The movie based on the real-life story of the family who fled Syria and founded a chocolate company in Nova Scotia will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
“[It’s] absolutely exciting, I’ve been dreaming about the movie since it was filmed,” said Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace By Chocolate.
No one in Hadhad’s family has seen the finished movie yet, though they were involved in consultations throughout the pre-production process, which started in 2017. The film, also titled Peace by Chocolate, is being produced by Magnetic North.
“[They] really put their hearts and soul into making it a very uplifting movie that will hopefully inspire Canadians and the world,” Hadhad said.
Filmmaker Jonathan Keijser, who was born in Halifax but is now based in Los Angeles, said he “couldn’t be happier” the film will debut at Tribeca — a major international film festival.
“As a storyteller and filmmaker, you want to have the most amount of people see your story. Especially this really important Canadian story,” he said.
It’s important for a festival to be the right fit for the film, Keijser said, adding the team at Tribeca embraced the story and is “making sure it’s a priority to share with everybody.”
Hadhad’s father, Assam Hadhad, was a chocolate maker in Damascus for two decades, but he and his family fled the country when Syria was ravaged by war.
They settled in Antigonish in 2016 and built a social enterprise — Peace By Chocolate — which sells products across the country. The chocolatiers opened a flagship store in Halifax this year.
“All of our family members cannot wait to see themselves on the big screen [played] by other actors,” Hadhad said, especially because many of them are popular Middle Eastern actors he and his siblings used to watch when they were growing up.
His father’s character is being portrayed by Hatem Ali, a legendary Syrian actor and director who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in December 2020. Hadhad said he feels “so blessed and privileged” to have Ali in the film — his last acting role.
Ultimately, the Hadhad family’s story is one of peace and resilience. He hopes the film sheds light on the challenges his family faced when they were forced to leave their home country and start over in a new place. Hadhad said he also hopes the film will make people reflect on how lucky they are to live in Canada.
“In the war, we were forced to leave our homes, while in the pandemic we’re asked to stay in our homes,” he said.
Release delayed by pandemic
Hadhad said they hoped the film would have been released in the fall of 2020, but that was delayed because of the pandemic.
Thankfully, the filming, which mostly took place in Montreal in January 2020, wrapped before the pandemic hit. Exterior shots were also filmed in Antigonish.
“We were so lucky at that time, when COVID-19 was something very far away from us … no one really knew it would be just only four weeks after we finished filming that everything would shut down,” Hadhad said.
The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off on June 9 in New York City. Although film festivals look a little different these days, Keijser said a hybrid in-person and online model can mean increased numbers and more exposure for the film compared to an in-person-only event.
There’s no public release date yet, but Keijser is hoping for sometime in the fall.
Hadhad said he’s still working with the production team to figure out how he and his family can catch the premiere virtually.
“The pandemic shattered our dreams to be in-person launching the movie with our community … but I’m so glad we were able to finish it and I hope this movie is going to change a lot of minds and uplift others, because our story is all about hope towards a bright future.”