I’m pretty busy from early morning to late at night. However, the intensity and demand varies, so sometimes there are quieter, more reflective periods and other times you are lucky to get 2 hours of sleep. The level of demand varies from production to production, so it is never monotonous.

IA: You are passionate about humanitarian and social justice issues, particularly in relation to migration and global education. Do you consider yourself an activist filmmaker?

Idil: Interesting question. I am definitely an activist at heart and a true Berkeley girl. Nina Simone once said, “You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” So I, too, always keep this in mind.  I do believe in the power of artists to reflect the times. And though I am passionate about social issues and this is often reflected in my life and work, that’s not to say every single thing I hope to create is a work of “activism” or an “activist film.” I believe in the power of storytelling to build bridges to people and effect change, at any level.


IA: How does your background as a Somali-American immigrant influence your filmmaking?

Idil: I feel that being Somali-American influences my filmmaking in that it allows me to cross cultures and gain insight into different worlds, having grown up straddling two worlds and different cultures myself. I find I can relate to many different types of people, from varying backgrounds and walks of life and I consider it a gift.

IA: What advice do you have for younger filmmakers who are trying to get started in the industry?

Idil: My advice for younger filmmakers trying to get started in the industry would be to encourage them to continue to create and realize their artistic vision. I’d also encourage collaboration and urge young filmmakers to become a part of a creative community where one feels nurtured and supported. I always tell myself and others, do not create boundaries where they do not exist. I think the advent of new technologies and devices is a good example of this--there are so many tools and outlets that lend to storytelling, filmmaking and mass communication, for better or worse. The key is that it is much more accessible to so many people.

IA: I had the privilege of seeing Fishing Without Nets in theater when it came out. You played the female lead in that film. How did that happen?

Idil: I was a member of the crew of Fishing Without Nets as Director/Producer of the “Making Of/Behind the Scenes.” Cutter Hodierne (director) then later asked me to play the character Abdi’s wife.


IA: What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you while filming internationally?

Idil: The weirdest thing that ever happened to me internationally was having to ride in a roach infested car for four hours at dusk in rural Uganda. I hate roaches, but I had no choice. How the car was full of roaches, I’ve got no idea! But there is a first for everything, I guess.

IA: As a filmmaker is there a particular film that you've worked on that will always be your baby?

Idil: Sega (film) is my “baby.” It’s a story that was living in my head for years before I filmed it. It was truly a dream to make and our cast and crew was phenomenal. It was a labor of love for everyone involved. In Senegal, there is a phrase “Nio Far” which means “We are one” or “We are Together.” That was the ethos for everyone that was part of the Sega film community--it truly is the film the village made. I say it’s a short film with the heart of a feature.

IA: What's your dream future project or collaboration?

Idil: I’m a dreamer. I have many future dream projects and long wish lists of people I’d love to creatively collaborate with. But at the top of my list? Probably anything related to Oprah Winfrey!!! I get chills just thinking about it.


Ifrah Ahmed is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad

Lisbon Travel Guide

by Sagal Abdulle

A few months ago in early March, my close friend and I decided to get away from England. We escaped to Lisbon, Portugal for a quick weekend break. It was towards the end of my dissertation season and I needed a change of scenery from the library that I got too used to sitting in. We hadn’t planned much of anything other than our flights and our Airbnb. We decided to see what we could manage to get up to without an actual itinerary. We arrived on a sunny Friday afternoon and were instantly enamoured. Just the ride from the airport to the Airbnb we were staying in was incredibly picturesque and the stress of university deadlines were soon forgotten. 

The city has beautiful cobblestone streets, pretty little cafes in almost every street, pastel colored tiled buildings and charming cable cars that make you feel as if you’re in another world entirely. The people are relaxed and friendly and there is a laid back atmosphere that seems almost alien if you’re used to the hustle and bustle of a city like London. Our three and a half days there were exactly what we needed to de-stress. 

Day One:

We arrived in our beautiful Airbnb just off Rossio Square and immediately after freshening up we went outside and just explored the streets around the square. We had some seafood and then we decided to walk just a few minutes up the road to explore Arco da Rua Augusta, a triumphal arc with stunning views over the city. After we had our fill of the fresh breeze from the sea and the gorgeous cityscapes, we went back home for a short nap before getting ready for the evening. 

