“Filmmakers’ lenses never even blink” by Jack Garner, Democrat and Chronicle

Filmmakers’ lenses never even blink
By Jack Garner, Friday June 6, 2008

Let’s celebrate two movies by local filmmakers that are tackling important topics too often ignored elsewhere. Each film spotlights an underappreciated and misunderstood segment of our society:

The Muslims I Know by Mara Ahmed examines the lives and attitudes of the many moderate Muslims who are our neighbors, fellow workers, physicians and classmates.

American Harvest by Angelo Mancuso follows the migrant worker population as it works its way up the East Coast each season, making itself responsible for much of the food on our table.

In The Muslims I Know, Ahmed melds a series of insightful interviews, conducted largely in this area, with a good mix of archival footage. Home movies that reflect a family-next-door existence stand in marked contrast to news and propaganda footage of the Islamic extremists who, unfortunately, get the lion’s share of attention in our media.

Though she has an extensive education in a variety of fields, Ahmed was trained as a filmmaker at Visual Studies Workshop and at Rochester Institute of Technology, and worked two years compiling this important, eye-opening film about the realities of Islamic life and belief. The result is colorful and well-shot by veteran local cinematographer Thom Marini. It also features an appealing background blend of Pakistani, Islamic and Western music.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to see her hourlong film, and hope it achieves broad exposure, for it’s just the antidote we all need to the narrow-minded attitudes of the West in the post-9/11 era.

The Muslims I Know will have its world premiere at 1 p.m. Sunday at the George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker and some of the interview subjects. Admission is $10.

Mancuso’s American Harvest has had area screenings, including one at the recent Rochester High Falls International Film Festival, but now it’s earned a regular opening slot for at least a week at the Little Theatre. Mancuso, who has long been active locally as a writer, filmmaker and critic, brings considerable passion to his feature-length documentary. The film examines the undeniable importance of migrant labor to farming in America, and it raises important questions about the current hot-button topic of illegal immigration.

American Harvest opens tonight. Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. screening will be followed by a conversation with Mancuso; Jim Allen, head of the New York Apple Association Inc.; and Sister Janet Korn, social justice awareness coordinator for Catholic Charities.

“The Muslims I Know” by Dayna Papaleo, City Newspaper

the muslims i know

FILM: “The Muslims I Know” (6/8)
By Dayna Papaleo on Jun. 4th, 2008

I hate to blow the ending of a movie, but the Muslims that local filmmaker Mara Ahmed knows are pretty much like the people of faith that you know, cherishing family, tradition, knowledge, and peace. The difference is that your Christian, Jewish, and Druid pals haven’t been subjected to intense scrutiny for most of this young century, so Ahmed’s reflective, graceful debut picks up where the press repeatedly leaves off, depicting what’s known as the moderate Muslim. In “The Muslims I Know,” Ahmed weaves vivid images of her Pakistani culture through dialogue with a cross-section of Rochester’s Muslim community about their experiences, as well as perspectives from scholars on the teachings of Islam. Ahmed also speaks to non-Muslims about their often biased preconceptions, in large part due to the American media because, as summed up by a sharp young man named Ibrahim, “Terrorism sells.”

“The Muslims I Know” has its world premiere at the George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre, 900 East Avenue, on Sunday, June 8, at 1 p.m. Tickets cost $10, and are available at the door, or in advance at all Wegmans locations. Visit themuslimsiknow.com for further details.

clip from “the muslims i know”

check out a clip from the 60-minute documentary “the muslims i know”:

for those of you who don’t know about the film, here’s a little write up:

If you yahoo the words “moderate Muslim” today you will get more than 8 million hits on the internet. This interest is the result of a post-9/11 Western world trying to make sense of Islam and its followers. The need to identify militant jihadists by distinguishing them from moderate Muslims has cast suspicion on all Muslims in America. Stereotypes are becoming well-entrenched. The purpose of this 60-minute documentary is to deconstruct those stereotypes by showcasing Pakistani American immigrants and asking them questions many non-Muslim Americans have framed through vox pop interviews. The aim is to start a dialogue.

A secondary goal is to educate people about the basic tenets of Islam and celebrate the cultural richness and diversity brought into the American mix by Muslim communities. Footage shot in Lahore, Pakistan, is used to bring this cultural exuberance to life.

