LA Film Festival Review: ‘Dalya’s Other Country’ Presents Powerful Immigrant Story


The immigrant narrative is one that is familiar throughout film culture. However, in light of the current climate, these powerful stories are being shared more and more. With Syria under attack, there are many people seeking refuge in countries like our own. The documentary “Dalya’s Other Country” charts the journey of a young Syrian girl through four years in an all girls Catholic school. Dalya and her family managed to immigrate to America right before bombs threatened their homeland. However, their transition into American culture was not without its growing pains.

Dalya and her family fled from Aleppo in 2012 and made their way to Los Angeles to stay with one of Dalya’s brothers who was already here. Being the sole Muslim at her school and donning a hijab, Dalya has to reconcile her beliefs with both her faith and her surroundings. The same can be said for her family, who go through their own turbulent adjustments.

Director Julia Meltzer does a great job of building trust with her subjects and charting the ups and downs of their assimilation. The documentary is effective in many of the same ways as “Boyhood,” which many people really enjoyed. Watching Dalya and her family grow in real time over four years is quite compelling. Additionally, Meltzer keeps the film brisk, never dwelling on one issue or topic for too long. It’s a great holistic portrait of a family.

One of the most interesting elements of the documentary is the relationship between Dalya’s parents. Her mother, Rudayna, divorced her father upon moving to America as he had taken a second wife without her permission. This practice is condoned by Islam, but only with the permission of the man’s first wife. Upon moving to America, Rudayna also attends community college to stay relevant as a single woman in America. Coming from a patriarchal narrative into a community that is full of possibilities and barriers is positively overwhelming.

It’s empowering and wonderful to watch Dalya’s perception of femininity change over the course of four years. Upon entering her school, she felt isolated wearing the hijab. However, she later argues with her mother that she should wear her hijab proudly upon watching a video of Donald Trump. Dalya still loves her father, but growing up she contends with him on his sexist attitudes. There’s a great moment where Dalya fully emphasizes that she is a feminist but doesn’t know how to break it to her father. Another sequence shows her watching a Muslim class speaker and finally seeing how she can marry her faith with her personal beliefs. The film does a wonderful job showcasing that, like other religions such as Christianity, one can marry progressive thinking with religious tradition.

Stories such as the one presented of Dalya and her family are topical now more than ever. The film does not mince words on where it stands on the political climate. In fact, we see how Donald Trump’s campaign affects the day-to-day life of Dalya’s family. Rudayna even worries about being seen wearing her hijab for fear of persecution. The end of the film showcases Dalya and her family protesting the Muslim ban. Documentaries are an important genre of filmmaking, as they frame how current events change the lives of our citizens.

“Dalya’s Other Country” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. For more Los Angeles Film Festival coverage, visit the Festivals section.

Grade: (★★★1/2)

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