We decided to visit the famous Time Out Market Lisboa for the night, which is a food hall with various different cuisines in the Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodre. After settling on some jerk chicken for dinner, we sat near the center of the market and watched some of the visitors salsa on the dancefloor, after which we called it a night. 

Day Two

We woke up early and took a train to nearby Sintra for the day to explore the castles and the beaches in that area. It took us around thirty minutes to get there and the town was stunning. Palaces atop hills and exotic garden with mountains and forests nestled between them, Sintra is everything a nature obsessed photographer like myself would want to see on holiday. We visited Pena castle and explored the grounds. We also walked through the town and took in the sights in the city centre. Then, we took a cab for a ten-minute ride to Praia da Adraga, a gorgeous beach in near Sintra with pretty cliffs, golden sand and huge rock formations that had the ocean waves hitting against them. We managed to catch the sunset there before going back to Lisbon for the evening.

Day Three

We spent the day visiting LX Factory which is an old industrial complex that now locates art shops, galleries, book stores, restaurants and vintage clothing stores. It's very similar to Shoreditch in London. Then we explored Alfama, which is the oldest district of Lisbon, with gorgeous narrow streets and beautiful cafes and small shops in every corner. The sound of Fado could be heard whilst walking through the neighborhood. We also visited Castle Sao Jorge while in the neighbourhood and took in the stunning views of the city and the coast. A random side note - the castle had all sorts of pretty cats and majestic looking peacocks just running around to their hearts content. It was definitely my favourite part of the trip.

Day Four

We were flying out around 5pm so we didn’t have too much time to explore on this day. However, we wanted to go to the district of Belem and visit the original bakery where some of the first Pasteis de Nata’s in Portugal were made following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. We spent the entire weekend consuming these yummy custard treats so it only made sense to visit the bakery where it all began. It was so worth the trip! No pasteis since has compared to the ones from Pasteis de Belem. Finally, a few minutes away from the bakery is the Tagus River and the Monument of Discoveries. We  spent the last few moments of our day just sitting by the river bank and taking in the city before heading back to London. 




Interview with fine artist Ikran Abdille

Araweelo Abroad had the opportunity to speak with Ikran Abdille, a gifted fine artist on the rise. Ikran resides in Northampton and she primarily works with gifs, drawing, videos, and found imagery. She holds a B.A. in fine art and has successfully show her work in both group and solo exhibitions. Araweelo Abroad talked to Ikran about studying fine art, some of her favorite artists, and what advice she has for other Somali artists.


SA: What inspires you to do art?

Ikran: I'm inspired to create art because I feel like the world is such a beautiful place that not creating would be a shame. I've seen too many beautiful things and things that may seem ordinary to others look differently in my eyes. As I'm a primarily multimedia based artist, I mostly love moving image and the greatest lens for me has been my eyes and my camera. The everyday world inspires me and also my family.

SA: Does your art have a specific focus on anything?

Ikran: My work focuses on home and the importance of what home means. Home being a person or people rather than an actual destination. My work plays with imagery and layers, creating things within things. The images I use normally are found online unless I state that I photographed them. My video works are very playful and usually capture my family doing very casual things but captured in a very abstract way.

SA: What was it like studying a fine art degree at university?  Were your parents supportive?

Ikran: It was great studying fine art because I really got to find myself and find out what I enjoy doing and what I shouldn't be scared to do. My parents have always supported my work even if the don’t agree with the arts as a career choice. They have always said to do what I enjoy because you can only come up top in something you genuinely love doing. It would be great if Somali parents didn't fear that the arts is actually something worth pursuing but I do believe some are slowly opening up to it.

SA: What difference are you hoping your art makes?

Ikran: I just hope that when someone looks at my work they are intrigued and want to know more or just enjoy looking at it. Sometimes there aren't always words as to why we like something but we just do, and with my work I want people to know that it's okay to feel that way. With my video work it's more about missing something, I feel like when a Somali audience watches my work it reminds them of home. You hear a dialogue you understand and see faces that feel familiar , it's a longing for a comforting place. It's a longing for home.


SA: Name a few of your favourite artists or art works?

: My favourite artist at the moment is TonyGum. She's so wonderful to listen to and watch. I remember listening to one of her talks and her approach to being a artist in learning is so fascinating. I also currently love the work of Evie Cahir, an illustrator who works primarily with drawing and painting. Her layered works are something very refreshing because she plays with what she props on paper in terms of details also the use of colour being quite minimal and light is great.

