Monday, May 11, 2009

Thoughts from a Toronto-screening audience member

Thoughts on the Film:
When I first watched the documentary on VisionTV (Canada's multifaith TV Channel), my first reaction was alarming and thought that this would create a lot of stir among people who are against the thoughts of Ismailis. Especially since the commentator states a lot about how Ismailis pray privately and without veils and divides of men & women. The reality is that this documentary is meant to educate everyone out there about a sect of Islam that has and is a sample of true Islam.

The movie also takes away the misconceptions (if any) regarding the sect that Aga Khan leads as the spiritual leader. There is a logical-systematic flow in the movie which also opens the minds of Ismailis themselves. I have been discussing the movie (piece by piece with my family, Ismaili friends, and Muslim and non-Muslim friends) and sharing my learnings that were triggered after watching this movie.

The Journey since its first release:
I then bought the DVDs and watched it with an 'outside-the-box' mindset and taking my being as an Ismaili identity out of my thoughts. I then realized that this documentary was made with intent to create dialogue and discussions. It tries to show how one of the sects of Islam is and how it has positioned itself. The facts are shared and stated. It is up to the viewers to delve deep, engage with it, and search for more knowledge.

My Wish & Hope:
Is that we have more of such documentaries with similar format and maybe a 'series' or chapter-by-chapter take on the Ismaili history. I take this current documentary as a synopsis and it gives way to future elaborated versions (era by era) to bring a dialogue of what Islam was and is.

-Salim Nensi

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

FILM, MUSIC AND MEDIA: Mediums for Political Expression in the Middle East Region

For those who live in Boston:

Mediums for Political Expression in the Middle East Region

Thursday, May 7th
4:00 – 6:30 PM

This public event will feature two documentary film makers, Shamir Allibhai and Jackie Salloum, and a screening of SLING SHOT HIP HOP (, a documentary on Palestinian Hip Hop artists in the Occupied Territories and Israel. The documentary will serve as a platform for discussion on the role of Hip Hop and film in fostering artistic and social agency, and creating a meaningful bridge between communities in different cultural and political situations. The film offers a window into the role music and media can play to create social networks, address political struggles, and harness technology in the formation of purpose driven cultures of social inquiry.

This event is sponsored by the Outreach Center, Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University & The Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Co-sponsors: the Society for Arab Students at Harvard, the Pluralism Project, and the Harvard Islamic Society.

CGIS South Building
1730 Cambridge Street
Ground Floor, Belfer Case Study Room (Room #S020)
Cambridge, MA 02138


4:00 – 4:35 pm Welcome and introduction to film, music and media and forums of political expression
  • Ben Williams (moderator), lecture series manager of the Islam in the West program at Harvard, MTS candidate at Harvard Divinity School.
  • Shamir Allibhai, producer of An Islamic Conscience: The Aga Khan and the Ismailis, founding member and Commercial Director of the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation.
  • Jackie Salloum, director of Sling Shot Hip Hop, which premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival-Documentary Competition.

4:35 – 6:00 pm Screening of SLING SHOT HIP HOP

6:00 – 6:30 pm Discussion of the film

*Refreshments will be served

** This event is sponsored by the Outreach Center, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Middle East Initiative and the Initiative on Contemporary State and Society in the Islamic World at the Harvard Kennedy School

Cosponsored by The Pluralism Project, Harvard Islamic Society and the Society for Arab Students, Harvard University.

Comments from the Toronto Screening Organizer

Posted as received from Tanya Panjwani, organizer of the Apr 30th, 2009 screening at York University, Toronto, Canada:

I still remember the day I heard about The Aga Khan Film, one of only two official documentaries made about His Highness in fifty years of his Imamat. I recall my friends excitedly ordering dvds for their families and friends, watching the film and discussing it amongst themselves, and even hearing about screenings happening all over the world, from Boston to Beirut, Atlanta to Africa. I also remember organizing a gathering of students about a year ago to watch both the 1961 and the recent film, to discuss the progress that has been made in the past fifty years, and to shed light on the Imam’s international recognition, especially in the context of the globalization phenomenon. It was incredible to see the amount of discussion and dialogue that the film sparked, because not only were we bouncing off ideas that were brought up in the film by various academics and members of the Ismaili community, but these ideas branched off into even more interesting discussions. It was then that I realized how powerful a medium film could be in creating awareness about a unique Muslim leader and his community, something that has not been tapped into until this documentary was made.

