Sunday, June 22, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 11: Nairobi

(written on the day, posted after)

Another early morning flight but this time without any hiccups! I was on the flight with three friends who I had gone to undergrad with, two of them now teachers at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa and are Golden Jubilee Games bound.

Karim Manji, who organized the Nairobi screening, explaining to the cinema manager the last minute details

Nairobi Premiere - June 22

The last screening happened and sadly the Africa tour has come to an end. Over two years ago when I started the film, I never would have suspected we would be having "Africa Premieres". The outpouring of support has been touching and motivating, and I am grateful to the audiences and all those who were instrumental in organizing!

Where next?

Last Screening Tonight

Just landed in Nairobi and it has started to sink in that this is the last screening of our East Africa Tour... Feeling slightly sad.

It has been a blitz trip but it has been touching how it has all come together with the local support. It is also nice that we are ending in Nairobi just before the Golden Jubilee Games. There is buzz in the air! My morning's flight Mombasa to Nairobi had many people who were traveling for the event. Its all very exciting!

Updates soon...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 10: Mombasa

(written on the day, posted after)

KENYA PREMIERE: Mombasa Screening, June 21st

I nearly didn't make it to the Mombasa screening. The Kenya Airways Kampala to Nairobi flight was at 5am and when I got to the counter at 4am, they told me that the travel agent had actually booked my ticket as standby rather than confirmed. Discussion and debate proved fruitless as the lady at the counter said that the flight was completely booked and that there are others ahead of me in the 'standby' queue waiting to squeeze on as well.

In the midst of the drama, coupled by not having slept after the Kampala screening, I found out that there is an Air Uganda flight that would go to Nairobi at 7am. I anxiously waited for Air Uganda’s reservation office to open to see if there were seats available. Luckily there was and I made to Nairobi where I then had to find a new connecting flight to Mombasa as I had missed my original one because of the delay. I had to take what I could get at this point and I found a propeller plane which I boarded and left on.

I didn’t really know what to expect at the Mombasa screening. People had told me Mombasa residents are laissez faire. They may commit but not many will show. The cinema was packed! Almost all of the 375 seats in the cinema were taken up and it was filled with a diverse crowd in terms of age and religious backgrounds. The most touching moment – and there were many at this screening - was when a lady came up to me after the screening with tears in her eyes and she said, I am Gujarati but not an Ismaili. You are so lucky to have a Hazar Imam.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 9: Kampala

(written on the day, posted after)

Uganda Premiere - June 20th

A note from the screening:
Before the screening I was chatting to some people and a lady came up to me saying she works with the Aga Khan Education Services. She said that there was a group of non-Muslim Canadians that had come to Kampala earlier this year. Three of them had seen our Aga Khan film that was broadcast on Canadian television channel, VisionTV, and were so moved, they decided they would allocate the sizeable amount of donation money they had set aside for Africa causes to the Aga Khan Development Network. (I wondered to myself if the film team should get a commission :) )

Naturally, this was never our objective but ...its nice to know films can really inspire people into action and its not just filmmaker idealism with their heads in the clouds!

Interview w/ NTV

Introduction by Azim Tharani of Kampala

Two more screenings to go: Mombasa and Nairobi....

NationTV Coverage - Kampala - June 20, 2008

I got a preview copy of the news report that Barbara Angopa did earlier today on the Aga Khan Film which goes out on NationTV very soon. P.S. Barbara has been nominated for the 2008 CNN African Journalist of the Year Award (she finds out soon if she has won!)

A tidbit: the Aga Khan was involved in the founding of Nation Media which NationTV is part of.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Aga Khan Film, Guardian Newspaper, June 19th, 2008

Netherlands Ambassador to Tanzania Karel Van Kesteren (C) in discussion with Representative of the Aga Khan to Tanzania, Amin Kurji (R) and Director of Avicenna Tanzania, a not-for-profit organisation promoting cultural diversity and pluralism in the country, Altaf Hirani. This was during a launch of a film called 'An Islamic Conscience: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis' in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday. The film was produced by Shamir Allibhai who lives in the US.

