British film at Cannes on how Islam helped a London gangster find peace

Snow in Paradise is a gritty gangster drama set in London's East End, and based on the life on one of the actors in the film, who found redemption when he converted to Islam.
The actor Frederick Schmidt is reflected in water in a scene from Snow in Paradise. Courtesy Cannes International Film Festival
The actor Frederick Schmidt is reflected in water in a scene from Snow in Paradise. Courtesy Cannes International Film Festival

“I was sick and tired of watching films in which people convert to Islam, buy a rucksack and blow themselves up,” says Martin Askew, 42, who stars in Snow in Paradise, which screened in the Un Certain Regard selection in Cannes.

Askew, who has co-written the script with the first-time director Andrew Hulme, reveals that the film is based on his life: he grew up among gangsters in the East End of London before he converted to Islam in 2001, just before 9/11.

“I was also sent to jail for a few years after protesting outside the Israeli embassy,” Askew says of the 18-month sentence he received in London following a protest against the invasion in Gaza. “Anyway, the story was inspired by my experiences, but this is a more romantic version.”

The film details how an East End gangster has his life turned upside down when his best friend Tariq (the British actor Aymen Hamdouchi) is killed. This leads to a period of self-reflection and he begins to look at Islam as a way to find peace.

But Askew does not play himself in the film; the character has been renamed Dave and is portrayed by the British newcomer Frederick Schmidt.

“I was walking down the street when I was tapped on the shoulder and asked if I would audition,” says Schmidt. “I used to work in logistics and had got married two weeks before and thought why not.”

As it turns out is, Schmidt happened to be Britain’s greatest discovery of 2014. (Also check him out in the prison drama Starred Up, in which he portrays Officer Gentry.)

Askew, who was an associate producer on Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla (2008), says he did not want to act in Snow in Paradise but ended up taking on the part of an East End gangster.

“We were looking for another actor, but nobody could portray an East End gangster like the ones I grew up with. They were giving movie versions. So, in the end, Andrew asked me to do it. I was hesitant at first, also because some Muslims would object to some aspects of the performance. However, I kept to my vows and a lot of what you see are camera tricks. Islam has helped me change and I have a very happy life now.”

Much of the action in Snow in Paradise was shot at Shacklewell Lane Mosque, in London’s East End.

Schmidt says: “I was a bit ignorant towards Islam when I started making the film. But speaking to Martin I learnt a lot, I saw that a lot of what the media in the West say about Islam is incorrect. Another difficult aspect was that we shot the film during Ramadan last year and Martin and another of the actors were fasting all day while also filming. It was tough for them.”

Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM


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