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In ‘Fireflies,’ exploration of racial profiling following war

Essam Ferris in “Fireflies” which will have its world premiere at the BIFF.
Raouf Zaki
Essam Ferris in “Fireflies” which will have its world premiere at the BIFF.

The controversy ignited by President Trump’s attempts at banning travelers from several largely Muslim countries provides a dramatic and timely context for Holliston filmmaker Raouf Zaki’s “Fireflies.”

The 17-minute film is about a withdrawn Middle Eastern man named Marwan (Essam Ferris) who frequents a Boston café. Flashbacks to his experiences in Aleppo, Syria, contrast with Marwan’s interactions with the café’s head waiter and its other patrons who view him with suspicion.

“Fireflies” will have its world premiere on April 15 at 4 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre as part of a program of shorts at the Boston International Film Festival, which runs April 13-17. Besides the Paramount, festival screenings take place at AMC Loews and BPE Studio at 9A Hamilton Place in downtown Boston.


A native of Cairo and a 1989 graduate of Boston University’s film program, Zaki produces films through his Framingham-based RA Vision Productions. He shot “Fireflies” mostly in Sherborn and Holliston, where visual effects allowed a private residence to be transformed into Aleppo. Other scenes were shot on Lake Maspenock in Hopkinton and at Duxbury Beach.

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It’s not the first time Zaki has tackled the issue of racial profiling in his films. His short satire “Just Your Average Arab,” about a group of Arab-Americans who meet in the storage room of a convenience store where they take an “Arab American Survival Guide post-9/11” class, won the audience award at the Boston Comedy and Film Festival in 2006. Zaki’s Boston-shot 30-minute drama “Santa Claus in Baghdad” (2008), centers on a 16-year-old Iraqi girl and her family during the UN sanctions in the early 2000s.

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Electric ‘Horsemen’

A sweeping silent classic set during World War I, “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921) screens with live musical accompaniment at Boston’s Old South Church on Thursday. The date marks the 100th anniversary of US entry into the Great War. The screening is at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public.

Organist Peter Krasinski will improvise a score on the Old South Church’s famous 1921 E.M. Skinner Pipe organ. The film will be projected in digital format in the sanctuary on a screen brought in for the event.

“Presenting this film exactly 100 years after the United States’s involvement in World War I, in such a stunning place with such a magnificent instrument built the same year as the film’s production, will certainly be moving,” says Krasinski in an e-mail.


Regarded as one of the first anti-war films, “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” is about an extended Argentine family — one side is German; the other is French — whose members end up on opposing sides of the war in far-off Europe. Directed by Rex Ingram, the film turned then-little-known actor Rudolph Valentino into a superstar.

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Mighty ‘Wind’

Also considered one of the great silent films, “The Wind” (1928) screens with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis on April 9 at 2 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre. It will be shown in 35mm as part of the theater’s ongoing “Silents, Please!” series. Adapted by silent-era legend Frances Marion from Dorothy Scarborough’s novel of the same title, “The Wind” features Lillian Gish as Letty Mason, an emotionally fragile woman from Virginia who relocates to West Texas and finds herself unsettled by the ever-present wind and sand. At the ranch owned by her cousin (Edward Earle) and his wife (Dorothy Cumming), tensions escalate and leave Letty increasingly disturbed and headed for tragedy.

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Loren King can be reached at