Jeffrey Walker tackles the Muslim issue, with humour

When Jeffrey Walker was offered the chance to direct his first feature, Ali’s Wedding, he hesitated initially, feeling intimidated by the milieu of a Muslim immigrant who is torn between his upbringing and the Australian way of life.

But as he got deeper into the screenplay by Osamah Sami and his frequent collaborator Andrew Knight, he saw a universal theme in the romantic comedy based on Sami’s experiences.

“I got a real feel for the characters and their journey,” says Walker, who started shooting in Melbourne today with a cast of familiar and new faces.

Sami plays Ali, the affable son of a Muslim cleric (Don Hany) who had migrated to Australia from Iraq. In an attempt to live up to the expectations of his community and his father, Ali tells a series of well-intentioned lies, which result in him pretending to be a medical student based on forged exam marks.

Amidst the chaos, Ali falls for Dianne (Helen Sawires), the girl of his dreams, while he also gets engaged to Yomna (Maha Wilson), the girl he has been promised to.

As Ali's charade is in danger of being exposed, his starring role in “The Trial of Saddam Hussein – The Musical” may, or may not, offer the only escape.

Sheila Jayadev and Helen Panckhurst are producing for Matchbox Pictures, with financing from Screen Australia, Film Victoria, White Hot Productions, Screen NSW and the Adelaide Film Festival.

Newcomer Sawires was discovered during a national casting search. Frances Duca plays Ali’s mother and Ryan Corr is a friend from childhood who also suffers from a state of arrested development.

Walker had received several feature film offers while he carved out a highly successful career in TV with credits including BBC First’s Banished, Modern Family, Bones, Rake, Raising Hope and Rebel Wilson’s Super Fun Night.

Explaining what drew him to Ali’s Wedding, he says, “It’s a very personal, anecdotal story about a guy who is torn between his upbringing and the world he has been introduced to.”

Working with DP Don McAlpine is a dream come true for the director, who enthuses, “Getting him is an incredible coup: he is a brilliant storyteller.”

Madman Entertainment is the Australian distributor and Germany’s Beta Film will handle international sales.

In January Walker is heading to New York to direct the second series of Difficult People, a comedy starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner as best friends whose irreverent behaviour lands them in awkward situations, commissioned by streaming service Hulu.

He directed the first series, executive produced by Amy Poehler. It will be a tight shoot: Nine episodes in eight weeks, with post in Australia.

Walker is keen to make more features which meet his definition of being “audience friendly, accessible and thought-provoking.”

One project that ticks those boxes is The Cartographer, a drama based on the Australian novel by Peter Twohig about a nameless child who handles the terrors of his life by copying the attributes of fictional pop culture characters he admires, which he is developing with South Pacific Pictures’ John Barnett.