Little did I know that a year after our powerful discussion, Shamir Allibhai himself would grace us with his presence at York University. When I heard that Shamir was interested in premiering the film in Toronto at York University, I leaped at the chance to host the event. I knew that I wanted to share this film with the York community, and Toronto at large. Shamir and I kept in contact for a few weeks to prepare and organize the event, and finally the day arrived. I was surprised at what a great turnout we had, certainly a good mix of age groups, religious communities, and people of a variety of different ethnic backgrounds. Clearly news had spread amongst Ismailis too, because they occupied the majority of the audience, many commuting from all over Toronto to attend the event.

Watching the film was an exciting experience to share with such a large crowd, and brought to life many of the lived experiences of the Ismaili community and most of all, the Aga Khan. The best part of the event, though, was the Question and Answer session. I was overwhelmed with the amount of hands that went up when the session began. Professor Zulfikar Hirji, a professor of Anthropology and Islamic Studies here at York University, moderated the questions. People asked a variety of different questions, some thought-provoking and based on His Highness and the Ismaili community, and others about Shamir’s experiences and his personal journey in creating the film.

Overall, I believe the event accomplished its goal, which was not to create an all-encompassing idea of who the Aga Khan is or who the Ismailis are. Rather, it scratched the surface of the question, and posed even more questions that caused excitement, positive energy, and interest, sure to be spread even beyond the halls of York University. I remember one non-Muslim student approaching me at the end of the event, who claimed that though she had been studying Islamic studies for some time, she never knew that an Islam such as this existed. She was in awe of how little she was made aware of the Ismaili communities that exist all over the world, and while she knew about it in name, she felt that the film gave her a perspective that was beyond what she had learned in the classroom. This awareness that was being created seemed like only the beginning. While it has been over a year since the film was premiered, its impact is still echoed by countless voices, both Muslim and non-Muslim, in houses, theaters, and school halls all over the world.


Shamir's comments: Thank you very much, humbling and with gratitude. A lovely write-up.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Aga Khan Film on TV in British Columbia, Canada

The Aga Khan Film, under the title "The Aga Khan: A Voice of Reason" will be airing on the Knowledge Network in British Columbia, Canada in May:

May 12 8:00 PM The Aga Khan: A Voice of Reason Reveals how this shy and studious young man became one of the world’s most respected spiritual leaders.
May 13 12:00 AM The Aga Khan: A Voice of Reason Reveals how this shy and studious young man became one of the world’s most respected spiritual leaders.


Spread the word please.

Toronto Screening

I landed to a cloudy and rainy Toronto on Thursday, the day of the screening. My ride navigated the MapQuest printout in the midst of the chaos of traffic. We arrived 20 minutes late to the screening at York University but once the event got started, all went really well. The film is one hour long and I spent the four hours following answering questions. Yes, FOUR hours. And I write "four" in caps not because it was too much or too long but because it was a pleasant and unexpected surprise of how much enthusiasm, I interpreted, there still is for the film/my journey.

It was nice to see quite a few Torontonians who have been key supporters of the film from the outset. Akber Kassim-Lakha came to see the film (he featured in the film as the boy who was being advised by the Aga Khan in 1961). Akber was trying to make it to the world premiere at Harvard in Dec 2007 but an ice storm in Montreal prevented a timely arrival and thus he missed the first screening. This time, he weathered the weather to make it.

Some friends from college were also in the audience. It is always nice to have friends from a previous period in your life still standing by you. Distance and age can diminsh a friendship but hopefully not with your closest of closest friends.

The crowd was mainly Ismaili students from York but there was still a sizeable number of adults who must have commuted to see the film/Q+A. Dr Zukfikar Hirji, author of the Institute of Ismaili Studies' book the Illustrated History of the Ismailis moderated the Q+A and he fielded many questions such as 'what was the toughest part of my journey', 'how was it to interview the Aga Khan' and 'when is part 2 and part 3 coming out?!' A novel question I got was 'why did we have a Western voice narrate the film?' The answer I gave was because VisionTV, a funding broadcaster and the first channel to play the film on its networks, asked us to but also because the citizens of Western countries were my primary target audience with my premise try to to offer a counterbalance when so many documentaries are coming out in the West showing only violent elements in the Muslim World. This film is also for many other peoples, I said, and that is why we translated the film into 10 languages: so we could reach the widest audience possible.

After that moderated Q+A, many people came up to me afterwards to ask new questions or to follow-up on previous ones.

I hope the audience enjoyed the event as much as I did!