By Jessica Martino
Kassim‘s story starts from the Horn of Africa, Djibouti, between Ethiopia and Somalia. Who knows if little Kassim, who has always been passionate about the world of cinema, enchanted in front of the neighbors’ small black and white TV, imagined that one day he would be part of cinema as a director in Italy.
Surely with some dreams in his chest, under a jacket, he will have left Djibouti in the 90’s to reach Italy. Perhaps not cinema, belonging to the sphere of “high” dreams, too far away to look at them from below, difficult to reach like the stars; but certainly with the hope of finding something: a better life, some opportunities to collect along the way… the spirit that unites all the boys, girls, men and women who leave their land, making the extreme act of courage which is to cut off one’s roots, legs like uprooted tree trunks, to make an unknown journey through life.
Kassim arrives in Rome and works hard: he takes a certificate to be able to work on construction sites with excavators, a job which he then had to stop due to an accident. Meanwhile, he meets people, makes friends, tries to plant his roots in the Eternal City. He found a job as a clerk in a downtown shop: there was the lucky meeting of his life.
A photographer asks him to participate as a model for social awareness shots. She wants his face. The word “model” makes him laugh, perhaps he imagined everything except being discovered by a photographer and being chosen as a model. He underestimated the beauty of his features, his color, his curls. Perhaps he also underestimated the fact that his beauty was rich in history, which began long before his own and ours: the history of humanity itself born in Africa thousands of years ago. He overlooked the fact that his face were a universal message of humanity to humanity.
Humanity seems to have forgotten that we are all children of Africa, that our journey began there: in that land rich in history, culture and beauty that resists and exists, despite everything.
From that moment on, a new page in his life opens up, just the first page followed by long chapters of a book that he is still writing: HIS BOOK.
He poses as a model for photo shoots; makes small extras in TV series, video clips and feature films. In 2007 he was chosen by Joseph Lefevre, as the protagonist of his film Said.
Perhaps at that point, the dream of cinema, that “high” sphere seemed to him not so far away.
He decides to study acting, to train, to deepen that world, to make it his own.
He enrolls in the Laboratory of the International Center for Cinema and Theater “Duse International” and then makes the leap: from actor to scriptwriter and director.
The great film festivals open for him: At the 69th edition of the Cannes Film Festival he made his debut with A Special Day, co-directed with Gaston Biwolé.
In the same year he is directing the Sottomess@ pilot: the black comedy episode for the web was screened at the Rome Web Fest 2016, at the Calcata Film Festival, until it reached the final at the Terminillo Film Festival.
The 2017 short film Idris, premiered at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival in the special section MigrArti, written with Heidrun Schleef. In addition to Idris, Kassim was engaged on the set of 21 Insomnia, proposed at the Short Corner of the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018.
We arrive at “The wind under foot“, his latest work.
Kassim makes his pen and his camera vehicles of important, profound messages, admirably enclosed in 15 minutes.
The protagonist of his short film is Monsieur David, foot theater actor. We follow him throughout his day, starting in the morning, a moment, for him, of spirituality and prayer. Kassim includes religion, in this case Buddhism, in the first seconds of his documentary.
Then we see Monsieur David taking a rose from a vase in his apartment, a rose that he carries out with him, for the second stage of his day: David passes through the San Lorenzo district and offers the rose to a mural dedicated to Desirée Mariottini, the 16-year-old who died of an overdose, repeatedly raped, while on drugs, by a group of Africans from whom she had gone to get drugs, there in that stable in the San Lorenzo district, where she later found that brutal death.
Speaking with Kassim about this passage, he tells me something very touching, an expression of his sensitivity and humanity. He also felt responsible for Desirèe‘s death, as an African, as a human. Because accomplices in her death were not only Africans but also Italians. He told me: I wanted to pay tribute to her.
And in the meantime we follow Monsieur David, walking around Rome, a city that Kassim loves and to which he paid homage through his short film. From the Eternal City appears the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, but also a township, with two little ignorant boys who make fun of two kissing girls, one Chinese and one Nigerian.
A life between lives. Monsieur David meets people with their own realities and their own stories. A Orthodox Jewish dwarf, a Muslim on his knees praying in front of the Colosseum, the boys of the township, the two girls in love, a sung Ave Maria that comes from the mouth of a street artist and rises to heaven. The kids, Africans and Gypsies, who, Kassim tells me, strongly wanted them, to give them a day of happiness because they don’t have much. Then there are the kids, big smiles, on the rides, and then again while they watch David’s show. A dinner in Piazza Venezia, at the caritas: Monsieur David is himself a volunteer and offers food to Italians and foreigners who need it. Then he arrives at Franco‘s bar, a particular bar, spokesperson for important social messages: on the counter there are the words: anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist bar. Contrasting images: the camera focusing on the cross hanging from a girl’s neck and immediately after a burlesque dancer, with the camera focusing on her butt. And then, a mural dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasolini. Kassim tells me: I love him so much, “Accattone” is one of the most beautiful films of Italian neorealism.
In short, Kassim Yassin Saleh managed with love and passion to insert in a 15-minute short film, through a poetic and lyrical pen, a camera capable of piercing the envelope of the people who appear and showing their soul, strong and powerful messages of inclusion, tolerance, and humanity.
The short film is among the finalists of the Terra di Siena International Film Festival.It will be presented today Saturday 3 October in the Corti space and I wish Kassim a lot of luck. Because he truly deserves to win.
The director is currently involved in various projects including some of which are dedicated to the enhancement of the Italian historical, artistic, cultural and environmental heritage. And in particular aimed at immortalizing the creative genius of some living Italian artists.
Update: I am pleased to announce that “The wind under foot” by Kassim Yassin Saleh is the winning of Terra di Siena International Film Festival, category MigrArti.