Nova Scotia

Story of Syrian refugee who started a N.S. chocolate company turned into a movie

He fled Syria in 2016 and founded a growing chocolate company in Nova Scotia. Now his story is coming to the big screen.

Tareq Hadhad fled Syria with his family and started a chocolate business in Antigonish, N.S.

Syrian actors Ayham Abou Ammar and Hatem Ali will be playing Tareq Hadhad and his father, Assam. (Peace by Chocolate - The Film/Facebook)

The story of a man who fled Syria in 2016 and founded a growing chocolate company in Nova Scotia is being made into a movie by a Canadian filmmaker. 

"Our story has been heard and inspired millions of people around the world but this is another step," Tareq Hadhad, founder of Peace By Chocolate in Antigonish, told Information Morning Halifax

Hadhad said he expects the film to put a human face on newcomers to Canada.

"We know that movies can change the world and can change mindsets, especially for us coming from the Middle East when there was so much stereotyping against refugees and immigrants coming to new countries and communities."

Hadhad's father, Assam Hadhad, was a chocolate maker in Damascus for two decades, shipping specialty treats across the Middle East.

Chocolatier Tareq Hadhad (top left) watches director Jonathan Keisjer, (centre), overseeing production. (Peace By Chocolate/Facebook)

But when Syria was ravaged by war and the chocolate factory was bombed, Hadhad and his family fled the country.

They settled in Antigonish in 2016 and built a social enterprise — Peace By Chocolate — which sells products across the country. 

Filmmaker Jonathan Keijser, who is based in Los Angeles but was born in Nova Scotia, said he discovered Hadhad while watching local news and was inspired to bring his story to the big screen.

"The essential dramatic storyline is about a charming young Syrian man who is struggling to settle in this new small-town life, ultimately having to choose between following his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor or keeping his father's chocolate legacy alive," Keijser said.

Syrian actor Ayham Abou Ammar (left) is playing Tareq Hadhad (right). (Peace by Chocolate - The Film/Facebook)

The filmmaker added he wanted to turn Hadhad's story into a film because it's a story of which all Canadians can be proud.

The chocolatier said he was honoured when Keijser contacted him about making the movie — even more so when he heard popular Middle Eastern actors were portraying him and his family.

"Those are actors that I grew up watching on TV and they were my idols," said Hadhad, who became a Canadian citizen in January.

Jonathan Keisjer, who is from Nova Scotia but lives in Los Angeles, directed the film. (Submitted by Jonathan Keisjer)

Keijser said the movie's exteriors were filmed in Antigonish and the interiors were filmed in Montreal. 

Production wrapped up last month.

Keijser said the film will be released on the festival circuit this fall but should be available to the public by the end of the year. 

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