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DALYA'S OTHER COUNTRY

A Syrian teen attempts to balance her new life in L.A. while maintaining her Islamic traditions
Women's Studies • Sociology • Islamic Studies • Religious Studies • Migration Studies 
2017. Director & Producer Julia Meltzer. Co-Producer Mustafa Rony Zeno.
13, 58 & 75 Minutes. In English & Arabic with English Subtitles. Includes Captions.

 

DALYA’S OTHER COUNTRY is a timely documentary that follows the real life challenges of one displaced Syrian teenager and her family. Shot over four years as the Syrian civil war uprooted millions, this highly acclaimed film comes at an important time as America focuses on its immigration and refugee policies.


Dalya, the only Muslim at a private Catholic high school in Los Angeles must straddle her two worlds, while navigating her teenage years and her religious faith. Dalya comes across as an ordinary Southern California teenager. She takes selfies and goes to prom. She plays sports and hangs out at the mall. She is also the only student at her high school who wears a hijab. While Dalya’s mother is tasked with redefining herself after leaving both her country and husband, Dalya's brother takes on the role of ushering the family through their resettlement. Viewers are brought into the intimate world of this family, as Dalya and her family tackle complex experiences, from immigration, assimilation, divorce and feminism, against the backdrop of mounting tensions surrounding America’s Muslim immigration policies.

 

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"An uplifting film that demonstrates the importance of refugee immigration and diversity in a warm and subtle way."

"As tensions mount in Syria, Rudayna and her daughter, Dalya, relocate to California, where Dalya’s brother lives. Filmed over a four-year period, this sensitive program follows Dalya and her mother settling into Los Angeles. Dalya, the only Muslim at a private Catholic girls’ high school, stands out in her hijab but is soon participating in classes, athletics, and social activities. Meanwhile, Rudayna decides to attend community college. When filmmakers pay a yearly visit with the family, Dalya and her mother describe their concerns and triumphs in increasingly better English. A visit from Dalya’s father (who took on another wife in Syria, contributing to Rudayna’s decision to leave) is emotional. Dalya is torn between loving her new country and missing her old life, while her mother is embracing newfound freedoms. This fine film captures both the trials and the rewards of merging two cultures."

Troy University

Aaron Hagler, Assistant Professor of Islamic History

"Following up on her fascinating documentary The Light in Her Eyes, which focuses on the Syrian conservative preacher Houda al-Habash and her school for girls to learn to recite the Qur'an, Julia Meltzer's Dalya's Other Country explores similar themes of the relationship of Islam to Feminism.  While the Light in Her Eyes is set in Damascus shortly before the outbreak of the terrible Syrian civil war,  Dalya's Other Country follows Dalya, her mother Rudayna, and her brother Mustafa, as they continue to adjust to life in Los Angeles after fleeing that war.  Houda is a teacher, and Dalya is a high schooler.  These very different women, experiencing life in different regions of the world, are thematically tied by the need to reconcile a conflict between their own heterodox feminism and the more "traditional" values of many of the most important people in their lives.  Both Houda and Dalya, compelling and talented as they are, demonstrate that this "conflict" is nowhere near as simple as it can often seem.  Meltzer's masterful and empathetic storytelling would make either movie (or, better yet, both) an excellent addition to any course on Islamic Studies (Islam and Gender in particular) and Refugee Studies."

Dr. David Damrel, Associate Professor of Religion

"Dalya's Other Country follows four years in the life of a teenage Syrian Muslim girl and her family as they adjust to American society and experience the opportunities and the obstacles that U.S. life presents on a daily basis. The film engages provocative here-and-now issues in American society -- topics such as immigration, culture, religion, and what it is like to be seen as new and different -- but always within the natural frame of Dalya's life at school, with her friends and family and especially in her relationship with her mother, Rudayna. Ms. Meltzer's film is deeply honest, relatable and human, and by letting her protagonists speak for themselves the film invites productive classroom and community conversation. Dalya is a first-rate resource for teaching that intersects with so much of what we talk about in our classes -- religion and difference, multi-culturalism, gender and current events – in a way that students and audiences respond to easily."

