The story of the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. Who are they and how did they come to be? And what do they have to say in this ever-divided world? Shamir Allibhai's journey with AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. Film website: http://www.agakhanfilm.org
Monday, December 31, 2007
TV vs. DVD
I have been getting this question quite a bit. For starters, the DVD film is 33% longer as it is just over 60 minutes. The TV film is 46 minutes to fit a television hour on Vision's slot with its commercials.
Secondly, I would see the DVD version as more film-like letting the pictures tell the story more often than the TV version does. This is because the TV documentary is shorter and needs to tell the same information in less time, the narration has to push the story along faster.
Finally, I hope the DVD version is one for the shelves...well not that it sits on the shelf but that it is a record and has a shelf-life. Entertainment is part of the objective of the film but I hope it is equally educational through the enjoyment. Part of this can come through the loads of DVD extras such as the full interview with the Aga Khan and others. As the executive producer Bill Nemtin believes, a good film is just the tip of the iceberg. Well said!
And what about the piracy?
I am quite optimistic. Though there is piracy of films such as that of community-related ones, I am under the impression it is because there is a shortage of timely supply or simply its availability. It is analogous to before record companies allowed for their music to be sold on the Internet - there was much illegal mp3 file sharing. With iTunes and the like, piracy has gone down significantly. People want choice at a fair price in a convenient manner. And usually the DVD distribution window is months after a film goes out on TV. We have endeavored to expedite this process to give people the film as soon as possible. Will there still be piracy? Yah probably, sadly. But I hope most people will be fair and ethical (my idealism is probably why I pursued filmmaking)!
Best wishes for the new year and safe celebrating!
Friday, December 28, 2007
One week to go
There is a mix of feelings but mostly its excitement. Part of me still doesn't even believe it is really happening!! 2 years of day in, day out and the documentary will finally be ready for a mass audience.
We are working on securing other broadcasters now, will keep everyone posted...
Friday, December 14, 2007
AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE - Op Ed
Opinions - KSG Citizen, Harvard University
By Shamir Allibhai, MTS
For years, the Western world has watched atrocities committed in Islam’s name from New York to Baghdad, from Kabul to Bali, and the same perplexing questions keep getting asked: “Why can’t Muslims just accept democracy? Why do so many Muslims kill in the name of religion?” A survey of Muslims would surely yield some interesting answers – but no answer would be complete without a discourse on Muslim leadership.
An important, but often misunderstood, form of Muslim leadership is the office of the imam, often stereotyped as a hate-preaching, anti-Western cleric with a prominent beard and the Quran in-hand. While we often see religious figures (not just Muslim ones) being demonized and discredited by the media, what we often misunderstand is the scope of their influence.
In both the Sunni and Shia traditions of Islam, the role of the imam is to interpret the faith to those who refer to him and to do all within his means to improve the quality and security, of their everyday lives. In the same way that a Christian or a Jew might refer problems and anxieties to a priest or rabbi, the Muslim confides in his imam. If a Muslim fears for his life or for the lives of his family, he will refer his fears to his imam. And the imam is obliged to instill faith, hope and courage in his followers and, at the same time, work for their protection and material progress.
Now situate the role of imams in the context of Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other Muslim land where there is widespread poverty, illiteracy, lack of opportunity, and inadequate healthcare, along with perpetual fears of instability and violence. We all know that millions upon millions of Muslims live in deplorable social and economic conditions, but we might not understand that for all Muslims, faith and worldly life are inextricably linked. In times of difficulty, Muslims place their hopes in their imam and their trusts in Allah (God). And where hope is lacking, where life seems too unbearable, there is always the more comforting prospect of eternal rest in a sensual, peaceful paradise – hence the path chosen by suicide bombers.
How do imams deal with the plethora of social problems, especially in the absence of state support or external funding? Some build schools and hospitals. Some build institutions of civil society. And some build militias. What does not exist is a platform to bring imams together into dialogue, consensus, and collaboration in the quest for stability and progress. The absence of such a platform results from the struggle for power within Muslim countries and the marginalization of religious figures by secular governments. In order to tackle these issues, we must first deal with our own prejudices with respect to religious leadership.
Whether or not religion should have any place in civic matters and public life is not up for debate in most Muslim countries. And so the political leaders of tomorrow, many of whom will graduate from KSG, must to prepare themselves to deal with Muslim leaders who do not separate faith from the domains of politics and social progress. Fortunately, there are progressive Muslim leaders who engage in quiet diplomacy, promote inclusive forms of development, support civil society and democratic processes and live exemplary lives in selfless service to others. One such leader is His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims and a descendant of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
His inspiring story is the subject of a documentary I produced, “An Islamic Conscience: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis,” which premiered in the JFK, Jr. Forum on Monday. The Aga Khan has persevered for fifty years to focus on common humanity, namely through his secular development organization the Aga Khan Development Network.
