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Archive for the ‘documentary’ tag

The Word of God vs. The Actions of Men

A Priest and Imam in Rwanda. Muslims and Christians in Rwanda are subjects in Alrick Brown’s documentary, Kinyarwanda.

by Alrick Brown

I am neither a Muslim nor a Christian; in fact I do not practice any organized faith. However, I have spent much time in Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist communities, in churches, mosques, synagogues and temples all over the world, from the Ukraine to New York, from Africa to Singapore. Through these experiences I have developed a healthy respect for religion and for spiritual practices and beliefs, a respect that brought me to the subject matter of my first feature film, Kinyarwanda – a film about faith, life, love and hope in midst of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Kinyarwanda had its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. We received a standing ovation that night. Local and national papers advertised that the 2011 festival was filled with films about faith. One of the more powerful and well-received scenes in Kinyarwanda is a moment when Muslims and Christians seeking refuge from the violence pray their respective prayers under the same roof.

Kinyarwanda was made in collaboration with a Muslim Rwandan Genocide survivor, Ishmael Ntihabose. Ishmael was also the Executive Producer and the brains and heart behind the story. It was he who had the courage and vision to seek me out, an African-American, non-Muslim, to tell the untold story of how the Mufti of Rwanda risked his own life by issuing an edict forbidding Muslims from participating in the genocide. This effectively made the mosque in Kigali and the madrassa of Nyanza two of the safest places in the country during that horrific time. Muslims, Christians, Tutsis and moderate Hutus all sought shelter in those spaces, and priests and Imams worked together to save, preserve and inspire life.

Meanwhile, in many of the Catholic churches, masses of people were being slaughtered. This is not to demonize the Catholic Church—in fact, after such tragic acts the church has worked diligently to restore its name and has spoken openly about the unforgivable acts that took place within its walls.

This is also not to make heroes out of Muslims, because though mosques and Muslim villages were safer, some Muslims did participate in the killing while some Christians refused to participate.

Kinyarwanda is not about heroes and villains, good or bad, but about real people who made decisions for selfish or selfless reasons. This fact underscores one of the most important lines in the film and my stance on the matter. It is why I am at peace with all that I learned about these events, in spite of the complicated relationship I have personally had with religion.  In the film, while a discussion is going on about colonialism and the root causes of the genocide, a mention of Christianity versus Islam comes up. The Mufti intercedes and squelches negative remarks by an Imam about Christians, saying, “Don’t confuse the word of God with the actions of men.”

I have found both beauty and tragedy within the religions that I have experienced or studied. Religion was used during slavery in the Americas and abroad to justify unspeakable acts and to subjugate and mentally colonize millions of human beings. Religion was used to justify the killing during the Crusades, the taking of land and the de-humanization of Native Americans and Aborigines, to explain segregation, to point out the immorality of same-sex unions and abortion, and as a justification for war. But then there is the beauty. The beauty we see in the people who have found faith, who have found something beautiful to believe in, those who have a faith that helps them transcend their daily struggles and believe in something bigger than themselves; a faith that teaches us to heal, to forgive, to love, to accept, and to understand—even if we do not necessarily agree; a faith that has challenged the worst amongst us to change and to find light in the world and within ourselves.

Religion and God are not the cause of our problems.  We live in an interfaith world because, in the end, as portrayed in the film, we actually do live in and share one space, one world. Thus we all pray and worship under the same roof. And under that shared roof is flawed humanity.

Alrick Brown’s collective work has screened in over 60 film festivals worldwide; earning numerous awards and honors. Among them is the prestigious 2011 Sundance World Cinema Audience Award for his first feature Kinyarwanda. A highly sought consultant and educator on the art of cinematic storytelling, Alrick’s work has been described as cultural archeology because of his vision to unearth and tell stories that otherwise would not be told; stories that often focus on social issues affecting the world at large. He received his MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where he’s taught both undergraduate and graduate film students.

Dissolving Borders: A Photographic Journey in Kazan, Russia

by Alison Shuman

Kazan is the capital city of the Republic of Tatarstan, one of 21 semi-autonomous ethnic republics in the Russian Federation. It is a beautiful city located at the convergence of the Volga and Kazan Rivers about 700 kilometers east of Moscow. I first traveled to Kazan during a post-college backpacking trip in which I spent three months traveling and photographing in Russia from the European side through Siberia. As part of a riverboat cruise down the Volga, I briefly stopped in the port city of Kazan and was immediately struck by the city’s palpable sense of history. I photographed mosques and churches and crescent flags flying over government buildings. It felt to me to be unlike any other place in Russia, a feeling that stayed with me over the years.

