As Ghassan El Chazli leans back for a hot shave, the room hums with laughter and the buzz of electric razors. El Chazli is just one of the Edmonton men of Arab descent featured in a new made-in-Alberta documentary.
Things Arab Men Say captures candid conversations about identity, race and stereotypes, all set in the backdrop of an unassuming barbershop. The documentary short was filmed in the Jamal's Eden Barbershop in St. Albert, and the cast of characters are all regulars there. "The documentary did capture a very typical conversation that we would have," said El Chazli, a Palestinian-born immigrant.
"Like any normal conversation, it just keeps moving from one topic to the other, sometimes in a heated fashion, sometimes in a joking fashion. But it always revolves around things like politics, identity, the struggles of integration or whatever is happening back in our old countries."
'We never get the chance to tell our own stories'
At a time when mass media often depicts Arab culture in negative terms, Egyptian-Canadian filmmaker Nisreen Baker wanted to create a more empathetic portrait of this segment of Edmonton's immigrant community.
"We never get the chance to tell our own stories," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "Our stories are always told by an outsider looking into the culture, and once that happens there are a lot nuances and intimate things that are lost in translation.
Baker, who came to Canada 20 years ago, said the barbershop is like a microcosm of the Arab world. Though the men come from different countries and religions, they found common ground and formed lasting friendships.
'Our struggles are the same as everybody else'
El Chazli agrees. Beyond the Arab language, the men come from worlds apart.
"Most of the people you see the documentary are my close friends," he said. "We know each other very well.
"There are huge religious and cultural differences. As the documentary portrays, we've got all the shades of those speaking Arabic — Muslims, Christians and Druze — and within that multiple sects, multiple cultures."