SA: How do you work? What is your process like when making art?

Ikran: My process isn't really a process. I just make work when I need to or when I feel like I want to. I usually work at any time of the day, my work is usually done on my phone in terms of collages. I use basic apps to create layered works and my video work is shot on my Canon handheld camera. I usually shoot with my video camera if I see something that really captures my eye. It's mostly colour or light or hand gestures.

SA: Lastly, how would you encourage other Somalis to get involved with art?

Ikran: As a Somali artist the best thing I can suggest to other Somali artists is to go for it. Keep your day job but make art. You don't have to be broke to be an artist that statement about artists is the worst. Artists live daily lives and still make art. The Somali community isn't very encouraging about art but once they see young people bringing things to life they'll start to become more open and the great thing about Somali creatives is that they've created many platforms in terms of YouTube and Instagram and design and modelling. I really believe as Somali creatives we have to continue to push past this traditional way that Somali elders think and break conventions. I believe we will get there but young creatives need to hang in there and keep going. If Allah wills it, it will work out.

More of Ikran’s work can be found here.

Sagal Abdulle is an Editor of Araweelo Abroad.


The Golden City

by Katra Ziyad

In "Old Thousand and One Stories" there is a description of Cairo: "He who hath not seen Cairo hath not seen the world: her soil is gold, her Nile is a marvel; her women are like the black-eyed hours of Paradise; her houses are palaces; and her air is soft, more odorous than aloes-wood, rejoicing the heart. And how can Cairo be otherwise when she is the Mother of the World?”

Of course, as most huge cities of the world, Cairo's air is not so soft these days, but it is improving. There are palaces still, the soil still produces lush vegetation, and the river Nile never ceases to inspire me. The women are wondrous, with beauty as mysterious and charming as the old thousand and one stories. Cairo is older now, yet she remains a city cloaked in excitement and mystery, dark secrets and bright celebrations. She is a city that often mixes the many cultures of the world with the many ages of the world.

I have walked her alleyways, her living cemeteries, her markets and I have explored her poor underbelly, as well as her grand and sparkling avenues. All the while I feared no evil, because there was none. Mostly only gracious Egyptians who seem, more often than not excited by the sight of a stranger, curious, just like their beloved cats. I am welcomed, enchanted and it is beyond my understanding how anyone cannot fall desperately in love with this city and its people.

I know I shall never completely know Cairo. It is too deep, too full of adventures. I suspect even the Egyptians themselves may never fully know this sprawling city of operas and pyramids, glass towers and medieval tunnels, ancient churches and modern cell phones. But what little I do know is that those who never visit Cairo, will never know the world. 

Katra can be found on instagram under @katraziyad

Home and Free

 by Dhool Hassan

After an unexpected yet unsurprising and all much needed departure from a job that was devouring myself and my coworkers of our health and happiness, I was left in a place that was never home, a place I spent too much time in, even after graduating university and given multiple chances of leaving. 

My life was in a stand still. Days consisting of sleep and nights being of unawareness that I was also choosing to do nothing again. Was being given another chance to be free of this place I never found a connection with.

Things finally started to move forward after a chance conversation with my mother, and an agreement with my uncle. I was propelled forward in time to the land that was familiar, a country I only lived in for a few years, a country of welcoming and understanding people that didn't make me feel like an outsider. A country neighboring my birth country in the continent I grew up away from and forever belonged to. 

Now I am here, with a place of my own, in a city that I never lived in but feels more like home than the 2 decades and so in a country that markets itself as the land of the free but not once I ever felt free in.

Here I am, where the color of my skin is not the definition of my character. Where my name is more important as it states my patrilineal lineage and the many families I belong to. Where speaking multiple languages is not discouraged but cherished.

I am home and free.

Ramadan in Cuba

by Shukri Elmi

I spent the first few days of last Ramadan in Havana. I searched for ‘Islam in Cuba’ before I left. Articles I saw online said that the government had approved for a masjid to be built, but nowhere was it confirmed whether the project had been completed. I then saw a photo of the mosque on Instagram and so I noted the name and location. I also came across articles on Imam Yahya Pedro, the leader of the Islamic League in Cuba. The articles talked about how he and his wife would clear their living room every Friday for over two decades so that the small Muslim community of Havana could pray Jummah.

