The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Marfa Al Bakry: Taking a psychedelic trip into the world of film

Marfa Al Bakry went from an engineering and communications background and came to City College in 2017 for a theater and film major. In the studio at City College Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Melissa Sanchez Robinson/[email protected])

by Jacky Seto| Guest Writer| [email protected]

With 8 grams of magic mushrooms, Marfa Al Bakry’s life changed forever.

Although he enrolled at Sacramento City College in August 2017, Marfa, in a depressive stupor, hadn’t registered for any classes yet. He didn’t know why, after so many years, he was returning to college. He just knew that he had to do something else with his life. It was only when he tripped on those 8 grams of magic mushrooms in June 2018 that he was inspired to become a theater and film major at SCC.

“Why am I back? Am I back just to fill my time? Or am I back to work hard to find something? And when I found that click, the thing that really motivated me, that woke me up every day, that’s when I registered for classes,” Marfa said. “I tripped on mushrooms, and it was a trip that lasted for 16 hours. I felt that my understanding of life was slowly getting logical, and when I released all of those thoughts, [those] negative thoughts, I had that click where [my] confidence just clicked in.”

This type of dramatic change isn’t new to Marfa. He was born in 1991 in the Iraq/Kuwait area during the Persian Gulf War. As a child, he and his family moved to Qatar and then to Dubai. As a teenager, his parents sent him to the United Kingdom to learn English and to attend high school. As an adult, he moved to Canada to study engineering and communications. When he obtained his degrees in those fields in 2013, he moved to Arizona to begin his life in America.

Not long after that, he was in California.

“I moved in 2015 to Cali, and I was doing marketing, working with different products. [It’s] funny, because I’m Arab, I had to work with rugs, too. So I sold Turkish [rugs], and Persian rugs, and Egyptian rugs. You gotta do what you gotta do to survive,” Marfa said, smiling.

“I presented [the products] to a lot of companies, and I used to travel every month for 12 days and market any of the 26 products that were going to [my company] at the time,” Marfa continued. “In 2017, I moved on from marketing [and] into sales, and there I got into selling cars.”

But the corporate 9-to-5 world wasn’t for Marfa. As a child, he dreamed of having an office job, wearing a suit and tie and settling down in a big house with a wife and kids. That dream started coming true for him, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.

“One day I woke up, and I was depressed. I was really depressed. It wasn’t the life that I wanted. I’ve been in that reality, I’ve worked in that reality, I didn’t get married, but I was working to get married. I realized that wasn’t my dream, it was my mom’s dream. So I was like, fuck you, Mom,” Marfa said, laughing.

“I just fell out of it. I fell out of the whole concept of making money through buying and selling things that I don’t like. And I went back to college so that I can buy and sell my ideas,” Marfa continued.

Said Noori, a theater major, has been Marfa’s good friend since they met in 2018 while working in a play together. Noori is also an immigrant, as he came to America from Afghanistan in 2012. Noori bonded with Marfa because the two shared similar artistic interests as well as cultural backgrounds, but even Noori was taken aback by Marfa’s independence from his family.

“He’s doing what he wants to do. He’s really true to himself. He didn’t want to make choices in the beginning because he wanted to follow his family and what they wanted him to do,” Noori said.

Marfa’s father is an artist in Dubai, and Marfa’s parents live there in a large, three-story house. Marfa’s father wanted him to pursue engineering because he thought it would be a good degree to have in Dubai, but Marfa wanted to pursue the arts instead.

“It took him a long time to [make his own choices], but it takes a lot of courage to say ‘This is not me,’ and leave a luxurious, great life and to go into [film],” Noori continued. “I think he lives in his car right now.”

Although Marfa got occasional gigs from places such as KCRA and theater companies in Sacramento and San Francisco, he didn’t want to spend his money on rent. Instead, he chose to live with his then-girlfriend, Erin, and when she moved to Los Angeles, he decided to couch-surf with some relatives. But his relatives needed the couch back. Rather than finding a place to rent for a month or two, he opted to live in his car while finishing his semester at City College.

“The harsh reality is, I wake up every day at 5 a.m. in a parking lot. I have no bathroom, I have no shower, I have no food, I have no kitchen, nothing. So I drive to 24 [Hour] Fitness, I jog on the machine for 30 minutes and then do a simple workout, take a shower, and by 6:30, I go to 7-Eleven and just buy me a snack and start my day,” Marfa said.

“The only reason I think Marfa is homeless is because he’s taking a chance right now,” Noori said. “He could be living in a great house in Dubai, he could be doing an engineering job that pays him 50 bucks an hour. But he’s not doing that. Because he doesn’t want to [do that], that’s not his goal.”

Marfa has what he calls his artistic triangle, the way his three artistic pursuits—acting, music, and film—all work together to help him express himself. That’s his ultimate goal. But despite his experience working in theater companies and in plays at City College, acting isn’t for Marfa.

On the other hand, Marfa’s very gifted musically, according to Noori.

“[His acting] needs a lot of work. We did ‘The Beaux Stratagem.’ We had a lot of scenes [together]. I was very satisfied with his acting, I was good with him, but there are certain characters that I know that he can’t play,” Noori said. “(But) just listen to him play the guitar. He has so many things that he can come up with. In like 10 minutes, he can maybe give you like 10 new songs.”

At City College, Marfa’s gotten into classical music as well as into hip hop, and recently he started learning to rap. But he’s not a rapper. And he agrees with Noori—he’s not a great actor, either. Instead, he wants to pursue a career in filmmaking because he doesn’t see music or acting as the best way that he can express himself.

