A disagreement over the local documentary The Sandwich Nazi has arisen between Salam Kahil, the larger-than-life owner of La Charcuterie deli in Surrey, and the local filmmakers who profiled him in the film.
The film shows Kahil engaging in his trademark sexually explicit banter and playful verbal abuse as he serves his loyal customers generously sized sandwiches. It also captures Kahil talking about his life experiences, including being sexually abused, leaving Lebanon and moving to other countries, working as an escort, his sex life, organizing volunteers to help him make sandwiches to donate to people on the Downtown Eastside, and traveling back to Lebanon to visit his family.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Kahil said that he and director-producer Lewis Bennett had a verbal agreement that no money should be made out of this and that it was meant for the community and inspirational purposes to help people overcome their problems. He said that this film should not be for sale.
When he attended a March screening of the film at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, he said he was shocked when he saw Netflix and HBO were being involved.
"I said to them many times, 'I'm not for sale. My volunteers are not for sale. My charity work is not for sale'," he stated. "I really don't want my family to be in [it] if it's going to be a film for sale because I don't think my family's for sale either."
However, director-producer Lewis Bennett and producer Callum MacLeod told a different story in a joint phone interview with the Straight.
"We always told him that yeah, we always wanted the film to be on TV or Netflix or iTunes, all those kinds of places," Bennett said.
MacLeod said during the filming, Kahil regularly asked about where the film would be shown.
"We've been clear from the beginning that we want for this film what every filmmaker wants for their film, which is for as many people to see it as possible," MacLeod said.
Kahil denied all of these points.
Conversely, MacLeod denied that they had any verbal agreement with Kahil.
"To suggest we had a gentleman's agreement not to raise money—my wife would not let me do that," he said. "I can't spend our family money on this stuff unless there's a possibility of at least recouping the cost.”
The filmmakers had emailed Kahil with an offer to donate some of the profits to a charity or other cause; Kahil said he did not believe them.
A point of contention for Kahil is how the film depicted him and how it also included two interviewees he said are not credible. After a private screening of the film at his house three months prior to the SXSW screening, Kahil said he asked for changes that he said weren't made.
MacLeod, however, said they made several changes for Kahil that included blurring faces, redoing the film's sound mix, and making colour corrections, which added to their expenses.
Kahil said he also thought the film was going to be more about his charity work and helping homeless people but it turned out to be different from what he expected. He expressed disappointment that there was a focus on the sexual aspects of his life, which he feels has overshadowed his "good side".
"I gave them every opportunity to make a very inspiring documentary," he said. "I want people to understand that we can all go through hard times like I did but we can all be successful."
He emphasized that he is not all about "sex and masturbation and a candle up my ass and shit like this” even though he talked about those things on camera. He said he feels misrepresented by the film, taken advantage of, and misled, and he's concerned that people are talking more about his sex life than anything else.
When the film was to be screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival on September 27 at the Rio Theatre, Kahil said he bought tickets for 20 of his volunteers.
Prior to the screening, he received an email from someone from the Rio Theatre who warned him about illegally recording the screening and that anyone caught filming would be ejected immediately. Kahil said his response was "fuck yourself".
Kahil said when he attended the screening, he was barred from entering the theatre and three policemen were also present.
When the Straight asked why he was contacted by the Rio Theatre, Kahil claimed he was never told what triggered the warning.
However, Rio Theatre owner Corrine Lea explained by phone that Rio manager Paul Hendriks discovered Facebook posts about plans for sabotaging the September 27 screening.
"The Sandwich Nazi guy was threatening to disrupt the show and on his social media he was encouraging people to record it," she said.
Lea said Hendriks posted a reminder that it is illegal for attendees to record screenings and that anyone caught recording the film would be removed from the premises.
Although Kahil was prevented from entering the September 27 screening, Lea stated that Kahil is not banned from the theatre.
"I know myself and the filmmakers hope that he would attend the screening and just be a healthy part of the discussion as opposed to try to stop it for everyone else,” she said.
When the Straight asked Kahil again about what prompted the Rio Theatre warning in a followup interview, he claimed that the Facebook post about pirating the movie was actually just a joke and not serious.
Meanwhile, Bennett and MacLeod both expressed sadness that Kahil feels negatively about the film.
"We've been trying to reach out to him to actually meet with him in person," Bennett said, adding that Kahil does not want to see them. "The Rio wants this to have a happy ending. VIFF wants this to have a happy ending. We want this to have a happy ending. I hope Salam wants this to have a happy ending. I don't know what he wants.”
Kahil does not believe that the filmmakers are honestly unhappy and is looking into legal options to shut down the film.
The film will screen again on Saturday (October 3) at 4 p.m. at the Rio Theatre and the filmmakers are taking the film to other festivals.
MacLeod said that although he and Bennett are confounded by Kahil’s reaction and are trying to understand him, they are very grateful for what he shared with them.
"He gave us amazing access,” MacLeod said. “We filmed Sal for two-and-a-half years. We can't thank him enough for allowing us into his life for as much as he did and for allowing us to tell his story."