When the Jibril sisters were kids, their mother Nargis always fell for 15-year-old Sagal’s tears. “We used to call her waterworks,” quips sister Asha, 17. So when Sagal was directed to cry on queue during production of the new film Family Motel, her family wasn’t surprised at her brisk ability to turn on the emotion. Nargis remembers, “Asha said, ‘Mom, all those years I told you she was just lying every time she cried for you. See, this is what I meant!’”

The ladies Jibril are the first-time actors and real-life family who star in Family Motel, directed by Helene Klodawsky. The film follows Somali immigrant Ayan (Nargis Jibril) and her two daughters Nasrah (Asha Jibril) and Leila (Sagal Jibril) who are trying to survive in their new life in Canada. Exhausted by her cleaning job, sending money to her husband and sons in Somalia and raising adolescent daughters, Ayan struggles to financially support her family. Faced with eviction, the three are placed in a motel when Ottawa shelters are full, and Ayan tries to piece together her crumbling life.

Augmenting the challenge of being new actors, the Jibrils improvised most of the film based on given scenarios from Klodawsky. “I had no clue what they were doing. I thought they were bonkers!” laughs Nargis. But she admits eventually understanding how the technique produced more raw emotions. Adds Asha, “If I had a script I probably would have practised so much and made it so fake, thinking this is how Hollywood actresses do it.”

Despite the emotional intensity of their performances, Nargis didn’t believe the issues Family Motel dealt with — immigration, homelessness and racism, to name a few — were portrayed in a harsh enough light.

“(The movie) doesn’t really expose the hard-core version of those issues,” says Nargis.

>> Read Metro's review of Family Motel.

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