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Film at VIFF is 'full circle' for composer

About four years ago, Nabil Amarshi was coming off a tour in the U.A.E. when he decided he wasn't quite ready to come home.

About four years ago, Nabil Amarshi was coming off a tour in the U.A.E. when he decided he wasn't quite ready to come home.

The Coquitlam native was in Dubai and found quite a lot of work around for freelance musicians, especially in Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain.

So he stayed.

And he never looked back.

Since then, the Centennial secondary grad (class of 2000) has kept busy with big annual projects, composing music and playing his bass.

Last year proved to be successful when he and his ensemble, called People Playing Music, were approached by film director Mahmoud Kaabour to supply a score for his new work, a 48-minute long documentary titled Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times).

The movie reflects on Kaabour's relationship with his grandmother and their love for her late husband, who was an accomplished violist and played with the greats in Beirut and other Middle Eastern countries until the 1980s.

Kaabour offered his grandfather's original improv recordings to Amarshi, which he intertwined in the film with his own contemporary music.

The task was a challenge, he said.

At that point, Amarshi had only worked on student films and, though he had lived in the region for a few years, he had never formally studied 24-tone Arab music and didn't know how to compose it.

But he had fellow musicians to help: Besides his ensemble, Amarshi gathered two Syrian percussionists and a local violin soloist to build the soundtrack.

Since the film debuted in 2010, Teta has won numerous accolades; recently, it took the top prize at the London International Documentary Festival and, this and last week, it has been featured at the Vancouver International Film Festival ( Its last screening is Thursday at 6 p.m. at Empire Granville 7 Cinema (855 Granville St., Vancouver).

For Amarshi, who was at last Saturday's showing for the film's Canadian premiere, having the documentary at VIFF feels like a full circle.

The son of Shabir Amarshi, a past president of the Tri-Cities' Chamber of Commerce, Nabil Amarshi grew up in Coquitlam, first playing the piano, then later, guitar and trumpet in the Centennial secondary band.

He picked up the bass at the high school after hearing recordings from jazz legend Miles Davis, who had a bassist named Ron Carter in his 1960s band "and I just absolutely fell in love with him and his sound," Amarshi recalled. "I started to play the bass and that was it, really."

A graduate of Humber College of the Performing Arts in Toronto, Amarshi said he looks forward to working more in the film industry.Currently, he's lined up to write the soundtrack for an Egyptian movie, titled The Art of Flying.

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