The first thing you'll notice about Heartland Film Fest Award-winner The Falconer is that the film is mesmerizingly beautiful to behold. The first international film in history to be shot entirely in the nation of Oman, The Falconer is extraordinarily shot by D.P. Nicholas Bupp with every frame practically a love song to the Middle East that is seldom captured so exquisitely in American cinema.
The film, which had its world premiere at Indy's Heartland International Film Festival, captured the fest's prize for Best Narrative Feature Premiere. With several fests already lined up following Heartland, including Bend Film Festival, Portland Film Festival, Newport Beach, Austin Film Festival, and St. Louis International Film Festival, there's no doubt that award stack is going to keep on growing.
The Falconer centers around two friends - Tariq, an Omani teenager, and Cai, a privileged Westerner. Inspired by a true story, The Falconer follows the two as they conspire to steal animals the zoo to sell on the black market to raise money for Tariq's sister's divorce as she attempts to divorce her abusive husband.
Unlike in America, this is no small task.
The story that unfolds is simultaneously an adventure and a coming-of-age story as these two teens come face-to-face with moral complexities that, perhaps more than anything, serve as reminders of the broad chasm in the worlds from which they come.
As filmmakers who frequently travel the world, co-writers and directors Adam Sjoberg and Seanne Winslow refreshingly avoid the broad stroke stereotypes so often associated with this part of the world in favor of a story of friendship, community, devotion, and cultural awareness. The film soars on the strength of the honest chemistry between co-leads Rami Zahar and Rupert Fennessy. The two, both in their feature film debuts, sell the relationship beautifully, however, they also powerfully bring to life the cultural tensions and differences in understanding.
Given the basic storyline, you could be forgiven for anticipating The Falconer to be a very different kind of film. The truth is that The Falconer is much more about the friendship that unfolds despite Tariq and Cai's incredible differences. Much of this works because Sjoberg and Winslow emphasized their love for the region by bringing in Cai and Tariq and by surrounding themselves with local creatives. The original story actually unfolded in Yemen, yet The Falconer remains faithful to story and locale and have created a film with universal messages and dialogue that transcends borders.
Original music by Samuel Stewart serves as a perfect companion for the film and somehow seems to honor the film's Middle East and Western roots.
With The Falconer, Sjoberg and Winslow have crafted a film that inspires and challenges, communicates immensely yet often stops to listen. There's not a false note played here. There are no trumped up histrionics or faux conflicts manufactured for the sake of drama. Instead, Sjoberg and Winslow take a true to life, fantastical and inspired story and they allow it to unfold with the patience of poets who understand the magic in these words.
Indeed, The Falconer is a rather magical cinematic experience.
For more information on The Falconer, visit the film's website linked to in the credits.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic