By Mark Saldana
While preparing my schedule for this year’s Austin Film Festival, this particular documentary really stood out for me. Reading its synopsis, I was instantly touched by the subject and how it promised to show the impact of art, particularly within the media of photography and film. Brandon Dickerson’s film delivers as it promises. He does an exceptional job telling this truly amazing story of a man named Jeff Bowden and how a simple photograph of an Albanian child refugee moved him so emotionally that he was determined to discover the identity and fate of the young boy. The film turned out to be my favorite of the festival. Not only did I have the pleasure of reviewing the film, but I was very fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to interview the main people involved with the film.
The Sunday afternoon following the premiere screening of A Single Frame, I sat down with director Brandon Dickerson, Jeff Bowden, and the Albanian refugee himself, Sadik Kadrijaj, who was visiting the United States for the first time in his life. I suppose Sadik could have done much worse than having Austin as his first city to visit in the U.S. However, this stop, apparently, is the first of several, as he plans to take full advantage of his visa and see as much of our country as he can.
It truly was a pleasure and honor to speak with Jeff, Brandon, and Sadik (who communicated via a translator), who all spoke candidly about this amazing journey.
Mark Saldana: Jeff, for those who don’t know much about you, tell us about yourself. What do you do for a living?
Jeff Bowden: I grew up in a family business which involves mostly real estate. During various times in my life, I have also worked as a journalist myself. I’m still partners with some small newspapers in fact. So, a few different things.
Mark: (To Jeff) How do you and Brandon know each other?
Jeff: A friend of mine produced a film Brandon made (Sironia). My friend said, “Come with me and watch (the filming) one day.” I watched Brandon work and we had lunch that day during a break. And I just liked him. I thought he was talented. Later, I watched him shoot a music video for Disney with a really big crew.
Mark: (To Brandon) What got you interested in filmmaking?
Brandon Dickerson: I got interested in film when I was eight years-old. I went to a film called The Champ with Ricky Schroeder and Jon Voight. It made me cry and I went and saw it again and it made me cry again. It was the fact that you could know what was going to happen, but it would still give you an emotion. It was literally at that point when I found out what a director does and I knew that I wanted to be a director. I got my career start in commercials and music videos. Then, I did some documentary work and some corporate work. That’s when I did my first feature narrative, Sironia. After that I worked on another feature narrative called Victor. When I was wrapping on that film was when I was asked to go on this journey with Jeff.
Mark: (To Sadik Kadrijaj) Tell us about your passion for singing: (Sadik now pursues a career as singer. Performing mostly at wedding at the moment, he hopes to eventually become a pop star. It is a craft for which he has no formal training, but nevertheless takes it seriously.)
Sadik Kadrijaj: I haven’t studied music, but I have inherited genes. It is God’s gift. That is how I feel. I have practiced at home since I was five.
Mark: (To Brandon and Jeff) At what point did you two decide that this journey was something that needed to be documented?
Jeff: Brandon joined me for third trip to Kosovo. We had an experience with a war photographer who worked with Alexandra (the deceased photographer who took Sadik’s photo). I think we both felt, immediately thereafter, that this personal journey had so much depth that we had a responsibility to do something more than just think of our own personal experience.
Mark: (To Sadik) Do you remember the day that the photo was taken? It looks like a very emotional time for you?
Sadik: Yes. In that part of the world, we were hiding. Everyday something extraordinary happened–something unusual. None of them were pleasant things. That day we had the death of a baby. It was a very sad day and we didn’t enjoy it. We were out in the wild. Everyday we would hear the gunshots of the Serbian police. We would also hear about the murders and tortures over the radio. There was no reason to be happy.
Mark: (To Sadik) What was it like to finally meet Jeff after hearing that this American saw a picture of you and was looking for you?
Sadik: It was a very incredible moment. So exciting because it doesn’t occur quite often. It really is a big moment in my life–so big that I don’t know how else to describe it.
Mark: (To Jeff and Brandon) How would you say this experience has changed you?
Brandon: It’s just multi-layered. I have learned a lot about compassion. Just getting to be a part of someone’s journey and finding the boy (Sadik). We got to sit down with Sadik and his family and hear their stories. As I hear the ongoing refugee crisis on NPR, I am changed by thinking of people we know now. These are are friends now. I have gained some amazing friends by getting to join Jeff on this. Like any rich friendship will change you, I am changed by that,
Jeff: There is a story behind everything. In our normal life, we can’t go into every one of these stories, but every now and then, you should because something real opens up that is bigger than you thought it was.
Brandon: It is a life changing experience.