The documentary aims to use the story of the Aga Khan as a catalyst to re-examine stereotypes of Muslims and Islamic leaders in particular. It is a story that speaks to the diversity and plurality of Islam and explores ways to bridge not just the Muslim and non-Muslim divide, but the divide within the Muslim World itself. I encourage my classmates to watch the documentary in hopes it cultivates a wider understanding of the Muslim world and its complicated leadership.
“An Islamic Conscience: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis” can be found at www.agakhanfilm.org.
And sorry its just been such a crazy time - tomorrow, I promise I will post something more interesting here as I should be able to get a hold of my op-ed piece...
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Our Own Facebook Application!
Check us out on Facebook and become a "Fan" so can you receive the update on this when it launches....
A Film for Muslims and non-Muslims alike
"I’m so glad to hear that the premiere went well, despite the weather. Jessica Sequiera’s review is very positive. Thank you for portraying the peace-loving side of the Muslim community. As I talk about Islam to people and hear their responses, to point out the fact that there are many moderate thoughtful Muslims seems so important to me. If we don’t do this, especially when the radicals create more and more mayhem, the potential stereotyping will create tremendous difficulties. It’s so good you take this view. And I am sure your film will help. "
There have been many more positive comments from people all over the world - we are humbled at the responses. Thank you.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
AND WE ARE LIVE!
Dear colleagues, friends, and supporters
DVD ordering: www.agakhanfilm.org/buy_now.asp
Next screening: www.agakhanfilm.org/screenings.asp
Full website is now up with story details, bios, and much more: www.agakhanfilm.org
For many years now, we have heard commentators associating Islam with extremism and for many of us, those who are Muslim and even those who are not, we are concerned as to how the faith of over 1 billion people is being misinterpreted.
Some years ago, I heard a Muslim leader say, "Stand up... Speak openly and frankly about what is our interpretation of Islam. Speak about the fraternity and the peace and the respect that we wish from society and we wish to offer society. Speak of the discipline, of the humility, of the care that Islam teaches us." I believe he was speaking of the conscience of Islam and with his words in heart, I believed it was time to make a documentary about Muslims who respect religious pluralism and live by the principles of peace, tolerance, compassion, generosity, dialogue and forgiveness, above all else.
I also wanted to make a film about Muslim leadership, responding to what some have called an 'authority deficit' in the Muslim world. The image too often seen in newspapers, and on television, is that of ranting and raving, anti-Western clerics. But we hardly hear of progressive Muslim leaders who engage in quiet diplomacy, promote inclusive forms of development, and live exemplary lives in selfless service to others. This essentially is the story of His Highness the Aga Khan and the community of Muslims he leads, the Ismailis.
Last week, the film, AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis, which we started two years ago, involved production in nine countries all over the world, and is directed by multiple Emmy-award winning filmmaker Bill Cran and Jane Chablani, had its debut at Harvard University at the invite of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. We are very happy at how well our launch went with such a great turnout by many people of many different backgrounds.
People there asked me if it was a relief to finally finish this project to which I responded, the journey of making the film has ended but now the journey of getting the film seen and distributed with all its messages begins. I hope you will join me by getting your friends and colleagues to watch the film and to help show the plurality of Islam and a side of peace and tolerance not too often covered in the mainstream media.
Many of you have been asking if the film will be available on DVD: It will be available in limited numbers initially packaged with DVD extras. To place your order, go to: www.agakhanfilm.org/buy_now.asp
Also the next chance to catch the film will be in Canada on television:
Jan 4, 2008 – Vision TV - 9PM EST
The broadcaster has the choice of what they would like to call the film and in Canada, Vision TV is calling our documentary The Aga Khan: A Voice of Reason. This broadcast will be 25% shorter than the DVD film so as to fit into a television hour with its commercials.
On behalf of the entire team, we hope you enjoy the film and we thank you for your continued support.
PS - The films are being distributed as a not-for-profit with the profits going to a charity TBD but ideally one that is focused on helping to bridge the Muslim – non-Muslim world divide. If you run a charity that you think we should support, please let us know. firstname.lastname@example.org
AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis
60 mins – http://www.agakhanfilm.org
Directors: Bill Cran / Jane Chablani
Producer: Shamir Allibhai
Executive Producers: Bill Nemtin / Clive Syddall / Andrea Nemtin
Consultants: Dr. Ali Asani / Dr. Malise Ruthven
Monday, December 10, 2007
Full Website Launch
Working on computers like this all day is starting to make my vision go blurrrrrry.....
