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3 out of 4 stars
  • Abu
  • Directed by Arshad Khan
  • Classification PG
  • 80 minutes

Arshad Khan with his father.

Arshad Khan/Handout

It may be a catchy meme, but it can be hard to #SpeakYourTruth. Especially when your truth is enmeshed with your family’s and spilling your secrets also means opening your loved ones to scrutiny. That’s all the more reason why Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Arshad Khan’s debut feature, a docu-memoir called Abu, is so remarkable.

It is a meditation on his troubled relationship with his father, given Khan’s identity as a politically active gay Muslim and his father’s turn to an increasingly conservative relationship with Islam. The project started after Khan, tasked with putting together a memorial video for his father’s funeral, discovered a treasure trove of home videos. Those home videos – spliced with interviews with Khan’s mother and older sister – and Khan’s narration guide us through the Khan family’s many migrations before they came to live in suburban Ontario, and gives us much needed context as to why Khan’s parents started following controversial Muslim televangelist Farhat Hashmi, and the outcomes.

It’s a testament to Khan’s ability as a filmmaker that he has portrayed his mother’s honest views (she still disapproves of Khan’s sexual identity) without judgement. There are also many moments of gentle humour, such as when Khan talks about his father’s unfortunate preference for “vertical filmmaking” via his iPhone, which can also be understood as his father’s inability to broaden his perspective.

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There are times when the home videos – usually of birthday parties – feel a bit repetitive, and Khan’s narration is a tad too deliberate. But these are quibbles in an otherwise well-made documentary that manages to charm you, while also following that dictum to #SpeakYourTruth.

Abu opens April 13 in Toronto and Montreal

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