As a documentary photographer, a lot of the work I’ve done in the States has been with the Muslim community. I was profoundly affected by seeing such negative representations of Islam in the media, particularly after 9/11. When I started developing this project in Kazan, I was interested to look at Islam in the context of Russia, a country that was just starting to rediscover religion after 70 years of Communism, but once I started working on the project, I realized that there was so much more to the story.

The dismantling of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s kindled a slow but steady religious movement in the Republic of Tatarstan and across Russia. In Kazan, churches and mosques were rebuilt, the Tatar language became an official language of Tatarstan alongside Russian, and ancient traditions kept alive in small villages began seeping back into the city. The ­2000s brought a safer and more stable environment for the city’s inhabitants and with that came a stronger resurgence of religious and cultural expression, particularly among the youth. In a city divided almost equally between Tatars and Russians, Muslims and Christians, this process has unfolded not only with a marked lack of tension, but also with a spirit of mutual respect and exchange.

In 2011, I traveled to Kazan to begin photographing. What I witnessed was a picture of tolerance that is governmentally mandated, religiously guided and personally experienced. In 2005, the Tatarstan government rebuilt their Kremlin to incorporate both the Orthodox Church and a new mosque. Last year Tatarstan’s president created a governmental department dedicated to supporting inter-religious dialogue and to suppress any form of religious extremism. Religious leaders periodically gather to discuss ways in which the groups can work together and to hold events geared toward interreligious communication. The Kazan Seminary and the Russian Islamic University both have a long history of promoting tolerance and personal freedom and students from the two institutions occasionally meet for an inter-scholastic soccer match.

Most striking, however, were the personal relationships the people of Kazan have to religion, culture and each other. At its heart, this is a story of rediscovery. Tatarstan has a long history of tolerance and Russian society in general is imbued with a very deep sense of humanity. In the religious and cultural reawaking both Tatars and Russians have been experiencing over the past 20 years, they are also honoring the open-minded attitudes of their ancestors. Time and again, people would share with me how proud they are that they live in a society where they don’t fear expressing their religious identities. I truly believe that Kazan has some very important lessons for the world.

I am excited by what I’ve accomplished in the time that I had, but there is much more work to be done to see this project through to the end. Photography projects such as this take time and resources that are unfortunately increasingly scarce in today’s world. Last year I self-funded my work in Russia but this year I am using the platform of Kickstarter to raise money to return to Kazan and finish the project. Kickstarter has created an invaluable resource for photographers to engage in these long-term projects that have an incredible impact in the world. The platform of Kickstarter is such that you’re not just donating money to a project, but you also receive a great reward for your generosity. You can see the project here:

The caveat is that Kickstarter has a firm deadline policy. After the March 8th, 9AM deadline, anyone wishing to donate can just go to my blog and donate there. I will keep in place the exact same reward levels for donations, just email me with your name and address so I can send the rewards! For my blog, please go here:

My deepest desire is for this story to serve as an example from which we, Tatars and Russians included, can all learn. Regardless of a region’s history or government, it is the people who ultimately choose cooperation over conflict. This is a perspective that is largely missing from but desperately needed by our global community.

Thank you!

Alison Shuman



Dialogue in Nigeria: Muslims & Christians Creating Their Future

This hopeful documentary gives voices and faces to 200 courageous Muslims and Christians – diverse young women and men – who unite successfully in Jos, central Nigeria.

Refusing to be enemies, they are together during days and evenings of the 2010 International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Communication.

They are tense yet excited to finally cross lines of religion, economics, tribe, and gender to transcend the status quo and discover empathy for each other’s personal life experiences.

Together they realize that “an enemy is one whose story we have not heard,” while listening-to-learn and thus dignifying themselves and the “others.”

Face to face and in small circles, they begin with ice-breakers and continue in depth to discover one another’s equal humanity – fear, grief, needs, hopes, and concrete plans for a shared future.

These determined young Nigerians illustrate how others worldwide can successfully connect and communicate to create authentic community.

Click here to watch the video

Changing the Conversation: Tools for Talking About Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolence Efforts in Your Community

Register Now Wednesday, January 11, 2012
10:00am U.S. Central Time

With negotiations stalled, what constructive nonviolent alternatives are Palestinian and Israeli civilians pursuing at the grassroots level to resolve the conflict and end the occupation? This webinar introduces a variety of online multimedia tools and documentary films Just Vision has developed to help communities learn about and connect with Palestinian and Israeli nonviolence leaders and peacebuilders. Recognizing that too often violence, extremism and diplomatic stalemate dominate the headlines on this issue, we will look at ways to shift the conversation from spoilers to solutions, and how our attention as a global audience factors into the growth and success of these efforts.

Ronit Avni is an award-winning filmmaker, human rights advocate and media strategist with an expertise in Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution efforts. Ms. Avni is the Founder and Executive Director of Just Vision, a non-profit organization that researches, documents and creates media about Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders in nonviolence and peace building. At Just Vision, she recently produced the documentary film Budrus and directed/produced the film Encounter Point.

