Naveen Qayyum and the team of Talking Faith – Initiating a Dialogue About Faith

Our filmmaker for this month is Naveen Qayyum along with her team, thetalking-faith.jpg makers of Talking Faith – a documentary based in Pakistan which addresses the subject of interfaith dialogue by connecting it to post 9/11 geo-political realities. The film narrates the stories through young people, their perspectives and how they live their religious identities in the world of today. Talking Faith is Qayyum’s first attempt in filmmaking, as she had been writing about social justice issues, dialogue and minority rights previously. The film is funded and supported by World Youth Programme WCC for being focused on the insights and opinions of young people living in the modern day contexts of faith identities and dialogue. Here follows an interview with Naveen Qayyum, as she speaks about herself and the film.

1. What motivated you to work on Talking Faith? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

NQ: Talking Faith was conceived as part of my youth internship with the World Council of Churches in Geneva where I worked for interreligious dialogue as a communicator for one year. My living and travelling in Europe made me a lot more sensitive to the issue of Muslim minorities and the perception of Islam after 9/11. Being a non Muslim Pakistani, I was personally interested in the dynamics of religious minorities and how they get affected by the global political. I felt that the perceptions about Islam, Christianity and the West have become more stereotypical in the past few years, and unfortunately mainstream media has greatly contributed to these stereotypes. I felt that real human lives tend to get hidden behind the headlines of violence and fundamentalism. Therefore in order to challenge the stereotypes related to religious and national identities and to explore their complexities after 9/11 I developed the idea of Talking Faith. This is the very reason which motivated me to go back to Pakistan and document the stories of young people whose lives inspire positivism in faith dialogue.

2. Tell us a little bit about the film.

NQ: Talking Faith is a story of two college going friends Sarah and Azam in Pakistan, who happen to be Christian and Muslim. Their views show how after 9/11 the ‘war on terror’ has affected the lives of people in society, where Islam gets associated with militarism and Christian minorities face a backlash by the extremists. Their free spirited conversations and daily lives make it evident how they share so much despite of different faiths, which includes music, friendship and a human bond of commonalities. They exist under the shadow of divisions and tensions but live the hope of interfaith harmony and give dialogue a human face shared by all religions. Talking Faith also contains prominent voices of interfaith dialogue in Pakistan from both religious and secular arena. These actors of interreligious dialogue provide a political and historical reasoning to the divides discussed by the young people in the film. Talking Faith concludes itself by Imtiaz Ali, a Muslim violin player in church, who just appeared in front of the cameras by chance and spells out the theme of the film through his life, love for worship music, faith and simplicity.

3. Talking Faith has a narrative of young voices, and is made by young people. What was your experience as a debut filmmaker?

NQ: It was a very challenging experience in terms of technical expertise and budget constrains, however, meeting young people I interviewed for the film was so inspiring, that it made me keep on going. These young people were so honest and passionate that they agreed to share their opinions in front of the camera, which would otherwise be perceived as a controversial debate about religion and identity. Being a debut filmmaker Talking Faith also proved to be a great learning experience and a journey of discovering interreligious relations and dialogue for me. As I belong to the post 1970’s generation, we experienced the use of religion in the power politics by the military dictatorships. It was just another discovery how the vicious circle has continued till 9/11 and has promoted radicalism in society which are one result of the ‘war on terror’ in our neighbourhood.

5. How did you and the team get together?

NQ: Getting together for Talking Faith was also another encouraging and inspiring experience. As being a first time filmmaker I was supported by many friends and colleagues, some of which ended up forming the Talking Faith team. One person, who is not member of the crew but is the reason for the conception and development of the film is Natalie Maxson, the Youth Coordinator in WCC who made huge efforts to get the project funded. In production, one of the known experimental independent filmmakers in Pakistan, Farjad Nabi helped a great deal in the post production phase. Adan Ali, editor and Ahsan ul Haq, the camera person of Talking Faith both made a great contribution to the film. Anam Gill, my research assistant, who happened to be my niece, also made all the documentation and physical arrangements possible. Gustavo Bonato, a friend and a former colleague from Brazil managed the entire website and promoted the film on the internet. The Talking Faith team just happened to be a group of friends, among whom many volunteered their time and efforts for the film.

4. Tell us a little bit about independent filmmaking and filmmakers in Pakistan.

NQ: Pakistani media in the past few years have grown quite influential and independent as compared to the past. The recent years have seen a mushroom growth of independent television channels. In fact, television channels along with the press have played a huge role in weakening the political powers of military and empowering the civil society activism in their struggles for democracy. Therefore, despite of numerous pressures from governments and several suppressive media laws, many independent filmmakers in Pakistan have been able to produced brilliant films about crucial soc-political issues. Sabiha Sumar, Mehreen Jabbar, Farooq Rind are only few names among many independent filmmakers who produced significant feature and documentary films. The Kara Film Festival, which has gained the recognition for being one of the biggest regional film festivals now, has promoted several Pakistani independent and experimental filmmakers. Talking Faith will also be screened in the next Kara Film Festival, which has been postponed due to the security situation in Karachi last year.

