Thursday, November 27, 2008

Film Premiere Pictures - DRC - Day 2

Aga Khan Film - West Africa Premiere
The Democratic Republic of Congo - Day 2 - Oct 18, 2008

I started the day with local students speaking about filmmaking in general and the journey of the Aga Khan Film in particular. We also spoke about Islam, engaging with people of other faiths, and pursuits towards peace. The students were very bright and inquisitive, asking dozens and dozens of insightful questions. Many of these students came to the evening screening event to watch the film.

Day 2's premiere was mainly for Ismailis. The audience was at capacity with over 500 attendees.

Shafique, one of the organizers of the event.

Here I am, speaking to students about filmmaking

A promotion poster for the film in Gujarati - a base language for most DRC Ismailis

Buses were organized so that Ismailis could come straight from jamatkhane after prayers to the hall for the film screening.

Sayna, giving the introduction

Neemat, one of the organizers of the event.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Film Premiere Pictures - Democratic Republic of Congo - Day 1

Aga Khan Film - West Africa Premiere
The Democratic Republic of Congo - Day 1 - Oct 17, 2008

Hot on the heels of the Lebanon and Switzerland Premieres, I ended up in the DRC for the West Africa Premiere. There are about 1300 to 1500 Ismailis who live here, most of them originate from India.

Awhile back, Ismailis in the DRC had somehow got a hold of the Aga Khan Film and a group of them were especially keen to host a public screening of the documentary. They diligently planned and organized the event, including finding sponsorship and securing a venue. It wasn't until 2 weeks before the screening, when Neemat, one of the organizers, suggested that they should invite me, did I even get involved. To a large extent, this is exactly what I hoped for: people are moved and motivated to host screenings of the film - with or without me. They aspire to have the discussion and debate with regards to the issues the film touches on: Islam and plurality, the fragmentation of the Muslim World, and the Ummah and its relation with the West. And the supporters use their experiences, contacts, and resources to make it all happen.

The first screening was open to all including invites that went to ambassadors, elected officials, business people, academics, and government/embassy staff. Day 2 was a screening specifically for Ismailis.

See some of Day 1's pictures below.

DR Congo, a country struggling under a weight of conflicts, aspiring for peace

Ismaili volunteers who did a wonderful job with setting up, food prep, and cleaning up

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Switzerland - 6th week

The Aga Khan Film will be playing for the 6th week in Zurich again!

Next Screening: 12:30pm, Sunday,
November 16, 2008
- Zurich, Switzerland

Cinema Location:
Arthouse Commercio
Mühlebachstrasse 2
8008 Zürich

A Swiss Article, translated from German:

(translation was sent to me and some aspects seem to be lost in translation)

An interview with film producer Shamir Alibhai, whose documentary “The Aga Khan and the Ismailis” had its premiere last sunday.

Shamir Allibhai, for whom have you made this film?

Shamir Allibhai: This film project has been a long time concern of mine, and the necessity of it became more obvious in the past years, when the topic of fundamentalism became more and more acute with Islam so frequently being equated with the name „Bin Laden “.

The film addresses itself to a western public, to which I would like to show that the Islamic world represents a mosaic rather than a monolith. But naturally it addresses itself also to the east, were a lot about Islam but nearly nothing about the Ismailis is known.

In the film the commitment of the Aga Khan is represented as exemplary since he is building bridges between the Western and the Islamic world. Is his way the only possible way?

Shamir Allibhai, film producer: It would not be desirable to have only one facette of Islam. Islam is more than the Koran: Living this religion encompasses also culture and history – Islam is about pluralism. Also the bridging to the Western world can express itself in various shades. This is why the film is called „an Islamic Conscience “and not „the Islamic Conscience“. On the other hand the film deliberately illustrates the social projects initiated by the Aga Khan - as these can indeed be seen as role models.

The Aga Khan corresponds to the West expectations of an ideal dialogue partner representing the Muslim world. Is there no danger that he could be instrumentalized?

The Aga Khan leads the Ismaili community since more than 50 years, it would be naive to assume that he could be instrumentalized by current streams of Western politics. He has got his focus on a long-term commitment and is not so easily deterred from this.

His ways are very diplomatic. This is illustrated in the discrete way he expresses himself. He says: „There are friends and people, who are less well disposed“. And he works without seeking media attention. For example it took a whole year before he granted us an interview for this film.

Couldn’t this restraint also be a problem? Moderate voices of Islam cannot be heard often enough...

This restraint could also be a strategy of the Aga Khan. Perhaps the fact that he works behind the scenes is exactly one of the key elements of his success. He does not waste his energy by deliberately building up a media image. He gives his total committment to the social projects.

The film throws a critical light on the Sunni Muslims. These are nearly always portrayed as traditional, looking backwards and opposed to the Western ideal of the enlightened human being. This can hardly correspond to reality?

This is not totally correct. For example Imam Fiesal from New York, who is interviewed in the film, represents a moderate Sunni voice. Also it is not the goal of the film to illustrate all Islamic realities, but to outline the biography of an unusual man. And it is a historical fact that Ismailis who have been speaking up for tolerance and progress have been and are persecuted to this day.

The Aga Khan is considered as the only spiritual leader, who is relevant for the Ismaili Muslims. Do they see him as the manifestation of God on earth?

The devotion and love that the interviewed people have for the Aga Khan should not be understood in a way that they see him as the manifestation of god on earth. But they see how much he has done for them, and also how much he has sacrificed.

Where lies the hope for the Islamic world and the future?

