"A Stray" brings an immigrant community to the big screen

Musa Syeed knows immigrant stories. A first-generation American himself, the filmmaker has written and directed several films based in immigrant communities around the U.S. “There can be almost as much trauma and obstacles and difficulties after arriving in safety as there were on the journey itself,” Musa says. “There’s a whole other story once you arrive in the new country.”

That’s where Musa’s latest feature picks up. A Stray, set in the Somali community of Minneapolis, follows Adan, a young Muslim immigrant who finds refuge in a local mosque after having been kicked out of his home. With prayer and guidance, Adan’s fortune finally seems to be looking up—until he accidentally hits a stray dog. Unwilling to abandon the dog, Adan loses everything once again and must try to find his way on the streets, this time with a canine in tow.

To write the script, Musa took several trips to Minneapolis, where he volunteered with a local center that hosts programs for the Somali population. Through the center, Musa spent time with various members of the community, from imams and soccer coaches to poets and curators, “to try to see things as much as I could from their perspective,” he says.

What resulted was a script that reflected their collective concerns. “It was difficult, at times, to synthetize, because even within a community there are so many different perspectives,” Musa says. The process, however, allowed the script to grow around real issues, such as the FBI’s practice of training paid informants, and gave the community a chance to share their story with mainstream audiences on their own terms.  

“I’m drawn to these very specific immigrant communities in making my films, because there’s just so much that is happening around us that we don’t see on-screen,” Musa says. “I hope that through my own journey of trying to see the world as it really is, that I can bring other people along for that journey.” 

A Stray was made with support from the Vilcek Foundation. Since its premiere at SXSW in spring 2016, it has screened at several festivals and received the Best Minnesota Made Narrative Feature award from the 2016 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. The film will be screening at Philadelphia’s BlackStar Film Festival on August 5 and at several other festivals throughout the year; follow A Stray on Facebook for future announcements!

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