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How Ben Sharrock’s Study Abroad in Syria Inspired Refugee Film ‘Limbo’ (Video)

TIFF 2020: ”It’s something that goes back quite a long way,“ filmmaker tells TheWrap

Ben Sharrock had the idea of making a comedy-drama film about the refugee crisis quite some time ago, and his college major and study abroad program gave him the inspiration.

“It’s something that goes back quite a long way — I had the idea that I wanted to make something with this subject matter around five or six years ago,” Sharrock told TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman. “There are a number of reasons why: it’s a subject matter that attached itself to me and I felt like I had to make something about it — I didn’t know in what way — but I would talk about the subject matter and I knew I wanted to make something about the broad refugee crisis.”

“Limbo” is a comedy-drama centering on four asylum seekers who are staying on a remote island in Scotland. Sharrock wrote and directed the film that stars Sidse Babett Knudsen, Kenneth Collard, Kais Nashef and Amir El-Masry.


Sharrock explained that he majored in Arabic and politics at university and spent a year living in Syria the year before the civil war started there. While there, he studied at Damascus University — this was before he went into filmmaking and knew he wanted to make a movie that highlighted the identity of refugees.

The script takes a humorous and lighter approach to the refugee crisis, which actually attracted star El-Masry to the project.

“When I received the script, my initial reactions were, I hope this is a focus on these rich and intelligent human beings who actually don’t want to leave,” he explained. “The script was humorous and so touching and a lot of the groundwork was there but I was lucky that I have some friends who had made similar roots and during the rehearsal process of two weeks, we would meet with a Syrian men’s group in Scotland and we were lucky to sit with them and for them to give us their time, tell us about their experiences, and what it felt like to be in new territory and be away from their loves ones.”

“Limbo” premiered at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival.

Watch the video above.