TorinoFilmLab - Training, development, Funding


The Cycle

Musa Syeed, Sara Ishaq, Nick Bruckman

Yemen, United States


Since the tribe executed his father for murder, AHMAD (18) is the outcast of his village in Yemen. He dreams of moving to the big city to drive a motorcycle taxi. When the country’s water crisis forces his family to give up farming, Ahmad finally decides it’s time to go. But OMAR (50s), the sheikh of the tribe, demands Ahmad stays to protect a new well, soon to be the only water source in their valley. Ahmad refuses, still bitter about Omar’s ruling on his father’s fate.

Using his savings, Ahmad buys a cycle and rides to the city. But armed youth from a rival tribe, angry at Omar for barring them from the well, block the road. When Ahmad tries to sneak by, their leader HAYTHAM (20s) grabs the cycle. Desperate to get it back, Ahmad offers to help them get access to the well. Haytham accepts, using Ahmad’s anger to turn him against his own village. But when Haytham’s attacks turn deadly, Ahmad fears he’s fallen in his father’s footsteps.

Ahmad risks his life to stop Haytham, thereby allowing the tribes to negotiate well access. By averting war, Ahmad regains his family’s honor and the respect of the tribe.

Reunited with his cycle, Ahmad rides to the city, but with a new future in his hands.


Growing up in a Kashmiri Muslim family in America, my teenage years—and the rebellion that came with it—took on a different shape than that of my peers. If I chose to defy my parents, I wasn’t just challenging two people. I was choosing to call into question a complex set of cultural, political and religious values that my ancestors had struggled and fought for. I didn’t want to surrender my heritage but I also didn’t want to blindly accept it.

The guilt, expectations and burden of reconciling my parents’ past with my present has often left me frustrated; tempted to take one side or another. So, I’ve often looked for insights from other young people around the world facing the same struggles. And through my travels, nowhere in this globalized world have I felt this struggle more resonant, these forces of past and present more dramatically different, than in Yemen. After marrying into a Yemeni family and traveling the country, I could easily see how Yemeni youth and I shared similar hopes and challenges.

In their case, the past is represented by a centuries-old system of tribal law that is alive and well. In a country where the modern government is weak and unstable, keeping order often falls into the hands of sheikhs who rule according to ancient tribal law. But tribes are also associated—not always wrongly—with violence. With Yemen’s heavily armed population, tribes are often caught in cycles of revenge killings and a culture of brutal retaliation. It can be hard to see how these ancient tribes can survive in a modern Yemen.

And yet, there are many young Yemenis who hope to weave some tribal customs—particularly the tradition of arbitration—into contemporary society. Their vision in seeking a nuanced, integrated approach to reconciling past and present defies the typically all-or-nothing demands of development. By taking this more difficult path, Yemeni youth are seeking to carve out an identity that is uniquely theirs. In a world where many are clamoring for a clash of civilizations, we need alternate voices to find a way forward.

While it is fascinating to observe all this from the outside, I was struck by how their story crystallizes my own. The journey of young Yemenis inspires me to continue wrestling with the traditions I inherited and the culture I was born into, in order to strike a path that works for me, that embraces the richness of my experience as a third culture kid.

For me, The Cycle is a reminder that this frustrating, messy, complicated dialogue between past and present is ultimately about something worthwhile: the future.

budget & financing

We aim to raise the finances for The Cycle through a variety of sources. The treatment is currently in consideration with two film financiers in the Middle East: Imagenation Abu Dhabi and the Doha Film Institute. We have made inroads with the project into the Yemeni diaspora community in the United States and Europe and expect to raise development funds through equity from several high net worth Yemeni investors and crowd-funding sources. Additionally, we endeavor to secure grant funding from U.S. foundations (Cinereach, NYSCA) as well as European institutions like Hubert Bals and the World Cinema Fund. If we decide to secure a sales agent prior to the completion of the film, we may be able to raise completion funds through a minimum guarantee or foreign pre-sales. We intend to begin pre-production in the summer of 2014 and begin filming in Autumn 2014.

distribution & sales

Sara Ishaq: Only a few films have been made in Yemen in the last decade and even less have been made with the help of local Yemeni talent. For this reason, Yemen has little to no film culture and remains underestimated, underexplored and in turn, severely misunderstood by the outside world. With this in mind, I set up a Yemen-based production house – Setara Films - with the primary intention of discovering, cultivating, encouraging and promoting the work of local talent to primarily preserve the social and cultural reflections of their complex yet ever-changing world and, secondly, to instill a tradition of film viewing and filmmaking in a country so averse to film. I also hope to ensure cultural and linguistic accuracy in the films I work on, to stay true to Yemen’s regional diversity and uniqueness within the Arab world. Two years ago, I came across the trailer for Musa Syeed’s film Valley of Saints and was instantly mesmerised by the film’s elegant narrative style and exquisite cinematography; and the thought of a Yemen-based film of such stature naturally crossed my mind. After meeting Musa in Yemen in 2012 and learning more about his work and next idea for a film in Yemen, the decision to collaborate with him on The Cycle was an easy one to make. Nick Bruckman: People’s Television is a New York-based film and commercial production company. We focus on telling universal, international stories about the immigrant experience and underrepresented cultures and communities around the world. Our first feature narrative, Valley of Saints, a love story set in Kashmir, won the World Cinema Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as well as the Jury Prize at the Dubai, Milan and Mumbai Film Festivals. It has been acquired for 2013 theatrical distribution in North America, Germany, and Australia, with deals in further territories pending. The Cycle falls in line with the aspirations of both Setara Films and People’s Television by including non-professional local actors and a predominantly Yemeni crew, shedding light on youth, tribalism and corruption through an endearing character-driven story. We both believe this will engage Yemeni and international audiences alike in a discourse about these issues, ultimately bridging the gap between Yemen and the rest of the world, while Yemenis themselves can relate to and be proud of the film as well.

In Yemen, no matter how far you ride, you can’t escape the tribe
Musa Syeed

Film Director, Production

Sara Ishaq

Film Director, Production

Nick Bruckman


production notes

directed by
Musa Syeed

Sara Ishaq

produced bySetara Films

total production budget
€ 400.000

current financial need
€ 400.000