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Dearborn man inspires Arab community with13-time award-winning foreign film

Dearborn man inspires Arab community with13-time award-winning foreign film
Dearborn man inspires Arab community with13-time award-winning foreign film 03:26

DEARBORN, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - From Dearborn to Lebanon, 23-year-old Salim Laham has always had to face the music.

"I know no language other than English to Lebanon. I had to teach myself. I had to start from nothing," Laham says.

But for him, nothing outweighed his love for renting movies as a kid.

"When I was younger, I fell in love with movies. My dad used to take me to this movie rental shop in Detroit," Laham said.

From there on, Laham went from watching his favorite films to memorizing them.

"Back in the day, there were VHS tapes, and I would memorize the names just by the sound of the TV turning on. I would know what the film was," he says.

But as he grew up, his love for music did too.

"This is a rendition of a famous, iconic lady named Fairuz," Laham said prior to playing "Nassam Alayna Al-Hawa" on his guitar.

However, the road to his recent success did not come easy, especially when Laham turned twelve years old.

"I went back to Lebanon for family reasons. I lived half of my life in Detroit and the other half in Lebanon, and it was definitely a shift in culture," Laham said. "There is no electricity, no water. You have to live on generators. The economic crisis has. It's just that you can't even put gas in your car."

With little to no money, Laham went to work until one day, he had just enough money to create his first official foreign film.

"With such a small budget of $2,000, I was able to shoot a film in a two-day period and take it worldwide," Laham says.

While his dream has always been to become a movie maker, Laham's first film "JOY" focuses on the nightmare of not being able to play music through the eyes of a woman who struggles with conversion disorder.

"It mostly happens to females under the age of 18, and it's because of accumulated stress and trauma. And I was reflecting to the character I was always afraid to lose the senses of my hands and not being able to play music. It's everybody's worst nightmare not to play music," Laham says.

After releasing the film in September 2022, Laham won 13 awards for his short film. But for him, his biggest achievement is this.

"For an Arab, Muslim filmmaker here in Dearborn, and in a completely different community that doesn't have any Arab filmmakers, to win an award with an Arab-language shows you how much different our community is evolving. And if somebody saw me in the street, I want to show them that, no, there are Lebanese or Palestinian or any type of Arab filmmakers that want to shift your perspective on the media," Laham says.

In the end, though, Laham realizes his success could not have come without the five dollars his father gave as kid that has, in turn, helped shape his filmmaking career.

"It took an amazing journey in my life, and just because of that $5 that my dad used to give me every single day in Dearborn," Laham says.

Salim, who now works at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, says he plans to expand his filmmaking locally and hopes to collaborate with other aspiring filmmakers as well.

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