80 minutes; digital video; black & white, 2003
Starring Piotr Tokarski and MP
Soundtrack by Andy Ortmann and Camilla Ha
Directed, Written, Edited, Sound Design and Videography by Usama Alshaibi


"A laconic drifter (Piotr Tokarski) born in Iraq returns to Chicago to straighten out his U.S. immigration status, and though a friend warns him of the prevailing anti-Muslim sentiment, he unwisely hooks up with a desultory woman (Melina Paez), accompanies her to a hedonistic party, and attracts the attention of the FBI. Local video maker Usama Alshaibi is the sort of canny visual stylist who can sustain a mood... the handheld videocam, tight close-ups, and disorienting angles create a potent sense of paranoia. The haunting score is by Andy Ortmann and Camilla Ha." (Ted Shen)-Chicago Reader (August 28, 2003)

"There's nothing like a good dose of paranoia to feed the senses, according to Chicago filmmaker Usama Alshaibi. His film MUHAMMED AND JANE is a black-and-white tale about an Iraqi-Polish man, Muhammed (Piotr Tokarski), attempting to return to the United States with a few illegal passports under his belt. Once he gets past airport security, albeit in a sweat-induced state, he is increasingly dogged by claustrophobic fear in his quest for a place to stay. He finds it and subsequently meets Jane Doe (Melina Paez), a girl running through the alley and mutually haunted by some unimaginable force. She and Muhammed instantly click; the only catch to their bliss is that which Jane is running from, dealing with dead bodies and a good deal of suspicion.

Because this film is set just prior to the time when the United States invaded Iraq in early 2003, one could surmise that Jane represents the U.S. as she is hunted by her own intentions, with Muhammed becoming her unknowing counterpart. Their relationship foreshadows a different match destined to be made in real life, although not one nearly as happy as theirs, and raises an interesting point as far as speculating how the relationship between the U.S and Iraq will develop over the coming years.

An American born of Iraqi descent, Alshaibi has the unique ability to creatively tap into current events with a fresh and involved eye. MUHAMMED AND JANE takes an experimental form, informed with a narrative storyline and envisioned with the hand-held and unforgiving, observational quality of a documentary. Its scenes consistently demand interplay between these elements and Muhammed's state of mind, which implores for him to always look over his shoulder, and benefits from fantastic performances by Tokarski and Paez. " - Erin Anadkat, MICRO-FILM #7 (Spring 2005)

"There are three quite impressive aspects of this black and white digital feature: 1. A completely assured and accomplished visual style. Alshaibi uses superimpositions both as dream-states (flocks of birds, a deceptively simple motif, fly back and forth over the image of an airplane seemingly going down behind a line of trees) and a simultaneous exploration of geography/architecture and interior emotional states. During a sequence near the beginning of the video Muhammad has a tense conversation in a diner with his brother (?) about his recent return from Iraq and his use of multiple passports to avoid trouble with Immigration. The scene is shot from the street through reflective glass while at the same time images of Chicago streets are superimposed. The effect is both beautiful, hypnotic and disorienting: I never felt I knew where I was despite the street signs and recognizable landmarks. Alshaibi also employs a literally unflinching shooting style, following his actors like a bee on honey, presumedly in their faces much of the time — which makes the bulk of the performances, especially lead Piotr Tokarski's, even more remarkable."-(www.skinback.com)

On the Chicago Underground Film Festival (2003):
"...Some of the films featured were critical of our government and society in general. That shouldn’t be surprising though given the state of our world. One of these films is Muhammad and Jane. The story is a basic narrative film about love and paranoia. The film takes place one year after the 9/11 attacks and exhibits the fears of the muslim culture in our society. Paranoia strikes a young Iraqi man as he returns home to the United States. Once again a glimpse of our society is shown in striking detail. This country itself isn’t known for being incredibly tolerant of others. The terrorist actions of a few have labeled many in the minds of our citizens. Nevertheless, Usama Alshaibi’s film shows real promise. His personal style is unlike any other ever seen. During several conversations random images begin overlapping the scene. It’s distracting at first but it forces you to listen to the conversation. If given the chance to develop this craft it could be a very effective tool on a grander scale."

-By Peter Mazza (August, 2003) Centerstage,Chicago (centerstage.net)

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Additional Cast: Richard Barrows, Rebecca Joynt, Shishaldin Hanlen, Rob Medina, Joylanta Briks, Kris Nugent, Richard Bluestein, Ewa Boryczko, Mark Siska, Tom Palazzolo.

Co-Director, Digital Sound Recordist and additional Videography by Kristie Alshaibi

Additional Videography and Boom Operator Colleen Walker.

Recipient of the Chicago Underground Film Fund Grant 2003, a program of the Chicago Underground Film Festival.

Shot between September and November, 2002 in Chicago, U.S.A. Completed August, 2003.

Produced in Association with Artvamp LLC.

Copyright 2003 Alshaibi

screenings:
Chicago Underground Film Festival (August 2003)
Toronto Arab Film Festival (Dec.2 2006)

[click to view 2003 premiere poster]