6. What kind of a response are you getting from the viewers? Do you think Talking Faith has indeed initiated a dialogue?

talking-faith-poster.jpgNQ: Talking Faith has been screened in festivals and viewed online in countries like UK, US, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Nigeria, Sudan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Thailand, Nepal, India and Pakistan. Most of the comments and feedback that we have received are quite encouraging. And a great interest in the film has been received from US, where we even received emails from churches like the Plymouth Church who screened Talking Faith in their seminar on interreligious dialogue. Also one of the very conservative African churches showed interest in the film and screened the film for their congregations. The same response we received from many NGOs and secular organisations whose work is related to religion and dialogue. I feel Talking Faith has surely managed to initiate a dialogue, and the passionate debates of the students in the film are surely one sign of it. Yet it’s a continuing process and I hope that the debates initiated by the young people in Talking Faith manage to instigate dialogue among the viewers as well.

7. What will be your next project?

NQ: I am in a process of developing the idea to continue Talking Faith project. The second part of this project will aim to address the issue of European Muslim immigrants. This actually was the original idea, where we wanted to interview the Christian minorities in Pakistan along with Muslim minorities in UK. However due to limited funding we had to focus on Pakistan only. This time we aim to address and evaluate the Christian Muslim dialogue from the western perspective.

Find out more about Talking Faith on www.talkingfaith.org.

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Festival Updates: March

Festival Dates and Venue

The date and venue for the NJISACF 2008 have been finalized. The final dates are September 19th to 21st, 2008. On 19th,busch.jpg we will have the gala opening event, while the film screenings will be held on September 20th and 21st at the Rutgers Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey

NJISACF at Edison Public Library Free For All Mini Fest

The schedule for the NJISACF 2007 Traveling Film Festival at the Edison Public Library will be as follows:
April 9 2008, Wednesday at the South Edison Library (Main branch), 7.00 – 8:45pm
April 23 2008, Wednesday at the South Edison library (Main branch), 7.00 – 8:45pm
April 30 2008, Wednesday at the North Edison Library, 7.00 – 8:45pm.
For more information, contact the Main Library, 340 Plainfield Avenue, Edison, New Jersey 08817, PH: (732) 287-2298 or the North Edison Branch, 777 Grove Avenue, Edison, New Jersey 08820, PH: (732) 548-3045

Here goes the screening schedule:

9 April 2008, Wednesday at South Edison Library (Main Branch)

Dancing Kathmandu (Doc Feature) Czech Republic, Nepal/ 41 min/ English, Czech, Nepali
Director
: Sangita Shresthova

Sangita, a dancer of Czech-Nepali origin, journeys to Kathmandu to explore how practitioners in the Himalayan kingdom negotiate Nepal’s dance traditions in a period of rapid cultural change. In her attempts to map the current situation of dance in Kathmandu valley, she encounters her own teachers as well as younger dancers currently finding their way. Dancing Kathmandu tells stories of nostalgia, passion and survival through dance and dancers in the age of globalization.

Cosmopolitan (Narrative Feature) USA/ 53 min/ English

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Indian-born Gopal is shocked when his wife and daughter desert him in the American suburb he has called home for twenty years. Alone for the first time in his life, Gopal turns to women’s magazines and the Bollywood films of his youth for advice on navigating a romance with his next door neighbor, Mrs. Shaw. Cast: Roshan Seth, Madhur Jaffrey, Kal Penn.

23 April Wednesday. 2008 at South Edison Library (Main Branch)

Little Terrorist (Narrative Short) India/ 15 min/ Hindi Director: Ashvin Kumar

Nominated for Oscar at the 2005 Academy Award and winner of many prestigious international awards, this short film tells the story of a 10 year old Pakistani boy who crosses the border with no way of getting back.


Holly Bolly (Narrative Short) UK / 13 min / English

Director: Dishad Hussain

Two young filmmakers Obi and Dil like making non-mainstream films but they just can’t get funding for them. Unluckily for them, Big Al is the only man in town willing to give the boys money – but money to make a ‘Big Al’ film. His dream is to make the ultimate cross-genre flick, a mix of Cockney Gangster and Indian Bollywood.

Naamkoron / Naming Ceremony ( Narrative Short) India/ 15 min/ Bengali Director: Konkona Sen Sharma

A family of pickpockets in Kolkata and a naming ceremony full of novelty.

Pria (Narrative Short) Canada/ 12 min/ English, Hindi
Director
: Theodore Bezaire

In hope of impressing the object of her affection, 15-year-old Pria tries to lose her heavy South Asian accent by imitating lines from her favorite movies.

