Usama Alshaibi seems to be one of the most prolific Arab filmmakers in the American independent film scene—and he’s almost certainly the most experimental. Alshaibi has jump-started the canon of what we might term transgressive Arab-American film. –Dangerous Minds
Usama Alshaibi was born in Baghdad, Iraq and spent his formative years living between the United States and the Middle East. His films have screened at underground and international film festivals across the globe. In early 2004, nine months after the United States invaded Iraq, Usama and his wife returned to his birthplace to shoot his first feature documentary titled Nice Bombs. The documentary had a theatrical release in Chicago and New York and a broadcast premiere on the Sundance Channel.
Usama’s films have screened at such places as Anthology Film Center in New York, the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and several national and international television broadcasts, including PBS. He has also produced and directed music videos for a variety of musicians and record labels.
In addition to reaching an eclectic audience with his film work, Alshaibi’s photography and art have been included in various exhibitions, art books and web publications.
Feature articles have been written about his work in such places as the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, Punk Planet and Variety. An interview with Usama appears in Studs Terkel’s book Hope Dies Last and his films have been included in Jack Sargeant’s book Deathtripping: The Extreme Underground. His coming-of-Arab story is also included in a chapter in Louis Cainkar’s book, Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11.
Alshaibi’s documentary films have received several grants, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award, an award from the Creative Capital Foundation for the Arts, and two Playboy Foundation awards. He is also the winner of the Creative Promise award at Tribeca All Access in New York City.
Usama was commissioned by Detroit Public Television to direct and produce two segments (Mother Mosque and Elkader, Iowa) for the award-winning 13-part series Arab-American Stories; which aired nationally on public television stations.
Alshaibi’s controversial narrative feature, Profane, has won several awards, including best feature film at the Boston Underground Film Festival. His second documentary feature, American Arab, was produced under a Diversity Fellowship at the Chicago documentary powerhouse Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams). The fellowship was enacted with support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The documentary had a world premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and an American premiere at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. American Arab had a national public television broadcast on WORLD Channel, as part of the fourth season of America ReFramed. It had international broadcasts on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation and VGTV in Norway. American Arab is available on iTunes, Amazon, DVD and Cable VOD.
Usama and his partner Kristie Alshaibi run and operate Artvamp, which produces the majority of their films. Baghdad, Iowa is his most current art-cinema project.