Review Fix chats with Hicham Hajji, the first Moroccan/Arab to write, produce, and direct a major Hollywood feature thriller. His international, political-action drama “Redemption Day” starring Andy Garcia, Gary Dourdan, and Serinda Swan will be released in theaters in 2020 and also marks Hicham’s directorial debut.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in cinema?
Hicham Hajji: I was 21, completely lost in life with no idea what my future was, and I met my friend Amine who was very excited about his new job on the movie “Sahara” with Matthew McConaughey and Penélope Cruz. He explained to me about all the movies that come to Morocco, where I’m from, to shoot. My eyes immediately opened and I knew exactly that this was my path and I had to do whatever it takes to be a part of the movie business. So I went to a small film school in Montreal where I learned the basics, and then came back to work in Morocco as an Assistant Director.
Review Fix: Why is the topic of this film important today?
Hajji: I think it’s very important to explain to the audience what’s happening exactly, and especially from a Middle Eastern point of view. In the American movies, Muslims are always the bad guys, and the Americans are the heroes. I wanted to create a backstory about where this comes from, who’s behind it and, especially, why!
Review Fix: What inspired this film?
Hajji: My high school friend lost his sister, a brilliant photographer who was killed by a terrorist group in Burkina Faso in Africa. She got 6 kalashnikov bullets, and died 3 days later of a heart attack. I was shocked and I decided to write a movie about those people, their ignorance towards religion, and how everything they do is for their own interests.
Review Fix: How difficult was this film to put together?
Hajji: I think this was the biggest challenge of my entire life. It was very difficult for me. At first, I thought that hiring an American director would open doors for me, but it was very hard to finance it. Then we had to reduce the budget and I was told to direct it myself. But it was so obvious that I should direct it myself. I wrote the story, I had all the locations in my mind, I watched the movie many times in my head, so when I was encouraged to do so, everything came to its place. My friends invested in me, and they brought their friends to invest as well.
We started the shoot before we were entirely financed. I was shooting during the day, and looking for money the rest of the time. Money was dropping dollar by dollar. It was stressful but it all worked out in the end.
Review Fix: Tell me about the cast…
Hajji: I was so fortunate to be able to assemble such amazing talents: Andy Garcia, Gary Dourdan, Serinda Swan, Robert Knepper, Ernie Hudson, Martin Donovan… I’m really blessed! I don’t know what to say, I think it was a miracle, especially knowing that it’s my first feature, I’m new in Los Angeles and I had no well connected people to help me achieve this besides my amazing casting director Nancy Foy.
Review Fix: What was the feeling like on set?
Hajji: I want to go back! The feeling… wow… Once I was behind the monitors, I felt in a bubble. The creation process, and being able to direct those wonderful actors was a benediction. I felt like all the problems disappeared and it was only me, the camera and the actors. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt in my element and I knew that this is exactly what I wanted to do: directing!
Review Fix: How have the audiences been reacting to it so far?
Hajji: The movie is almost done. I did a few screenings though, and the audience reacted quite positively. Everyone knew I had a very low budget with big ambition, but what we made happen went above expected quality. When my friends and people in the business watched the movie, they were quite impressed, and that was the goal: Make a big movie for the money we could afford to raise.
Review Fix: What films have inspired it the most?
Hajji: I think “Taken” was a good reference for us in terms of the structure and “12 Strong” in terms of artistic direction.
Review Fix: What have you learned about yourself through this entire process?
Hajji: I learned that I should never give up and to always keep fighting for what I want. And that if I can dream it, I can achieve it.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Hajji: I’m writing my next feature film. It’s a comedic musical set in an electronic music world. I’m very excited about it.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Hajji: I want to thank the amazing souls who believed in me from day one, they’ll recognize themselves. I don’t know what I would have done or become without them.
I really hope the audience will like “Redemption Day.” I’ve done it with all my heart and passion.