War on terror drives Arab actor to "Zigzigland"

DUBAI Thu Dec 14, 2006 1:18pm GMT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Bashar Daas comes from Zigzigland, an imaginary country just below South America where people respect Arabs and he always has cash to pay the utility bills.

It's not that Daas is ashamed of admitting he is Palestinian in Hollywood but, as a taxi driver waiting for his big break in acting, he wants to avoid the inevitable political debate once passengers realise "that is where suicide bombers come from".

"Driving to Zigzigland" takes a wry look at the experiences of Arabs in the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks were carried out by 19 young Arab men.

It follows Daas, who plays himself, as he tries to raise in 24 hours enough cash to pay a bill and stop the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from deporting him. In that time, a flow of passengers engage him on everything from whether U.S. soldiers should be in Iraq to whether Cat Stevens has joined al Qaeda.

"Bashar kept getting terrorist roles and I wanted to make my own film," said Nicole Ballivian, an American who wrote and directed "Zigzigland", a small-budget production in which all the actors and crew worked for free.

"Most of this stuff happened to him or, if not, to other taxi drivers. We took the bedtime stories and put them together."

In the film, Daas shows up to a movie audition, only to find out he would be playing a terrorist. He turns the job down.

"This is my first big role. I've done mainly student films or Mexican films where I said nothing," explained Daas after a screening of "Zigzigland" at the Dubai film festival this week.

"If it is really a good film then it is always a terrorist role but I did not go to America to stab my people in the back."

The film sends up the U.S.-led "war on terror" and mocks the misconceptions Arabs face in the United States.

In one scene, an FBI agent shows up at Daas's flat to ask if he knows anyone who is planning jihad. In another, a Jewish couple mistake Daas for an Israeli and agree that eliminating the Palestinians could be a good idea. Only when he has dropped his passengers off does Daas drop his bombshell.

"Zigzigland" premiered at the Cairo film festival this month but has yet to show in the United States or Europe, where audiences can be sensitive about criticism of Israel.

Entirely self-financed at the paltry sum of $50,000 the film still has no distributor, said executive producer Anas Khalaf.

"We hope no one will fight us because these are real stories," said Daas, who hails from the holy city of Jerusalem.

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