Shamim Sarif



Film director Shamim Sarif tells us about her latest film Polarized, finding acceptance and her love for her life in Wimbledon

Wimbledon’s very own Hollywood film director Shamim Sarif is one of the UK’s most critically acclaimed female directors, winning countless awards for her work, which often draw on her own experiences. She released her first Hollywood feature film I Can’t Think Straight in 2006 at the Palm Springs Film Festival, and her fourth feature film Despite the Falling Snow starred fellow Londoners Charles Dance and Rebecca Ferguson. She also directs for TV and is the only British film director to have directed Netflix’s smash hit series YOU.

Her latest film, Polarized, has just premiered in London and follows a growing relationship between Lisa, a struggling songwriter from a poor farming community in Canada, and Dalia, a Palestinian businesswoman, both of whom find barriers thrown up by family, religion, race and community.

Shamim told us about her motivation for her latest work. “I felt very troubled watching the news, and seeing a resurgence of an anti-immigration tone. It felt it would be a good time to explore these issues in a film.” The film starts with Lisa being fired by Dalia for racism and this could have terminated their working relationship, but an effort from both sides to come together and understand each other allows a friendship to begin and enables their love story.

We live in polarized worlds and we curate our news feeds and it’s almost easier to cut people off, but actually the hardest route is to bring people back together. “Both Dalia and Lisa make the effort to meet half way, which taps into better instincts from both of them,” Shamim explains. It’s easy to see that a gentleness and appreciation of humanity is what drives the writer and director, who is also an award-winning novelist and an advocate of women’s rights and those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Shamim lives in Wimbledon with her wife of 27 years Hanan Kattan, who is an award-winning film producer and produces Shamim’s films. The couple have two grown-up sons. “My wife is Palestinian and Christian, and I was raised Muslim from a South Asian background. Neither of our families were happy about us being together as women, and there were religious divisions as well. It felt like an impossible situation. On top of that, back then, there was no representation of LGBTQ+ people or relationships on TV or in film. But we decided to make our own way and form our own family.

“That proved to be a good turning point for us – accepting who we wanted to be, and what we wanted do with our lives. Chasing validity from outside rarely works.” This is a sentiment mirrored in Polarized where the two characters have to reconcile their feelings and who they are with their families and the cultural expectations imposed on them, in search of their own happiness. Shamim bought her first flat 25 years ago in Wimbledon, then moved away, but eventually came back after their sons began school at Kings College. Shamim and Hanan have raised their boys here and continue to love life around the common and the village, even though their children have now grown up.

“We have found Wimbledon fantastic, and very inclusive and accepting. My boys have been so happy at school – we all felt very included and welcomed within the community. We have been nothing but happy,” Shamim says. Polarized is an independent film that looks like a studio movie. Shot in just seventeen days, the movie has already won its first award. Showcasing stunning Canadian prairie scenery, the film also has a vibrant music soundtrack ranging from Arabic rap to American country. But most notable is Shamim’s depiction of a ‘polarised world’ where reconciliation overcomes defiance and aggression, leaving hope that life really does imitate art.

Polarized premiered at the BFI Flare on London’s South Bank in March. A date for release in the UK is expected later this year.
Image credit: Ki Price