Maryam Kashani, Assistant Professor, Departments of Gender and Women's Studies & Asian American Studies

"Dalya's Other Country is a starting point for important discussions about the immigrant and refugee experience and Arab and Muslim girlhood. The film also charts the pain, confusion, joy, and exuberance of teenage life in immigrant Los Angeles. While Dalya is the only Muslim girl in her Catholic high school, the film gives a glimpse into how she is also one of many young women of color in the film who are navigating their ways into adulthood. Dalya is a compelling figure whose complex relationships to family, country, religion, and her own future will resonate with young people. The film would work well in Gender Studies, Arab and Muslim Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Immigrant and Refugee Studies classrooms."

Joshua Landis, Director of Center for Middle East Studies

"Julia Meltzer's new documentary Dalya's Other Country is brilliant. Tragedy, tears, and triumph are all recorded in this stunning exploration of one family over many years. A tough mother who divorces her merchant husband because he takes a second wife without telling her. A son in his 20s who must become the man of the family, and the charming and beautiful young daughter who just wants to have fun, but seeks to be a 'good' and obedient Muslim. This delicate and moving exploration of the immigrant experience will take its place among the very best in this genre."

Sheema Khan, columnist and author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman

"Dalya's Other Country is a poignant documentary of cultural dislocation, compounded with the dislocation of war and family break-up.  As we follow Dalya Zeno, from her arrival to suburban L.A. as a 13-year-old to her graduation from high school, we witness the remarkable journey of a young woman seeking to navigate and shape her many identities (Syrian, American, Muslim) into a complex, multi-faceted individual of the 21st century. In one sense, it reflects the universal odyssey of youth in today's globalized world, seeking to find their individuality in an increasingly complex world."

Stephanie Saldaña, lecturer and author of "A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide" and "The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith"

"Dalya’s Other Country is a moving, intimate portrait of one Syrian girl’s journey from war-torn Aleppo to Los Angeles, where she becomes the only Muslim in a Catholic school. But it is equally about a young woman’s journey into adulthood against the backdrop of radical changes both in the Syria she fled and the America she has adopted. With her independent spirit and the honesty she brings to everything she does, Dalya is irresistible, and we can't help rooting for her through challenges large and small, from convincing her parents to let her attend the prom to navigating her feelings about fleeing Syria. Viewers may come to the movie to learn more about Islam and immigration in America, but the film is more deeply an invaluable way to begin to understand the very real humans whose lives are upended by politics in America and abroad. It is almost impossible to watch this film without asking, at the end: What would I do if this happened to me? Would I be as strong as Dalya?”

The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani

Edith Szanto, Professor of Middle Eastern History

"The value of the documentary is its ability to address high school and college students. It is politically relevant not only because of Trump’s current 'Muslim Ban' but because it tells a timeless story of how a shy girl transforms into an outspoken activist. Dalya’s story is an American success story. It is a hopeful and sensitive narrative of overcoming obstacles, and it brings up topics such as how to deal with identity, political and family tragedy in an era of hate and fear.”

Hampshire College

Robert Meagher, Professor of Humanities

"I think it's a must–such a strong, positive, heartening message, just the right antidote to the poison in the air. We need to build bridges not walls and Dalya's Other Country has done that here."

Temple University

David Allen, Sociology Professor

"Dalya's Other Country is rare and quite unique. It hits directly upon giving the viewer a real sense of what's involved in a Syrian family, broken apart and moving from being at home in one culture and country to another. There's nothing neat or a final catharsis to this experience. The story unfolds by focusing principally on a young girl becoming woman Dalya, but it expands upon her life world by showing her entire family and the struggles they endure both together and apart. One could not hope to spread a more fruitful hour watching a poignant story told on film."

"The documentary hits on many points: assimilation, Islamophobia, feminism. But one of the strongest themes is the relationship between Dalya and her mom, Rudayna."