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 8: Kampala

Next leg of the trip: Uganda, once home for my father and my paternal grandparents... I also get to meet again all those whom I interviewed for the film when I was here last year. I wonder how they will feel about their interview piece and the film overall. Also is the Idi Amin story sensitive here? Or are Ugandans absolutely bored of it after all these years?

It seems we will have a full house for tomorrow's screening... updates soon...

Africa Launch - Avicenna's Opening Remarks

More photos from the Premiere at the Kempinski Hotel, Dar es Salaam, June 17:

There was actually a third big screen too to cover the entire venue.

Alkarim (left), a director of Avicenna and the moderator for the Q+A


No, Alkarim did not change his suit midway through the screening: this is his twin brother and partner in Avicenna, Altaf Hirani, seen here giving the opening remarks pre-screening.

Altaf's thoughtful speech:
(copied and pasted as received)

Opening Address


Altaf Hirani

at the

Africa Launch of the film

AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: The Aga Khan & the Ismailis,

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Kilimanjaro Kempinski Hotel, June 17, 2008


Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Religious & Community Leaders;
Distinguished Guests;
Shamir Allibhai
Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of AVICENNA TANZANIA, it is indeed a great honour for me to welcome you all to the Africa launch of the film: AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: The Aga Khan & the Ismailis.

I am equally pleased to welcome Shamir Allibhai - the Producer of the Film, who has kindly joined us this evening all the way from Boston, USA.

I am also happy to inform you that there will be a public screening of this film at the New World Cinemas tomorrow June 18, 2008 at 4.30 p.m.

AVICENNA TANZANIA is a not-for-profit organization founded early this year with the aim of promoting cultural diversity and pluralism in order to foster harmony, understanding, tolerance and peace between various peoples and groups in Tanzania. The organization also supports the development of civil societies and various charitable initiatives to alleviate poverty.
AVICENNA was inspired by the Muslim ethic of inclusiveness which stipulates an inclusive vision of society. This ethic further guides all Muslims in the sense that the divine spark that bestows individuality also bonds individuals in a common humanity.

The Holy Quran says “Humankind has been created from a single soul, as male and female, communities and nations, so that people may know one another”. It invites people of all faiths to a common platform, to vie for goodness. The holy Prophet sought to harness individual and group diversity and talents to serve common needs of different religious groups, among whom he encouraged a spirit of harmony and tolerance as constituents of a larger community of his time.

In the spirit of promoting interfaith dialogue, we can look back at some powerful chapters in history when Islamic and European Cultures interacted co-operatively and creatively to realize some of the civilizations peak achievements. Our challenge today therefore, is a clash of ignorance and not civilization.

Furthermore, the most successful democracies are those in which non-governmental organizations of civil societies also play a vital role. Civil society is powered by private voluntary energies too that are committed to public good and include institutions of education, health, science and research. They embrace professional, commercial, labor, ethnic and arts organizations and others devoted to religion, communication and the environment.

The world cannot be safe for democracy unless we as individual citizens and/or groups also make the world safe for diversity and play our part in strengthening these vital platforms.

Fortunately, we live in Tanzania whose great gift to the world has been its shining example in building a strong spirit of pluralism with the net result that it is regarded as one of the most stable and peaceful countries in Africa.

In conclusion, it is therefore my humble prayer that today’s event which is also a catalyst for launching AVICENNA TANZANIA will in some way contribute to further enhancing these goals.

Thank You!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 7: Dar es Salaam

Day 7 of my visit to Africa: The second screening in Africa was very different than yesterday's. Both were in Dar es Salaam and both were hosted by Avicenna but the second screening gave me a better opportunity to meet more of the Tanzanian Ismailis. It was low-profile, no media - it was very real. We did something very novel for them - actually 2 novel things. The first was we played my film in English but with Gujarati subtitles! Yes, a very new addition to the film. The second was we played the 1961 film, Living Camera: Aga Khan, in a cinema for the very first time ever. Ever! What touched me most was how the entire cinema was singing along to the ginan (comparable to a hymn) at the end of that film. It was so moving, words cannot describe the true feeling, and this blog post is an injustice to that actual moment.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 6: Dar es Salaam

I feel too knackered to muster out an intellectual post on how the Africa Launch went (as it is 3am here!) but in summary: fabulous, challenging, exciting, riveting, and phew - the latter because the DVD projection system worked!!!

