ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- A movie that began as a project in a University of Michigan film class has beaten out thousands of other entries for a spot at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
"Bilal's Stand," the creation of 25-year-old Michigan graduate Sultan Sharrief, will be screened Monday night as part of Sundance's new NEXT category for very low budget films.
It's one of eight films in the category, out of about 7,000 submissions.
"This story is highly personal, about as personal as you can get," Sharrief said in a video interview released by the university. "It's about my life and my family ... growing up in Detroit."
Five years in the making, the film tells of an African-American Muslim high school student who works for his family's cab company.
"All characters and situations are based on actual events," the film's introduction says. "Some actors play themselves. The names have been changed to protect their integrity."
The movie tells of his struggle over whether to attend the prestigious and expensive University of Michigan or attend Henry Ford Community College. And it shows Bilal dealing with issues of alienation and fitting in as he tries to move among the worlds of the poor inner city, his school in an affluent suburb and an elite university campus.
Sharrief spent five years shooting, editing and re-editing the movie, collecting money and drawing on dozens of volunteers. He said he didn't see the first rushes -- the processed recordings -- for eight months because it took that long to pay the lab.
Unhappy with early versions, Sharrief said he repeatedly re-edited the film, showing successive versions to test audiences wherever he could find them and paying close attention to viewers' comments.
He said he still wasn't satisfied until he came up with the idea of overlaying a simple animation, with on-screen doodling and handwritten captions.
That added a comic touch and lightened the subject matter. Sharrief told The Associated Press he was happy with the result, which he said he hoped would make the movie more accessible to non-black audiences.
Back in Michigan, "Bilal's Stand" opens Sunday at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
On the Net:
"Bilal's Stand" Web site: http://www.bilalsstand.com.
Video interview with Sultan Sharrief: http://j.mp/7jzITq