Toba Tek Singh (Narrative Short) USA, India/ 18 min/ English, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi
Director
:
Afia NathAniel

It is 1947. The newly created governments of India and Pakistan wish to exchange lunatics. Bishan Singh, a Sikh lunatic in Pakistan, wants to know whether his hometown, Toba Tek Singh, has gone to India or Pakistan. No one seems to know. A search for an identity in a world gone suddenly mad.

30 April 2008, Wednesday at North Edison Library

Viva Liberty (Narrative Short) UK/ 20 min/ English
Producer
: Dishad Husain, Director: Dishad Husain

This award-winning short film is a dark comedy about a British Muslim whose holiday in America takes a detour to a detention facility called Camp Liberty.

Gandhi at the Bat (Narrative Short) Canada/ 11 min/ English Director: Stephanie Argy, Alec Boehm

Based on a short story by Chet Williamson that originally appeared in New Yorker in 1983, the film is a faithful recreation of a 1930s-style newsreel. This movie includes over 75 shots, which transform the actual shooting location into a faithful recreation of Yankee stadium as it was over seventy years ago.


1001 Auditions (Narrative Short) USA/ 26 min/ English Director: Arun Singh

After years of ups and downs, countless auditions and struggling to make it happen in New York, Meera realizes her true karma.

Red Roses (Doc Short) USA/ 17min/ English, Bengali, Hindi Directors: Madhuri Mohindar and Vaishali Sinha

Set in a South Asian beauty parlor in the Queens borough of New York City, ‘Red Roses’ is a sociological portrait of women negotiating between the cross currents of two cultures. This gender-oriented film is an exploration of how most South Asian women who come to the United States via marriage and family obligations seek to assert their individuality and freedom within their new cultural environment.

NJISACF at Bridgewater Public Library

The schedule for the NJISACF 2007 Traveling Film Festival at the Bridgewater Public Library will be as follows:
April 12 2008, Saturday at the Bridgewater Public Library, 1.30 – 4:30 pm

Here is the screening schedule:

Little Terrorist
Narrative Short / India / 15 min / Hindi

Director : Ashvin Kumar

Nominated for Oscar at the 2005 Academy Award and winner of many prestigious international awards, this short film tells the story of a 10 year old Pakistani boy who crosses the border with no way of getting back.

Whose Children Are These
Documentary Feature / USA / 27 min / English

Director : Theresa Thanjan

The award-winning film provides a glimpse into the post 9/11 world of three youngsters impacted by the federal policy of Special Registration and prejudice in the USA.

Viva Liberty
Narrative Short / UK / 20 min / English

Director : Dishad Husain

This award-winning short film is a dark comedy about a British Muslim whose holiday in America takes a detour to a detention facility called Camp Liberty.

The Goodbye Man
Narrative Short / Pakistan / 14 min / English, Urdu

Director : Mridu Chandra

Imran Butt is a young Pakistani office worker caught in a soul-crushing, dead-end job at an international service center in Lahore. Having reached the end of his rope, Imran makes the drastic but seemingly logical decision to take control of his life once and for all – by ending it.

One Long Night
Narrative Short / India / 17 min / Hindi

Director : Sanjeev Tiwari

“One Long Night” is a story about the desperation to see a dawn that will signal the end of a darkness representative of scarcity, helplessness, and a losing battle for identity. This desperate bid is a metaphor for the eternal struggle between hope and despair. This is one long night indeed.

1001 Auditions
Narrative Short / USA / 26 min / English

Director : Arun Singh

After years of ups and downs, countless auditions and struggling to make it happen in New York, Meera realizes her true karma.

Toba Tek Singh
Narrative Short / USA, India / 18 min / English, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi

Director : Afia NathAniel

It is 1947. The newly created governments of India and Pakistan wish to exchange lunatics. Bishan Singh, a Sikh lunatic in Pakistan, wants to know whether his hometown, Toba Tek Singh, has gone to India or Pakistan. No one seems to know. A search for an identity in a world gone suddenly mad.

Gandhi At the Bat
Narrative Short / Canada / 11 min / English

Directors : Stephanie Argy, Alec Boehm

Based on a short story by Chet Williamson that originally appeared in New Yorker in 1983, the film is a faithful recreation of a 1930s-style newsreel. This movie includes over 75 shots which transform the actual shooting location into a faithful recreation of Yankee stadium as it was over seventy years ago.

Pria
Narrative Short / Canada / 12 min / English, Hindi

Director : Theodore Bezaire

In hope of impressing the object of her affection, 15-year-old Pria tries to lose her heavy South Asian accent by imitating lines from her favorite movies.

