Former BC Professor Sami Khan Nominated for Oscar

Sami Khan (far right) once taught intro to production here at BC; now he's on the red carpet./ IF press
Sami Khan (far right) once taught intro to production here at BC; now he’s on the red carpet./ IF press

    When this year’s nominees for the Academy Awards were announced, a former member of the Brooklyn College family was among them.  

   Sami Khan, a former professor in the film department, was nominated for co-directing “St. Louis Superman,” in the short subject documentary category. 

   The film follows the story of Bruce Franks Jr., an activist and battle rapper who was elected to the Missouri state legislature following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson by a police officer in 2014. 

   “We jumped at the chance to tell this story,” said Khan, who taught Intro to Production for a year and half at Brooklyn College. 

   Khan and his production partner Smriti Mundhra were commissioned to do a short documentary regarding the 2018 election cycle by AJ+ Witness, a part of Al Jazeera’s English-language network. Mundhra read about Franks’ story and showed it to Khan, and they knew it was what they wanted to chase, not just because of its political value, but the depth of his personal story.

   “The politics are an important thing with Bruce, but not the whole thing,” said Khan.

   Frank’s fight against gun violence (which serves as a backdrop for the film) is also a personal one. As a child, while playing baseball in the street, Franks’ nine-year-old older brother, Chris, was shot and killed after two men began arguing and both pulled firearms. Franks’ brother was picked up and used as a human shield by one of the men. “He’s almost like a superhero, with this tragedy,” said Khan, alluding to the great comic heroes who overcame traumas and used them as inspiration to fight for a greater good. 

   Although Franks hesitated at first, eventually he opened the door for the filmmakers, granting them access into his life. The two followed him as he worked to get a bill through the state legislature naming gun violence a public health epidemic, and to institute a holiday in his big brother’s name, all while raising young children. 

  Khan shot most of the film himself along with Christopher Renteria, following Franks around with a very small, intimate setup, as Khan describes it. “That’s one of the strengths of the film,” he said. At one point in the film, Franks sits with his soon-to-be five-year-old son on a doorstep, singing a song and discussing his son’s upcoming birthday. All the while, Khan sits not four feet away with his camera. Later, Franks told Khan he had no idea he was even there filming.

   “That’s the best filmmaking compliment,” said Khan.

   In early January of this year, along with filmmakers from across the world, Khan was nominated alongside Mundhra in the short documentary category in the 92nd Academy Awards. “We were on our couch, it was just a normal Monday I think,” Khan said when his name was announced. “I think I just blacked out, nothing really prepares you for it.” 

   Although “St. Louis Superman” lost out to “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if you’re a girl)”, it is unlikely Khan will ever forget the experience.

   “Nothing prepares you from sitting across a table from Brad Pitt […] and having people like Mark Ruffalo and Judd Apatow come up and tell you they are fans of your film,” he said. 

   A few years ago, after Khan found out about the job at BC from a friend, he taught for a year and half here, assisting many students with the production of their first films in Intro to Production. “I loved teaching that class,” he said. Although he admits he does not miss his  commute from Inwood to Midwood, he misses his interactions with BC’s student body. “I miss the energy and passion students have for filmmaking,” he said. “Not enough filmmakers have that passion and curiosity for life,” he said. 

    Going forward, Khan is continuing to work on new projects. A feature length documentary “The Last Out”, about immigrant baseball players, will be coming out sometime this spring.