Title: Changing the Conversation: Tools for Talking About Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolence Efforts in Your Community
Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees:
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees:
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

Dirk Ficca Featured on CBS Documentary

from CBS News Religion and Culture

This program airs throughout December and will be online after Dec 18.

FINDING COMMON GROUND: TODAY’S INTERFAITH MOVEMENT looks at how the interfaith movement has evolved over the years.

The program visits with Rev. Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.  The Parliament hosts the world’s largest interreligious gathering, meeting every five years in a different part of the world. People of every faith are invited to share their religious identities, dialogue and voice their hopes and concerns for the future.

One of the most interesting things about the modern interfaith movement, according to Rev. Ficca, is that cooperation among people of different faiths is more mainstream than ever. He says, “For me, it’s when a local imam and rabbi and Catholic priest in Downers Grove meet every Thursday for lunch and talk about how to get their three communities to know each other, and somehow replicating that all over the United States, all over the world. That’s where I put my hope.”

We also hear from Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) based in Chicago, Ill. This nonprofit organization was founded in 2002, based on the idea that the most powerful common ground between all faith traditions is the inspiration to serve others. Dr. Patel and his organization are working with the youth of today as a means to thwart religious extremism and encourage interfaith understanding and leadership. “I think the world looks different,” Dr. Patel says, “if America’s college campuses become models of interfaith cooperation and graduate a critical mass of interfaith leaders.”

When the White House announced the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in March of this year, IFYC worked as an advisor and partnered to craft the nationwide program.

One of the schools participating in the President’s challenge is Albright College, a private liberal arts school in Reading, Penn. Rev. Paul Clark, the school’s chaplain, will be shepherding the project with a group of interfaith student leaders.  He says, “If we can apply this kind of model of talking to one another, and then reaching out to the larger community, then something really important could happen here.”

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Reading, Penn. has the largest share of residents living in poverty per capita. In an effort to help the marginalized, the religious community of Reading has come together and worked in partnership to help alleviate the symptoms of poverty.  We hear from Rabbi Brian I. Michelson, Rabbi of Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom; Elsayed [Steve] Elmarzouky, President of the Islamic Center of Reading, and Michael J. Kaucher, Executive Director of the Reading Berks Conference of Churches, about how working together to serve their community has reinforced their belief in the need for interreligious dialogue and cooperation at the local level.

John P. Blessington is the executive producer and Liz Kineke is the producer.  FINDING COMMON GROUND is produced in cooperation with the National Council of Churches, Consortium of Roman Catholic organizations, the Islamic Society of North America, the Union of Reform Judaism and the New York Board of Rabbis.

Click here to check local listings

Click here to watch online (after Dec 18)

Eyeopener: ‘Journey of the Universe’ on PBS

by Celia Wren
from Commonweal Magazine

Painted stars splay across the ceiling of an old Greek church. A flower blooms in slow motion. Tree roots twine serenely round the rocks of an ancient ruin. The images in the nonfiction film Journey of the Universe are luminously beautiful—and so well meshed that their flow feels almost effortless. But a great deal of effort has gone into this hour-long work, which aims to knit modern scientific knowledge and religious and humanistic perspectives into a seamless, eye-opening chronicle of cosmic and earthly evolution.

Indeed, the genesis of Journey—airing on PBS stations beginning December 3 (check local listings)—stretches back more than three decades, to the publication in 1978 of an article titled “The New Story,” by Thomas Berry, the influential thinker who taught at Fordham University and directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research. “The New Story” argued that humans were positioned between important narratives—namely, the scientific narrative about the unfolding of the universe and the creation stories offered by religious traditions. Might a new narrative be possible—one that integrates these worldviews?

Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Thomas Swimme, scholars who worked closely with Berry (he died in 2009), have responded to the challenge. The two have coauthored both the film Journey of the Universe and the companion book, published by Yale University Press. Tucker, who codirects the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, has also done yeoman’s work on Journey’s educational DVD, hosting twenty half-hour conversations with scientists, educators, and environmentalists, including Sr. Marya Grathwohl, OSF, of Earth Hope in Wyoming, and Sr. Paula Gonzalez, SC, of EarthConnection in Cincinnati.

It’s the affable Swimme—professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies—who hosts the film, speaking with enthusiasm about matters like the Big Bang (he prefers the term “The Great Flaring Forth”); the arrangement of the solar system (he illustrates it with vegetables, using a cabbage for the sun); the significance of plate tectonics; the advent of life on earth; the nature of photosynthesis; and the development of art and language among humans. The film even addresses the phenomenon of compassion, suggesting that it is a natural, if rather marvelous, part of human evolution—perhaps an extension of the maternal instinct (a shot of a koala and her baby helps illustrate this theory).