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Harvard's newspaper: Documentary Depicts Life Of Islamic Leader
Documentary Depicts Life Of Islamic Leader
The hour-long film, “An Islamic Conscience: The Aga Khan and the Ismailis,” depicted the spiritual leader’s message of religious tolerance as well as his heavy funding of development organizations in Asia and Africa to help eliminate poverty, to support women’s rights, and to promote Islamic art and architecture.
“In a post-9/11, post-London bombing world, we really need to examine the plurality of Islam,” said Shamir Allibhai, the documentary’s producer and a student at Harvard Divinity School. “Right now, there’s a lot of media coverage of Islam associated with terrorism and extremism. This project looks at a different side of things.”
In contrast with other Shia sects, Ismailis believe that the Aga Khan is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed and trust in his interpretation of the faith. The documentary discusses the history of the Ismailis and the policies of the three previous Aga Khans. The current Aga Khan, Prince Karim al-Husayn, also appears in the film to reiterate the importance of tolerance during times of conflict.
The film screening was followed by a panel discussion with Alibhai, Emmy award-winning director Bill Cran, Islamica Magazine deputy editor Firas Ahmad, and Professor of Indo-Muslim Languages and Culture Ali Asani.
Cran, whose previous documentary was about jihad and al Qaeda, said that although he worried this documentary might be less “edgy” because it was so positive, it had to be made.
“The prejudice in our world is so extreme that we have to convey the simple fact that not all Muslims are extremists,” Cran said.
During the question and answer session, panelists responded to criticism of the film as portraying Sunni Muslims as aggressors and Shia Ismaili Muslims as a “rational” minority, which led to a debate over the role of journalists in propagating religious stereotypes.
Many viewers said they were impressed by the project’s attempt to portray a more tolerant side of Islam.
“It was a good introduction that broke the ice to understanding some of the problems of communication between the West and Islam,” said visiting Brown University freshman Areebah Ajani. “But I still think we have a long way to go.”
For Allibhai, who is himself an Ismaili, the documentary embodies a personal desire to promote change.
“This is a passion project on a number of different levels,” said Allibhai. “We hope the story of Aga Khan serves as a catalyst for people to rethink Islam.”
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
THE WORLD PREMIERE
We thought the snow and weather would have held people back - the Forum was packed! Thank you to all that attended (especially to those who had to stand) and to all the friends and family who flew in!
More to come....
Monday, December 3, 2007
It has come down to the wire...
But its now all fine and we are good to go for the premiere!
Time for some sleep....
Friday, November 23, 2007
..the WORLD premiere at Harvard!
An Islamic Conscience: The Aga Khan and the Ismailis
JFK Jr. Forum, Kennedy School of Government
To be followed by a Panel Discussion on the themes of religious tolerance, pluralism, and positive social change with:
Jocelyne Cesari , Director of the Islam in the West Program (Center for Middle Eastern Studies)
Firas Ahmad : Deputy Editor of Islamica Magazine (KSG '05)
Ali Asani : Professor of the Practice of Indo-Muslim Languages and Culture (Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations)
Bill Cran : Emmy Award-Winning Director
Shamir Allibhai : Filmmaker and Producer (HDS '09)
This event is cosponsored by the Divinity School, Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, the Islam in the West Program, and the Kennedy School Muslim Caucus. For more information about the film, please go to www.agakhanfilm.org. For more information about the event, please contact Kamron Mitchell ( Kamron_Mitchell@harvard.edu).
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
And I am about to complete my first feature documentary! The topic chosen was not the easiest for a first feature but I believed it is a subject that absolutely needed to be told on film.
In grade 10 (ages ago it feels like now!) in one of my first media/film classes, I wondered why no one had ever done a film on the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. Partly curious about my own disposition, partly wanting a way to show my friends who we are and who is our spiritual leader in an engaging way, I got interested in this idea. After graduating from university and working for and with organizations such as the BBC and co-founding the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation, I decided the time was right to pursue the film idea. I started working on realizing this aspiration full time in March 2006 and from a team of one to now working with fantastic people (actually fantastic friends is more appropriate), the idea is now a reality.
There have been MANY bumps in the road thus far (like all films!) and I am sure there will be a few more to go but I can finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel! I hope this blog captures our filmmaking journey in some way. Bigger than that, I hope the film and the story of the Aga Khan, points to ways to solve the bigger challenges facing Islam today.
More to come....