We pulled off the Africa premiere and here are some pictures:

Q+A Session
One of the questions was: Why did we not show more of the Aga Khan's work in Tanzania in the film?
Answer (para-phrase): There is no way in a 1-hr film we could cover everything. We tried to give a flavor of the depth and breadth of the Aga Khan's life pursuits and the East Africa angle was told through the Uganda story including the Serena Kampala.

Shamir speaking to the press

Potentially the real attraction of the night: snack and drinks

The Canadian High Commissioner in Tanzania speaking about her first public servant job which was to help Afghan Ismailis resettle in Canada, how Canada and the Aga Khan have a close relationship, and how she really enjoyed the film. Thank you for the kind words!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 5: Dar es Salaam

Hotel Kempinski looks just lovely but the projectors don't work! The hotel staff have been replacing them, trying to find new projector bulbs, replacing cables, moving the DVD system closer to the stage all without any luck thus far...

Fingers crossed all goes well for Tues...

The venue - it wont be this type of setup though...

The picture out of focus

Hotel staff trying to get to the bottom (or the top??!) of all this!

Apparently we made Cover of Coastweek Magazine, Mombasa

Just got back today from a quick safari trip ...

I got an SMS text saying we are on the cover of Coastweek Magazine. It should help as we have a very large cinema to fill in Mombasa!

The online vers is here:


Coastweek - - An Islamic Conscience: The Aga Khan And The Ismailis - Film Mombasa: 4:30 p.m., Saturday, June 21, 2008.

The acclaimed groundbreaking documentary film ‘An Islamic Conscience’ makes its Kenyan debut in Mombasa on Saturday, June 21, 2008.

Born into a world of wealth and privilege, H.H. the Aga Khan devotes his life to eliminating poverty and inequality.

A religious leader who traces his ancestry back to the Prophet Muhammad, he struggles to balance the traditional with the modern.

For the past five decades, the Aga Khan has been the spiritual leader and Imam of the 15 million Ismaili Muslims in a world that has changed dramatically.

From the end of colonialism and the expulsion of the Asians in Uganda to the fall of the Iron Curtain and 9/11, the Aga Khan has struggled for a common humanity in a divided world.

Securing a rare and exclusive interview with the Aga Khan in the year of his Golden Jubilee, Bill Cran (multiple Emmy-award winning Director) and Shamir Allibhai have completed a two-year passion project to make the first documentary on the Aga Khan in over forty-five years.

At a time when Islam is at odds with itself and with the West, the Aga Khan represents a voice of moderation, speaking out for pluralism and diversity, and promoting dialogue between civilizations.

But will he be heard?


An Islamic Conscience: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis - FILM

Tickets are free with reservation:

Nyali Cinemax. Main Nyali Road

P.O Box 82675 Mombasa , Kenya

Contact: Sheliza Jamal - +254 712 765 014

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 2: Dar es Salaam

I checked out the Kempinski Hotel - the site of the Africa Launch on June 17th - and it is absolutely lovely! And today I became the Embassy expert of Dar es Salaam. I accompanied the host of the film as he dropped off invites to high commissioners/ambassadors of each country with a presence here. If you ever want to know which embassy is here and where it is, call me.

And speaking of phones, my blackberry doesnt work here. I held off getting a blackberry for the longest time and now that I have one, its like I cant live without it. I have to logon to check mail these days - so 1990's :) Plus the internet is quite slow here: it takes 5 mins just to load up Life pace is slower here in general so I think they purposely keep the internet speed turtle-paced to be consistent.

At least I have access to Internet. The people of Zanzibar apparently dont have electricity right now. I havent got a straight answer as to the exact issue but except for those with generators, they are in the dark. (I wonder if the Serena Hotel Zanzibar is adding a fuel surcharge to each guests' bill...)

