CAI contest 2nd Place winner Lee Peterkin – “Za’atar”

We sat down with CAI contest 2nd Place winner Lee Peterkin to discuss “Za’atar” 

“Za’atar” by Lee Peterkin tells the coming of age story of Nadia, a seven year old girl who is bullied at school simply because of her Palestinian heritage. After her peers insult her dreams of becoming an astronaut, Nadia seeks the help of her mother who teaches her coping strategies, for handling ridicule and ostracization, in productive ways. By the end, Nadia realizes that she can continue being ambitious, while also giving those around her a taste of Palestinian culture. 

In an interview, Peterkin discussed his own inspiration for his screenplay.

“I wanted to write a story that speaks to who I am while also teaching kids to aspire to things that they think are accomplishable…we shouldn’t feel like there’s a ceiling or anything stopping us because of the images we see in western culture.” 

Here, Peterkin describes that the writing process involved combining personal experiences with the fictional tale of Nadia in order to speak directly to young, marginalized people who may also feel pressured by societal norms.

While Peterkin is always on the lookout for new ways to hone his screenwriting craft, he described having a particular appreciation for the Open Screenplay platform and the Arab Stories contest.  

“Open Screenplay is a great resource for reinforcing foundational basics of screenwriting…I’m honored to have been recognized by the Open Screenplay organization for this award.”

Since graduating from the University of South Carolina in 2006, Peterkin continues his cinematic pursuits as an independent filmmaker. He’s released a number of films, most notably Prism (2017) and Cargo (2011). Recently, he has been asked to co-write another unnamed film but says he will continue utilizing Open Screenplay for it’s “structure and collaboration abilities.” 

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