An award-winning film set in Sugar Land is premiering worldwide on Netflix this week.
Directed by Sugar Land native and Kempner High School graduate Bassam Tariq, “Ghosts of Sugar Land” follows a group of Muslim Americans in the Houston suburb as they trace the disappearance of “Mark,” a friend who is suspected of joining ISIS.
According to the film’s plot summary, Mark was a social misfit as a teenager and converted to Islam before entering college, where his beliefs took a turn when he began alienating his friends and leaving cryptic notes on social media before disappearing.
Tariq said the documentary is based on true events for himself and his friends in their hometown, where the group of young Muslim Americans discuss the disappearance and radicalization of their friend.
According to Tariq, he formulated the idea for a short film in 2017 as an outlet for him and his friends to talk about a topic that is difficult to broach. So, Tariq said the group dons masks while deconstructing what possibly happened to Mark as well as where the friends now are in their lives.
“One of my friends has possibly gone missing, and we’re not sure where he went. My friends have been afraid to talk about it and don’t know how to talk about it,” Tariq said. “I think (the project) helped us all open up a little bit, because we had this sense of anonymity and a sense of fun with the masks.”
Over the course of the film, which premieres Wednesday on Netflix, the group recounts their time with their friend and theories about his fate. Tariq said the community has been supportive of the work he’s done over the last few years as the project moved along, despite the touchy subject matter.
“I think there was initially a general concern, because when you start talking about extremism, people tend to be a bit scared because there’s a fear that it becomes a one-note story or a story about this one person,” Tariq said. “It’s really about my friends and what it means to be a Muslim in Texas, in the suburbs, after Sept. 11, and how that has shaped the way they live their life.”
“Ghosts of Sugar Land” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Short Film Jury Award for Nonfiction. It traces the guilt, fear and sadness of the young men.
“It’s a conversation about our past and where we’re going, looking at it all through the lens of a missing friend,” Tariq said.