Our filmmaker for this month is Naveen Qayyum along with her team, the 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?
NQ: 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.