I follow the analysis of the Aga Khan: Todays conflicts are not about a „Clash of Civilizations “, but about a „Clash of Ignorance “, we speak of a war, whose roots lie in ignorance. The solution for a peaceful and tolerant coexistence lies in education: Reading, learning, debating - there lies the chance for change, development and a hopeful future, also in the Islamic world.

Source: Panel discussion with Sara Leu, Managing director docufactory distribution, Shamir Alibhai, film producer and Arnold of the Hottinger, longtime correspondent of NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

4th week in a row - the Aga Khan Film in Zurich!

It is because you have spread awareness of the film by word-of-mouth plus with the help of positive press coverage that the Aga Khan Film has continued to screen in Zurich! There is a showing this Sunday, see the details below. Thank you and please keep spreading the word.

(At the bottom of the post, there is an icon that looks like an envelope: clicking on this will allow you to forward this message of the screening to your friends).

Next Screening: 12:30pm, Sunday,
November 2, 2008
- Zurich, Switzerland

Cinema Location:
Arthouse Commercio
Mühlebachstrasse 2
8008 Zürich

044 250 55 30

Bill Cran
Shamir Allibhai
Jane Chablani

The Aga Khan and the Ismailis
Ein Film von Bill Cran, Shamir Allibhai, Jane Chablani
Seit fünf Dekaden ist er der spirituelle Führer und Imam der Ismaili Muslime. Die Welt hat sich in dieser Zeit dramatisch verändert: Das letzte Jahrhundert brachte das Ende des Kolonialismus, die Vertreibung der Asiaten aus Uganda, den Fall der eisernen Mauer und 9/11.

Die Konflikteherde finden sich nicht nur zwischen Ost und West, sie ziehen sich auch durch die islamische Welt. Die Ismaeliten sind in der Vergangenheit mehrfach verfolgt worden. Dies hat ihre Geschichte und ihre Philosophie geprägt.

Wer ist der Aga Khan? Wer sind die Ismaeliten? Und was haben sie über unsere Post-9/11-Welt zu sagen? Im ersten Dokumentarfilm über den Aga Khan seit 45 Jahren geben der Regisseur und mehrfache Emmy-Gewinner Bill Cran und Produzent Shamir Allibhai dem Aga Khan eine Stimme.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Wonderful Two Weeks

I got back to Boston last Monday after two wonderful weeks of premiering the film in Lebanon, Switzerland, and the DR Congo in Arabic, German, and French respectively. (We also did a second screening in Congo in Gujarati). The next few posts will seem to be out of order, as probably the last few posts seem to be as well: I am trying to catch up on blogging and will focus on different aspects in no particular order.

One of the most interesting experiences was at the Beirut International Film Festival. I rarely meet Muslim filmmakers and if I do, it is very briefly with a quick exchange of e-mail addresses. At the film festival it was the first time I got to meet, in one place, so many Muslim filmmakers - and to really get to know them as we spent so much time together including at screenings, dinners, and evening events. One of the questions I was curious to answer and posed to my new friends : Are we Muslim filmmakers or are we filmmakers who happen to be Muslim? Watch for my post on this soon...

It was refreshing traveling where by circumstance, I could get away from the constant news coverage of the heated US Presidential race. I did see Colin Powell endorse Obama as it was big news overseas. Powell said something I have been thinking for months:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said such things as: "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is: he is not a Muslim. He's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is: No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can be president?"*

Well said Powell.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Picts from Switzerland - Part 2

Pictures from the Switzerland Premiere - Oct 12, 2008

Ticket from the Zurich screening

Arnold Hottinger speaking to his fans at the cinema in Basel

The gentleman on the left is a former classmate of Prince Amyn, the Aga Khan's brother. He and Prince Amyn were in the same year at school together and they still keep in touch.

The cinema in Basel

The Basel audience waiting for the show to begin.

The Berne audience waiting for the show to begin.

Islam Expert Prof Shulze and I after our Q+A period discussion at the Berne screening.

We realized that we actually had traveled together to Delhi, India in 2004 for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture which he was on the Master Jury of.

REINHARD SCHULZE is a German linguist and historian, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Berne, Switzerland, and Vice Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. He studied Islam, Latin languages, Arabic, and linguistics at the University of Bonn, and went on to teach at the Universities of Bochum, Bonn, and Bamburg before joining the University of Berne in 1995. Professor Schulze is interested in both the historical development and spread of Islam, and in its contemporary understanding and practice. His most important and recent work is “A Modern History of the Islamic World” (NYU Press, 2000), and he has published widely on the topics of social, economic, and political studies of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, including “The Birth of Tradition and Modernity in 18th and 19th Century Islamic Culture”, “International Islamic Organizations and the Muslims in Europe”, “Mass Culture and Islamic Culture Production in the 19th Century Middle East”, “The Forgotten Honor of Islam: The Muslim World in 1989”, and “Is there an Islamic Modernity?”.

Picts from Zurich, Switzerland

Switzerland Premiere - Oct 12, 2008

On the tram

The cinema in pretty Zurich

The queue for tickets to AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE in Zurich

Even in the midst of discussing serious and sensitive subjects, such as theology and religion, it is important to not forget the smiles and the laughters such as in this light-hearted moment above/below.

Looking at the Illustrated History of the Ismailis book

Friends and supporters at the Zurich screening

Azim, who hosted a pre-party the night before the screenings

I was surprised to meet an Afghan Ismaili in Zurich but apparently there are quite a few, such as the gentleman on my left. He said most don't understand English or read German so I gave him the film with Farsi subtitles to share with his friends and family.

Countess Leila Gangji showing us her photos with the Aga Khan's

Shamir Allibhai and Arnold Hottinger on their way to screening 2 (Basel)

Sara Leu (docufactory distribution) with the owner of the cinema in Zurich