“I write music, but I never looked at myself as a musician. I became a DJ for a while, but I really didn’t like that type of attention,” Marfa said. “Music is amazing and all, music is cool, but there is nothing more impactful than visuals. Visual impact is a complete download of a message that the artist is trying to convey to you.

“I want to express, [and] the best way to express is a movie. You fall in love with movies, you remember movies, you connect with people with movies. I don’t need to act to pretend to tell you who I am. I am who I am. Real-life stays real, and I need to make movies to be real with people,” Marfa continued.

In the spring semester of 2019, Marfa got a taste of that connection through film when he directed a short film for his filmmaking class featuring Noori. Later in the semester, Marfa and his team shot and edited a music video for a music video contest, which they won.

“Directing-wise, camera-wise, he’s really good,” Noori said. “He showed me the [music] video, and I was shocked. It was really, really good. It seemed like an actual music video. The whole music video was edited by him, and it was flawless. It felt like someone professionally did it. Way better than other videos I’ve seen online. It could be comparable to like, the Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber videos that you see on YouTube. And those are done with people who get multi-million dollars for just two days of [work].”

“I work to win,” Marfa said. “I approached the project from the point of view [of] professionalism. Making that music video [showed] me what we are capable of, with the least amount of equipment, and it showed me that you don’t actually have to be a professional to release your artistic point of view.”

Marfa Al Bakry went from an engineering and communications background and came to City College in 2017 for a theater and film major. In the studio at City College Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Melissa Sanchez Robinson/[email protected])
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But while Marfa could be making music videos for a good amount of money, that’s not what it’s about for him. In fact, despite being homeless, he refuses to accept the aid that City College and the government offer him. He says that he doesn’t want that aid because he’s not truly homeless; he chose to be homeless. But Noori thinks that it has more to do with Marfa’s pride.

“[He’s] too Arabian for that,” Noori said. “Over here, asking for money from your siblings is a very normal thing, but in [the Middle East], it’s kinda like guilt, like you feel like you’re a burden. I have overcome that feeling, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t, because Marfa’s still pretty Arabian.”

Marfa admits that he’s still connected to his Arabian roots, but he also says that he doesn’t believe in ideologies. He thinks that ideologies limit people’s thoughts. Instead, he considers himself a peaceful anarchist. By that, he means anarchists in the vein of Noam

Chomsky or Mahatma Gandhi. Marfa claims that they are nonviolent anarchists. But while these peaceful anarchists provide inspiration for him and his artistic work, he doesn’t look up to them.

“Anarchy is Gandhi for me. Gandhi was an anarchist. When I read that, as a kid, [it] changed my way of anarchy,” Marfa said. “You can say that this is the person that changed your life, but for me, I would say their work helps me find myself.”

“Where are they when I wanted to pay rent? Where were they when I was losing my insurance? Where were they? They weren’t there, no one’s there for me, other than me,” Marfa continued.

But someone was there for Marfa. Erin, his former girlfriend, was waiting for Marfa to move down to L.A. to live with her after he completed his education at City College. She supported him and his goals of working in Hollywood and making movies, but Marfa found that support uncomfortable. He thinks that the idea of settling down anywhere is uncomfortable. They are no longer a couple.

“I think that she thinks that we’ll get married and have kids, but that’s not what I want. She is very supportive, and that’s kinda scary,” Marfa said, chuckling nervously. “If you settle in one place, all you’re doing is getting fat. There’s nothing about settling down that’s settling forme. To me, settling down is a routine, so it’s very unsettling. I don’t want to fall into a rat race, that routine that kills me. I want to be free. Spiritually, mentally.”

With the freedom that he has, living in his car and attending City College, Marfa has embarked on many different artistic projects. Currently, he’s writing a script for his screenwriting class called “Unoccupied.” It’s a dark comedy about two friends who meander through life after graduating from college. He’s also thinking about writing two other scripts, one in the horror genre and another in the science fiction genre. Similarly, he’s writing a book called “Arabian Thoughts: Volume One.” In addition to those things, he says that his experience with homelessness has inspired him to pursue making documentaries as a way to express reality.

“I actually have a very great documentary idea, but the problem is, I couldn’t get anyone to work with me here at SCC with it,” Marfa said. “It’s about theater, and it’s about the director, the main actor, and the stage manager. The story revolves around [them working on] one play. It ends with the first show, but not really showing the show. It’s a loop, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a cycle.”

While Marfa couldn’t get that documentary started at City College, he does plan on jumping into the deep end and pursuing a life of working in Hollywood. He’s leaving for L.A. before 2019 ends and hopes to settle into the city in early 2020. Rather than living with Erin, Marfa instead will be rooming with his friend, Miguel, who’s a rapper and a DJ. Marfa knows that it’ll be a struggle, and although many of his friends think that he’s crazy for pursuing a career in filmmaking, he doesn’t care.

“It’s very demented that I’m doing this, but who said that I can’t do it, other than myself? The only person that will stop me is me,” Marfa said. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but that’s not new. I’ve proved a lot of people [wrong]. They told me you’ll never end up in America, you’ll never survive, and I’m here. They told me you’ll never be an engineer. I was. They told me ‘you’ll never sell cars.’ I did. They told me a lot of things; I just did it. And they told me I’m crazy for going back to school, so I’m here, I’m just doing it. I’m doing my life, I’m doing my goals.”

“Don’t end up like me, becoming an engineer just because your dad told you to,” Marfa continued. “Stop taking drugs.”

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