Click here to read the full article.


Women, War and Peace: An Interview with Director Pamela Hogan

by Alisa Roadcup
from Amnesty International

Amnesty’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group member Alisa Roadcup was fortunate to sit down with Pamela Hogan, Director of Women, War & Peace, a bold new five-part PBS television series challenging the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain.  The first part of the documentary airs Tuesday, October 11, on PBS.

1. Tell me about your initial idea for this project.  Why “Women, War and Peace” and why now?

It’s hard to remember back that far!  My partners Abigail Disney, Gini Reticker and I had a fateful lunch at which we realized we’d all been noticing the same trend in war reporting: a focus on the men and the guns, and a dearth of stories about the women and families who are disproportionately targeted in today’s conflict zones—but seldom covered in news reports. We’d all individually witnessed this blind spot in the coverage of conflict, and we agreed that the gap between what’s reported and what’s occurring on the ground was enormous. Women, War & Peacewas born!

 2. Why do you think documentary film, specifically, can serve as a powerful medium to ignite social change? 

Documentary film has the power to bring the work of individuals to life in a way that policy reports and court documents, and even the printed word, doesn’t have.  One of the lead funders of Women, War & Peace said it so well: “We’ve been writing reports on these issues for years but in your films the women jump off the screen and people feel an emotional connection and really get the urgency.” Documentary storytelling is a visceral medium, and when the lights go up audiences often feel a call to action.

3. Tell me about a portrayal of women in war captured in “Women, War and Peace” that somehow plays against type or was unconventional.

So often women living in war zones are portrayed as victims.   Big mistake.

In The War We Are Living, two Colombian women – Clemencia Carabali and Francia Marquez – brave constant death threats to prevent their communities from being forced off of the gold-rich lands their ancestors have lived on for generations.  In Peace UnveiledAfghan women are excluded from the international conference where President Karzai first suggests negotiating with the Taliban – so they crash the event anyway.  InPray the Devil Back to Hell, ordinary Liberian women who are sick and tired of 14 years of war stand up to President Charles Taylor and the warlords.  In I Came to Testify, sixteen women from a village in Bosnia take the witness stand in the first trial ever to focus exclusively on sexual violence in wartime – and the landmark judgment establishes wartime rape and sexual slavery as a crime against humanity.

All of these women are taking personal risks, risks that jeopardize not only themselves but also their children and extended families.  All of them make me ask myself, could I summon the courage to make that choice if I were in their place? Given the stereotype that women targeted by war are victims; they most certainly break the mold.  These women are revolutionaries!

4. As human rights activists, what can we do to spread the message that violence against women in conflict has to end? 

What a great question.  That is exactly what we are asking people to do: spread the message. I think human rights activists and advocates are crucial members of the Women, War & Peace audience. As broadcast journalists, one of our responsibilities is to investigate and uncover stories that may otherwise go unnoticed and to seek to give them a national and global platform through film and television and the web. The human rights activist community can broaden that platform, ensuring that the world hears these stories not only on their televisions and in their living rooms—not only on PBS—but also from the mouths of those working in the field and on the ground. One first step in ending violence against women is turning the world’s eye on this violence–growing the number of people who can bear witness to instances in which rape, attack, intimidation, and assassination of women is used as a deliberate tactic of war. The activist community can help us accomplish that.

Click here to read the full article

Documentary traces the journey of hair in India

from Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera’s Donata Hardenberg interviews filmmaker Raffaele Brunetti about his look at the cult of beauty in the era of globalization.

For centuries Hindu pilgrims have donated their hair in a ritual of purification. Today this hair has become a precious commodity and an extraordinary economic resource.

Hair India follows the journey of human hair from the holy temples of Southern India to the production lines of Europe and on to high class beauty salons around the world.

To watch a short documentary about the film and to read an interview with the filmmaker, click here

June 17th, 2011 at 5:35 am

God In America

God in America

God in America debuts on PBS

Since the days when the Puritan “city on a hill” beckoned on the horizon of the New World, religious faith and belief have forged America’s ideals, molded its identity and shaped its sense of mission at home and abroad.

For the first time on television, PBS’s new documentary series God in America explores the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life in America, from the first European settlements to the 2008 presidential election. The series details, with astonishing breadth, the role religion played and continues to play in shaping the United States culturally, politically and socially. Gathering together the foremost among historians, religious scholars and leaders, PBS examines how religion shaped the foundational documents and ideals of American government, how it informed passionate debates surrounding slavery and the Civil War, the ways religion was a driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement, the unique atmosphere of modern American religiosity, and everything in between.

As the Council begins its collaboration with Sacred Space International, we celebrate their contributions to this project, in which they provide resources for individuals and groups to engage the wonderfully diverse religious communities in several major U.S. cities through self-guided tours in conjunction with the God in America series.