Common ground found in Obama doc

German filmmaker inspired by American story

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DUBAI -- In his self-funded documentary "Gobama 2008," Rahman Satti follows a path of self-discovery as he trails Barack Obama on the campaign trail from New Hampshire to Los Angeles to Berlin -- the director's home -- and back to Chicago for Election Night.

"We're men of the same generation," Satti, 44, said on the sidelines of the fifth Dubai International Film Festival. "His mother was from Kansas, mine is from East Germany. My father was from Sudan and his was from Kenya."

Inspired to make "Gobama" after reading the President Elect's memoir "Dreams From My Father," Satti's parents, like Obama's, were divorced, their marriage a "victim of the Cold War." His pharmacist mother was barred from leaving East Berlin to join his father, a doctor.

But his fascination with African-American politics started at a much younger age. Growing up behind the Berlin Wall, Satti remembers petitions for the release of imprisoned African-American activist Angela Davis being distributed to his second-grade classroom. "Who is this powerful woman with the big hair?" he thought.

And like Davis and Obama, Satti has experienced racism first hand. He said he was "off" the U.S. for a time after the attacks of Sept. 11. "I just didn't want the hassle of not being able to get a visa."

After attending film school in London, he set off for America, where U.S. Homeland Security detained him on arrival. "They asked me why I had an Arab name and what I was planning to do in America," he said.

After a 45-minute interrogation and fingerprinting at the Los Angeles International Airport he was left alone. "I got in and my Afro-American friends told me 'Now's the time, you've got to do the film,' " he said.

The trouble was worth it, says Satti, recounting the thrill of trying to get close to the candidate and realizing his work was as much about himself and the hopes of others of mixed race like him as it was about the now president-elect.

When Obama spoke at a spot not far from where the Berlin Wall once divided East from West, Satti recalls he thought, "Maybe he'll draw 30,000 people, but when we heard 200,000 was the number, we began to hope that it was possible he could win. I've got that energy captured on film at the ground level and it could not have been a better moment for my project."

Back in the U.S., in Chicago on Election Night, Satti filmed and drank with his friends as they watched the votes get tallied.

"If he didn't win, I didn't know what I was going to do," said Satti, who spent 25,000 euros out of his own pocket to shoot "Gobama" with a Sony EX-1 HDCAM.

The film was made in co-production with German producer-distributor Barbel Mauch and film and television production company Hanfgarn & Ufer, both based in Berlin.

Satti said he hopes to find a buyer in Dubai but will have to leave early this weekend to finish postproduction in South Africa.
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