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Filmmaker at heart

A student with a camera discovers the gift of telling stories through the lnes, and now he's pursued by film festivals around the world
by: Vern Uyetake, WLHS grad Raad Fadaak shows pride in a DVD movie he started making while on a humanitarian mission to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, discovering his ability to tell stories.

Raad Fadaak, a 2004 graduate of West Linn High School, set out to be a volunteer. He came home a filmmaker. A potential award-winning filmmaker.

As part of a 2006 spring break excursion last March, Fadaak and his college roommate, Madison Tift, embarked on a seven-day excursion as disaster relief volunteers in hurricane-ravished Louisiana. They were among 40 Lawrence University students who took an 18-hour, 1,100-mile bus ride from Appleton, Wis., to St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans, trading a recess from classes for community service.

Toting a digital video camera along to record the experience, what was initially intended to be merely a video 'memoir' of the trip turned into an unexpected documentary film.

Arriving in Louisiana and seeing the extent of the devastation that remained seven months after the fact, the two Lawrence juniors - whose prior collective video experience didn't include so much as shooting a home movie - wound up turning the camera on the scores of volunteers and local residents they encountered at the Made with Love Cafe and Grill, a makeshift kitchen and dining hall housed in two large canvas-covered domes in Arabi, La.

Eleven months later, 'Made with Love: A Story of Emergency Communities,' a 51-minute documentary, made its world premiere in a recent screening in the Lawrence University art center auditorium.

'The camera gave us an excuse to talk with people about their experiences,' said Fadaak, 21. 'We decided we wanted to document the needs of the residents post-disaster and how members of Emergency Communities were meeting those needs.'

While the film's first audience was primarily Lawrence University classmates, a much broader audience will soon be viewing the cinematic handiwork of the rookie filmmakers. 'Made With Love' has been accepted into the 2007 Wisconsin Film Festival, which runs April 12-15 in Madison. Even more impressively, it will be screened at the international Swansea Bay Film Festival in Wales (May 29-June 10) as a nominee in the festival's 'Best Documentary' category.

Founded in 2006, the Swansea Bay Film Festival has quickly become the UK's biggest event of its kind, attracting more than 250 submissions from around the world already this year. The festival accepts only 15 percent of the documentaries it receives for public screening.

'Totally blown away' is how Fadaak described his reaction when he found out the film has been accepted by Swansea organizers and designated 'an official selection.' He's hoping to experience that feeling a few more times as he awaits word from a dozen other film festivals around the country to which the film also has been submitted.

A story of 'people helping people,' the film blends harrowing images of destruction, poignant stories of loss and frustra-tion and uplifting messages of hope that inspire and reaffirm the indomitable human spirit. Interviewees included local residents, several long-term volunteers from the non-profit organization Emergency Communities as well as Lawrence University student volunteers.

While the evolution from 'memoir' to 'documentary' occurred over the course of the week he spent in Louisiana, a 90-minute interview conducted with three firefighters from St. Bernard Parish provided an epiphany for Fadaak.

'I felt we had captured something we weren't seeing other places,' said Fadaak, son of Jane Accardo of West Linn and Tarek Fadaak of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 'They told us about heroism and great rescue stories. But they also were really upset at the government for its failure to prepare for and respond to the disaster.

'What struck me was the fact these three firemen straddled the different identities of the area. They were government employees, rescuers and local residents all at once. All those different perspectives gave us a really unique view of the situation and its effects.'

After returning to campus, Fadaak and Tift sat down to review the 10 hours of raw footage they had collected.

'When we began watching it, that's when the impact of what we had shot really hit us,' said Fadaak, who is hoping to pursue a self-designed major in Islam in the Middle East at Lawrence. 'We realized we had captured some very powerful stuff.'

Collecting moving footage, it turned out, was the easy part. Physically assembling it into the cohesive story they hoped to tell was cumbersome. With virtually no experience using computer editing software, the task proved daunting and the neophyte documentarists quickly concluded it was going to take years to finish.

A godsend arrived in the form of Gretta Miller, an aunt of one of the Lawrence student volunteers who participated in the trip. A professional film editor in Madison, Wis., Miller offered to meet with Fadaak and Tift to provide some pointers.

'When I saw the interviews they had captured, they were just so moving,' said Miller. 'I wouldn't let them leave. I said, 'You have to let me have this and let me edit it.' '

Working from a script and storyboards that Fadaak and Tift wrote, Miller handled all of the film's editing and post-production work - completely gratis - a process that began last September and ended in early February.

'We were forced into being producers, which was a completely new role for us,' Fadaak said. 'We had to organize ideas into content and content into ideas. Gretta was able to capture our vision and turn it into something special. We're eternally indebted to her for her services.'

Fadaak admits to a bit of a lump-in-the-throat moment when he saw the finished product for the first time.

'It's a bit hard to take a step back and watch it,' he said, 'but it was amazing to see it all come together in one cohesive whole. I'm proud of the story we were able to tell.'

Rick Peterson is employed by Lawrence University as manager of news services.