The dichotomy between rich and poor is in your face here. Yes we all know Africa has struggles and I almost cringe at bringing it up like this. I feel the Western media only covers Africa, and the Muslim world for that matter (which is not mutually exclusive with Africa), when there is strife, war, terrorism, natural disasters, or famine. So not to reinforce this image for too long, I will keep this short: I saw a lot of sadness today. People with missing limbs, begging on the streets hoping someone will be kind enough to give them a few shillings (less than pennies). The guy I was with today has to be one of the most generous people I have ever met and definitely not just because he has bent over backwards in all aspects to make the Africa Launch happen. He would help out so many people we came across who looked like they were in need. It was second nature to him. He feels he has been so fortunate in his life that it is his obligation to help those who havent been as lucky.

And the struggle wasnt just on the street - I felt like I saw it in the jamatkhane, the Ismaili place of worship (comparable to a mosque). I then thought of Dr Arkoun, a Governor on the Institute of Ismaili Studies' Board and a very prominent scholar. We met in 2006 when I was at the development/team building/fund-raising stage of the project. He said this film will be the voice for the many silenced voices in the history of Islam. He was not just referring to Ismailis but to Muslims in general and communities of Muslims whose day-to-day (life) fight could be a little bit easier; whose economic situation, lack of educational opportunities, and lack of employability shouldn't be so stifling; and whose ability to practice their religion could be a bit freer. I am not sure this film is that voice but it is definitely dedicated to these silenced voices: on the streets, in the mosques and everywhere in between.

Movie Review: Aga Khan Film (Cap Hill Screening)

The link

Movie Review: AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 
By: Sara Shroff

Who is the Aga Khan? Who are the Ismailis? What is their history and how did they come to be? And what can the philanthropy sector learn from them?

With international conferences and various studies addressing issues and challenges faced by Muslim philanthropists and Muslim NGOs, as well as the broader topic of philanthropy in the Middle East, the space is starting to define and re-define itself. Indeed, the Council of Foundations conference in May hosted a “Bridging Divides” session, where prominent US foundations, including the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Carnegie Foundation, among others, shared their experiences around inter-faith understanding, stability, and global security.

In the midst of this dynamic dialogue, AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE: the Aga Khan and the Ismailis documentary is a timely addition. The film showcases a model of philanthropy that acknowledges the notions of tradition and practice of giving in Islam while embracing a more strategic, collaborative and holistic view of human development and philanthropy.

AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE is a well-researched, produced and directed documentary on Islam and the Aga Khan. It serves as a catalyst of dialogue around hybrid philanthropy models, addressing inequities in our diverse world through systemic and holistic social change.

As a religious Muslim leader, the Aga Khan traces his lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad and currently leads a group of 15 million Ismaili Muslims globally. Like many philanthropists, his commitment to eliminating poverty and inequality is not unusual in our dichotomous world, but his integrated model towards human development is unique as it addresses the needs and desires of the whole person. His vision for human development takes into consideration an individual’s value aspirations for personal achievement through education and economic opportunities, which in turn have long-term and deep impact on the well being of their community and surroundings.

The film’s Washington screening on Capitol Hill recently was followed by a panel discussion with Shamir Allibhai, Filmmaker and Producer; Dr Paul Heck, Professor at Georgetown in Islamic Studies, and Dr Zahid Bukhari, Director of the America Muslim Studies Program at Georgetown. The discussion focused on harnessing the power of media and the corporate sector to create awareness and understanding of the divides between Muslims and non-Muslims that exist globally.

The Aga Khan film not only gives us a historical perspective of Ismailis, the Aga Khan and his philanthropy, but proves to be a “good story” for Islam and is a much needed addition to the repertoire of resources in the realm of Islam-based philanthropy. It will thus serve as an important medium for promoting interfaith dialogue. The uniqueness of the Aga Khan philanthropic model is that it embraces many faith-based aspects including its ideals, values and constituency - but it is not faith-limited.