I first visited the masjid with my friends a week before Ramadan. The masjid was closed between the prayers so we sat in a café nearby in the outdoor area. This guy (Yusuf) walked past and told us that they would be reopening for Asr prayer. He also asked where we were all from, and when I said Somalia he got really excited and said his wife was Somali too, and that we could speak properly later. After we prayed, they made us tea and Yusuf started telling us about his journey to Islam, how he met his wife who was Somali-Canadian. After that. he started translating everyone’s story. Ahmed was one of the older men and he became interested in Islam after reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Others said they were inspired by their Muslim friends at university who came from Muslim countries to Havana to study. The oldest amongst us was named Daud and he spoke very good English. He told us about his life in Cuba before, during and after the revolution. He also told us about how he had embraced Islam fairly recently.


After travelling the island for a week, three of my friends went back to London, so only Meryem and I were left. Yusuf told us that most of the small Muslim community breaks fast together at the masjid. So on the first day of Ramadan, after somehow finding the energy to walk around the city all day we went to the masjid around Asr. There were so many more people compared to our first visit; especially the woman’s side. One evening, an elderly woman was standing beside me in salah, and she kept looking over to see how my hands were arranged, and fixing hers accordingly. In that moment I realized how truly blessed I am to have been born into this beautiful religion.

I was so surprised to see two Somali girls, both from Djibouti studying engineering in Havana. I also met a Somali guy at the masjid, who was waiting on documents from the government so he could travel to the United States. It was hilarious speaking Somali in Havana of all places, but I live for strange moments like that. We saw these same beautiful women every evening, my Somali sisters helped translate a few conversations with them. It became such a routine that I really didn’t want to leave. I would’ve loved to see how they celebrate Eid!

One of the evenings we met Imam Yahya, he was so chill and easy to speak to. Before we left we asked if we could meet his wife and visit him in his home to see where everyone used to pray before the mosque opened. He happily agreed and Yusuf took us the next morning (our last day in Havana) and it was probably my favourite day of the whole trip. We sat in Imam Yahya’s living room for a while, looking at pictures of Eid prayers in Paseo del Prado, pictures of him in Mecca and pictures with the Turkish president Erdoğan. He told us about his travels, and the things he hopes to do for the Muslim community in Cuba such as providing local halal meat, since they currently only have halal chicken imported from Brazil and the supply is inconsistent.

After that we took a walk around his neighbourhood. He picked up bread from the bakery with his ration card and would later bring it to the masjid with him for iftar. He was so well respected in his area and it was so cute seeing all the teenagers stop to greet him. It’s only when people actually know Muslims that they can have an accurate perception of the religion. I’m sure a lot of people in Havana are clueless about Islam, but those that know Imam Yahya will probably associate the religion with him and he definitely does it justice. I always try to remember that the best dawah is my actions and character, since my religion does shape these both in some form.

More of Shukri's work can be found on her website https://www.shukriel.com/

BTS Issue 03 Cover Shoot

All of our love, thanks and appreciation goes to our friend Hadiya Hashi, photographer extraordinaire who shot the cover images for this issue and to our stunning friends Ebyan, Iman, Amran and Shukri who modeled for us. Can't thank them enough for making this day so much fun and for being a part of this issue! They can all be found on instagram: @hxaji, @ebbyblu, @imanm, @amranzuk0 and @shukriel. Be sure to follow them and show them love <3

Artist Spotlight: Muna Abdirahman (Minnesota, USA)  

How long have you been an illustrator/artist?  

Muna: I've been an artist since middle school. But I got serious around my first year of college and really practiced and tried to get better.  

What is your earliest memory of creating art?  

Muna: When I was in 4th grade I remember drawing myself as a bratz girl because the girl who knew how to draw bratz wouldn't draw me so i picked up a pencil and did it myself!  

Are you a self-taught artist or did you have formal instruction?  

Muna: I'm a self-taught artist.  

What does your working/creation process look like?  

Muna: I liked to watch movies and listen to music while I create art. I create my best work during night time around 3am. I start with color and see how things turn out and sometimes I like to doodle and not think about the subject.  

Want to see more work from Muna? Find her on Instagram @munadraws