Usama Alshaibi’s known for stirring up serious political shit with a pervo swizzle stick; his last completed feature, Nice Bombs, in which he revisits his motherland Iraq and ends up just like the rest of the U.S.—having no conclusion, no idea really what to make of the enormous mess—pissed off a lot of people. When we stumbled on this strange, magical video that feels like some kind of haunted video feedback loop, which he made with his wife Kristie (click below to watch it), we thought we’d found something that was just pretty great to look at, a miniature respite from his workaday leanings. But when we asked him to talk about it, that was a jack-in-the-box of worms that led to a discussion about his recent film, Profane. Seems he just can’t get away from the deep, dark stuff. Not that we want him to. Here, he’ll explain it all in his own words, but don't click any further unless you're a grown-up.
Here's the video that sparked it all. This is a slow burn (oh shit, that was a pun, oh well), so stick around for 1:38:
When I was a boy in Saudi Arabia I started praying five times a day and going to mosque. I guess I had a high regard for the Quran and yes, I believed in all of it. I really got into being a Muslim, much more than my own family. Later, when I discovered LSD and different ideas I was not so religious anymore. But I always had this feeling that something was not right about the whole deal with Islam and all the Abrahamic religions. After my brother died in 2006, I really became disillusioned with religion in general.
As I look at the Quran now all this stuff with Satan and the devil and Jinns becomes more of metaphor for good, evil, sex, and profanity. And this film Profane (that's a still from it above) is my crisis I suppose. I had a nervous breakdown in the middle of production and we were plagued by a nasty flu virus infecting everyone and shutting down production for several days. All the BDSM in the film is real with true masochists and sadists. I had Muslims work on the film and we would assist the actor, Manal Kara, on how to pray properly. Although Manal is Arab and grew up in a Muslim country, her parents are Atheists and she knew very little about Islam.
With Profane, I wanted to link this idea of submission to something that is not you, something higher or stronger. The very word “Islam” means submission and “Muslim” means one who submits. So I found this very interesting in that the main character, Muna, plays a pro-Domme, who has slaves submit to her, but she submits in prayer to Allah.
I've always really been into religion and I'm especially interested in Pre-Islamic and Islamic mystical imagery and stories. But I do consider myself an Atheist, although I really don't like that word since it is a negation of something. I'm even questioning our notion of movement, time, the present, past, and future, and how to access all of it without this prescribed narrative in front of us.
So all of this stuff was in my head when I wrote Profane. This film kind of scares me because of its content and that shit that happened to Rushdie and VanGogh from Amsterdam. I want to say that it will not happen to me but I'm not sure. I lost my job during the end of the production of this film, but I am still shooting and editing. It's the only thing I have now and I protect it like a sick child.
But backing up, I started a project much earlier than this (which is still unfinished, ongoing) called Baghdad, Iowa. It was the seed that provoked me to write Profane. This was closer to addressing my brother's death and I had to let go of it for a while since it got too difficult emotionally to work on. But you can watch some of it here.