Finally, the film answers the question: where are the moderate Muslims? This question is asked to ridiculous excess by the media. The silence (and therefore culpability) of the moderates is still a hot button issue today, seven years after September 11, 2001. By simultaneously asking, “Where are the moderate Muslims” ad nauseum and then excluding them from public discourse, we are slowly coming to the conclusion that there are no moderates. All Muslims are radicals. This is a dangerous conclusion to impose on the American public.

“The Muslims I Know” attempts to redress this imbalance by giving mainstream Muslims a voice and a face – something not often seen in American media.

screening of “the muslims i know” – a nywift event

on jan 10, 2008, my rough cut was screened as a new york women in film and television event, at my house. there was food and drink and a good showing of people – mostly filmmakers and some friends. we watched the film in my basement and afterwards there was some time for comments and feedback. the response was tremendous. many in the audience said that they had learned a lot during this one hour screening. others appreciated the artistic elements in the film – the lahore collage and the bucolic scenes and artsy cafes depictive of rochester and its environs. all in all, for me as the filmmaker, it was a much heartening experience. some of the suggestions that were made were good and put me in the right frame of mind to complete my final edit. after this it’s more cleaning up by my assistant editor, the addition of some animation, the finalization and re-recording of my narration, the completion and inter-cutting of an original musical score, copyright issues, and then the final professional polishing. so much to do and very little time. goal: submit documentary to highfalls film festival jury by mid february. just gotta keep slogging away at it – i’m almost there!

RIT screening

the first part of my documentary “the muslims i know” was screened at the carlson auditorium, at rit, today. it was exciting to see the first 30 minutes of my film on screen. it was also interesting to see the audience’s reaction to it. it all went well. i got a lot of questions from the audience and some feedback from malcolm spaull, howard lester and other rit film faculty. i was extremely pleased by the interest the film generated and the many comments that continued after the screening, when many of the students and some faculty approached me to talk about it. people liked the lahore collage i had put together to show the vibrance and beauty of my hometown. they also liked the muslims i had interviewed and with whom they felt a connection – the connection was different for different people but it was definitely there.

there is still a lot of work ahead of me if i want to get the film ready by february 2008 for the highfalls film festival, but during the last 11 weeks at rit (in cat ashworth’s documentary workshop class) i have gone from 30 hours of unedited footage and transformed that hodge podge into a story. cat’s input and help have been invaluable to me. not only is she an astute filmmaker but she is incredibly generous with her time and all the resources at her disposal. it has been a very hectic, sleep-deprived but also a wonderfully productive 11 weeks.

clip from “the muslims i know” coming soon…

yert.com (your environmental road trip)

while shooting our documentary about moderate muslims in america, my friend (and cameraman) jae wilson and i met mark dixon and ben evans at spot coffee, downtown. this was last year. they were filming their own documentary called your environmental road trip. in their own words, “it’s a year-long eco-expedition through all 50 united states. with video camera in hand and tongue in cheek, we’re exploring the landscape of america’s unique approach to environmental sustainability”. we interviewed them and they interviewed us. they wanted to shoot outdoors. it was late at night and painfully cold. i was telling them how i’m allergic to hummers. they used a tiny bit of that conversation in this video clip. check them out at www.yert.com . they’re funny and what they have to say is important.

my first post ever

so i am an artist and filmmaker and i’m presently working on a documentary about mainstream muslims, which is most muslims out there. the only problem is that they’re completely invisible. when you can do a story about gun-toting terrorists and their burqa-wielding better halves why bother with the vast majority of us who are just like everybody else? well, i bothered. maybe because i can feel the frustration of being invisible or maybe it’s just that i’m tired of being represented by people i cannot relate to. whether it’s the raggedy suicide bomber or the westernized muslim “insider” who’s made a cottage industry out of denouncing islam – i have problems with both.

an essential part of getting to know muslims on film is getting to know non-muslims first. the film has to acquire the form of a dialogue. i wanted to survey a cross section of non-muslim americans and ask them what they thought about islam and muslims in general. i wanted them to frame the questions i was going to pose to muslim interviewees. to this end i went to starry nites cafe today along with thom marini, my cinematographer. customer traffic was disappointingly slow but we got a few people to do a vox pop. vox populi is latin for “voice of the people”. it’s a technique used in documentary filmmaking to gauge popular opinion by asking a large number of random people the same question and aggregating their responses. thom and i filmed for about 3 hours and got some interesting questions. many women wanted to know about female subjugation in islam. one woman made a brief but cogent statement that was so wonderfully phrased i’m tempted to use it as a closing. the sun was out and we had plenty of light inside the cafe, which is visually stunning anyway. it was all good.

van gogh’s starry night