It’s only a matter of days as of this article until filmmaker Hicham Hajji’s feature directing debut, Redemption Day, commences its US release from Saban Films. Hajji is now rolling out some chat-worthy blurbs this month to promote the film which stars Gary Dourdan as a security expert forced to press on through his own war trauma to rescue his archeologist wife from a terrorist cell in Algeria.
I was drawn to Redemption Day upon my own coverage of it about a year ago during its production, particularly since Gary Dourdan (CSI) is in it, and I’ve mainly been a fan since seeing him in Alien: Resurrection, which is one of my guilty pleasures. And with Redemption Day being an independently-produced action vehichle, it’s got some zhush to it!
Greetings Hicham and thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. To start, how would you summarize your 2020 for us? How would you describe this year?
2020 was special, and interesting. Definitely a bad year for most of us comparing to the others, but I managed to get the best of it. I was able to write and produce another movie, and I met my girlfriend a week before the lockdown, and we ended up living together 24 hours a day ever since.
You studied film while in Montreal and you’ve plied your trade well in Morocco. Tell us about the region and the industry there, and what Morocco means to you.
I did a little film school in Montreal, but to be honest my real film school was my first movie set as a 2nd Assistant Director where I learned a lot from one of the best 1st AD I ever met.
Morocco is an open movie set. Very film friendly where the biggest Hollywood directors have shot. From Nolan with Inception to Ridley Scott with Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Body of Lies to Mission Impossible 5, James Bond, Kundun by Scorsese.
I had a great chance to be in the right place at the right time working with some big calibers, and that build my resume and gave me a serious credibility.
Who were some of your favorite and biggest influences in your ascension through the film industry from school and onward?
Well, during my film school I could hear that Ridley Scott was shooting many movies in Morocco year after year, and I was dying to be able to work with him, unfortunately it didn’t happen, but I worked on many local production where I was a head of department and where I learned a lot. Then I worked with Werner Herzog on Queen of the Desert where I understood that with heard work and dedication, I could do my own movies someday.
You founded H Films back in 2008 and have worked on dozens of projects. What can you share about some of the challenges you’ve experienced as a producer and the lessons you’ve learned that other aspiring producers should as well?
I created my company where I was a First Assistant Director. Producers who were hiring me back then started to see me as competition and stopped hiring me. I had to be efficient and find my way in. It was a lot of personal and financial investment. Sometimes I wouldn’t work for month until I get the project that make me survive. The only real lesson that I learned is that I should never give up, always follow my gut, and finish everything I do.
I caught wind of Redemption Day last summer with some behind the scenes footage and when I learned Gary Dourdan was starring, I was pretty excited. What drew you to casting your current star?
I was first going for some big actors. It was very unrealistic. And one day I was checking a list of actors and I saw Gary which I liked a lot in CSI. Before I even really consider him, I asked his agent if this is something realistic. I immediately jumped on a call with Gary and steven his manager, and we immediately clicked. I swear if I had to re-shoot this movie again and I have a bigger budget, I’ll still shoot with Gary. Not only he’s a very talented actor, but he’s also a great musician and an amazing human being.
Serinda Swan was excellent in the role of Kate who endures some really intense moments in the film. Tell us about Serinda and Gary working together, and also about the scene featuring Kate in captivity.
Gary and Serinda had great ideas creating their back story, they knew exactly how to interact and how to be a natural husband and wife. We’d often go out for dinner and discuss our visions. Serinda was also amazing getting into her character and was always concentrated while listening to her music before shooting.
There’s a scene where our heroes, Brad and Younes travel to meet with an Imam at a mosque after prayer. It’s all woven into the espionage aspect of your story, and interestingly, it’s not directly implied that Brad is a practicing Muslim. How important was this angle for you in creating his character?
We know in the movie that Brad has been held as a hostage by the terrorists while he was serving in Syria. We never tell how long. But we know he has some serious experience in Arab countries. Brad is not a Muslim of course, but he’s been spending sometimes with them. I wanted to have him speak in Arabic to show his partner Younes that he knows what’s he is doing, and also to be very convictive.
What was important for me in that scene is to have a man of religion, a Muslim religion, to explain with his own world, that the terrorists have nothing to do with Islam. And that’s why I followed the statistics and brough the terrorist characters from France and Belgium, where most of the terrorists come from. Those people grew up very far from the religions, and since they’re not considered from their own country, France or Belgium, they improvise ‘Muslims’ and believe they have to go to war with ISIS.
I often feel that a lot of war and espionage films don’t necessarily spotlight the sectarian aspects of middle eastern conflict, and instead focus on good-versus-evil stories with some shades of gray. Do you feel that more films should make the effort to educate moviegoers as well as entertain?
I believe movies have to send messages. The plot of Redemption Day is very simple: A woman is kidnapped, and her husband is going to save her. But I don’t stop there, I am explaining all the political aspect behind all of this. A friend who works in politics here in the US was shocked when he read the script, he thought I knew someone from the CIA. I think this is very obvious, but it’s good to tell good stories and back them up with important messages
Can fans expect a continuation of Captain Brad Paxton’s story in the near future?
We’d love to. Only the box office will tell. If we get our investors their money back and that the distributors are happy, there is no reason why we don’t do a sequel.
What’s in store for Hicham Hajji in 2021?
I’m working to make God is a DJ happen, a comedy show that explores the lives of a diverse range of Americans who must manage the expectations of their families, their religion and communities as well as the contradictory things they have to do to achieve their dreams. The show will be a much-needed reminder of happier times before the pandemic, a show that will unite the diverse world thanks to the electronic music, and it is about diverse people finding happiness and fulfillment regardless of their cultural identity. Because the music reveals where you come from, but it’s the beat that unites us all!