Red Roses
Documentary Short / USA / 17 min / English, Bengali, Hindi

Directors : Madhuri Mohindar and Vaishali Sinha

Set in a South Asian beauty parlor in the Queens borough of New York City, ‘Red Roses’ is a sociological portrait of women negotiating between the cross currents of two cultures. This gender oriented film is an exploration of how most South Asian women who come to the United States via marriage and family obligations seek to assert their individuality and freedom within their new cultural environment.

Call for Submission, NJISACF 2008

We have already announced our call for submission for NJISACF 2008. Check out http://www.njisacf.org for the submission guidelines and the entry form.

Invitation for Volunteers

NJISACF is run solely by volunteers. No matter what your experience or background is, you can be a part of our team and contribute to the success of this event. If you are interested in volunteering, please send us an email to volunteers@njisacf.org or call 732-310-0236.

Film from Pakistan to be Released in India

khuda-ke-liye.jpgApril 4, 2008 will be a notable day in the history of India and Pakistan, when Khuda ke Liye (In the Name of God), an Urdu film from Pakistan, directed by Shoaib Mansoor, will release theatrically all over India. A film that sensibly portrays the turmoils of Muslims in a post 9/11 world, Khuda ke Liye deals with the rift between radical and liberal Islam, an issue that confronts India’s 140 million Muslims as well while they fight charges that the community provides recruits for militant groups. Director Shoaib Mansoor hopes the Urdu film will engage audiences in India. “It is the first Pakistani film (in India) after several decades, so people should have a natural interest in it,” said Mansoor, “India has a very big Muslim population which should naturally be interested. And the non-Muslims (would want) to know what real Islam is.” The much celebrated and critically acclaimed Mansoor is not only a director but also a composer, producer and a writer.

Khuda Kay Liye’ weaves together three stories — of a pop singer who comes under the influence of Islamic extremists, a Briton of Pakistani origin who is forcibly married to her cousin and a man illegally detained in the US after the September, 11 attacks. Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah appears in a cameo in the film, as a Muslim scholar.

Biju Viswanath’s Irish Film based on Poems

For all of us, who remember and loved the closing film of NJISACF 2007, Mahotsav (Grand Festival) biju-vishwanath.jpgby Biju Viswanath, here is a bit of good news! The cinematographer-cum-director from Thiruvananthapuram is back with two new films – Sojourn, an Irish Indian co-production based on the literary works of Irish poet Celia de Friene, (check out some clips from the film on Biju’s webpage, http://www.bijuviswanath.com/showreel/) and Parwaaz, a short film based on an Urdu poem by poet Abha Iyengar ( you can watch the clip on the poet’s website at http://www.abhaiyengar.com/video.htm).

Based on six poems by Celia de Friene, Sojourn is shot exclusively in Ireland with an all-Irish crew, and scripted by the poet herself along with Biju Viswanath. Produced under the banner of Indibhid, the film has been shot in Dublin, Connemara and Galway and has in the cast Irish actors Mary Murphy, Katherine Graham and Laura Mac Carthy.

Here is a feel of Biju’s poetry on screen:

Richie Mehta Creates Modern Day Fable with Amal

amal.jpegSometimes, the poorest of men are the richest. So says the tagline of Richie Mehta’s latest film, Amal. Filmed in New Delhi and with an impressive cast of Naseeruddin Shah, Roshan Seth, Seema Biswas, Rupinder Nagra, Tanisha Chatterjee and Koel Purie, Amal has been described as a modern day fable, which attempts to seek the meaning of success, and how the meaning of success can change from person to person. Based on a short story by Richie Mehta and Shaun Mehta, and produced by David Miller and Steven Bray of Poormans Productions, Amal has been widely appreciated. After Deepa Mehta, Richie Mehta is only the second Canadian Indian director to unveil his first feature at the Toronto Film Festival. Mehta has been solidifying his role as a serious up-and-coming filmmaker for years, and been mentored by industry legends such as Wim Wenders, Shekhar Kapur and Brian DePalma. We had screened one of his excellent short films, All Roads Lead to Here at the NJISACF 2007, which had been appreciated by all of our viewers.

World’s Youngest Director from India Wins Awards in International Cairo Film Festival

care-of-footpath.jpgMaster Kishen has bagged three international awards at the 18th Cairo International Film Festival for children for his film Care of Footpath– the international long and short film competition section selected by the children’s international jury, the special international jury award, and the prestigious Alexandria International Film Festival Award instituted by the Journalists Syndicate of Egypt. Master Kishen is the Guinness world record holder for being the youngest director of “Care of Footpath” at the tender age of 11. Earlier, the youngest film director and child prodigy had left for Cairo on a special invite from the Ministry of Culture, on behalf of the Cairo government.

Care of Footpath has previously won numerous awards, as well as honor of being the opening film at the Cyprus international film festival in the non-competitive section and the closing film at the Bhutan international film festival. It also won the best film award at Children Oscar at Giffoni film festival and the Silver Elephant for best child actor at the Hyderabad Children Film festival.