The panel discussion concluded with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson talking about her journey of inter-faith dialogue and cultural understanding in her home state of Texas, and Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, speaking to the changing landscape of politics, religion and race while touching upon the diversity in Islam in the US. Other screenings have been hosted at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government as well as its Divinity School, Stanford University, London, Canada, and beginning next week, a series of screenings will be held in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

To learn more about the film and its filmmakers, please visit


Sara Shroff is a Senior Director with Changing Our World where she specializes in marketing and communications, brand development, organizational development, strategic philanthropy, and corporate social responsibility. Sara’s expertise also includes Diaspora (multi-cultural) philanthropy in the US, philanthropy in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
Currently, Sara directs the partnership development and campaign efforts for PlayPumps International, a $60 Million initiative to bring the benefits of clean water to sub-Saharan African. She has also served as counsel to a variety of organizations including the PMA Education Foundation, Wilton Park UK, Shanghai-USA 2010 World Exposition, Inc and DC Coalition for the Homeless.
Prior to joining Changing Our World, Sara worked for several organizations servicing the education sector. Areas of expertise and experience include education financing, policy and program development. She’s held management positions at EduCap, Inc. and DCVOICE and spearheaded program development and training workshops for the Council for Opportunity in Education. Sara started out in the financial service and real estate development realm and held positions at Etrade and Promove.
While an undergraduate student at Agnes Scott College and Georgia State University, Sara founded dZires, a small trading and microfinance organization dedicated to empowering the women artisans of Pakistan. She currently serves on the Board of CalEarth Pakistan, a non-profit that mobilizes participatory reconstruction for earthquake disaster relief in Pakistan, India and Kashmir. She also serves on the Development and Fundraising committee for Literacy Volunteer and Advocates in Washington DC. She is a graduate of George Mason University where she focused on international comparative politics and legal studies.
Sara is currently pursuing a Masters in Social and Public Policy from Georgetown University with her research geared towards harnessing innovative philanthropic models to address inequities globally.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Africa Tour. Day 1: Dar es Salaam

Oh I so love Emirates Airlines. The flight to Dar es Salaam was so comfortable!
The chaos started at the Tanzanian visa queue. Which papers needed to be filled in? How much for visas? Where does the line start? Where does the line for those jumping the line start?
Then once you hand in your passport, forms and money, you wait...and wait....and wait. You text those waiting for you on the other side of the barrier that you will be delayed by a bit. Then text them again, you will be delayed a bit more. 
When immigration is ready for you, they call you to the front. And sometimes take your photo. I was trying to see if there was some pattern to when they would take your photo. It looked like South African passport holders did not need to get their photo taken. Brits and Canadians did. Chinese as well. Then I got bored of trying to entertain myself in this way and started listening to my ipod and went back to "I'm delayed still" texts. 

One and a half hours later, I got my passport back and photo taken, collected my luggage, and proceeded to exit the airport. So happy to finally see the outside world with just 5 feet to go, I was stopped by customs people who tried to assert that the DVDs I was bringing into Tanzania are subject to duties and... the duties are 50%!!! Yes, 50%! I would have paid a few % just to get out of the airport but she kept saying fifty. We bantered for 10 mins (what is 10 mins after I have been waiting for 1.5 hours?) and then she must have got bored and let me go through without charge. (She obviously hasnt queued to get a Tanzanian visa before or else she would know what boredom really is!)

Now overjoyed to get out of the airport, I forgot to takeout my camera for the "me in front of the airport sign" establishing shot. Maybe I will go back and re-enact it as I have to be at the airport on Friday as my friend arrives from London.

Airport struggles aside, it is my first time in Tanzania and it feels good to be here. This is where my mom was born and lived for many years. I hope I have a chance to explore the country a bit.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nairobi Screening Sorted - see below our mass email

Dear all

We had so many requests for screenings elsewhere in East Africa that we delayed our original planned Tanzania screening so we can accommodate as many of the suggestions as possible. We are pleased to announce the Aga Khan Film - East Africa tour now begins on June 17th in Dar es Salaam and ends in Nairobi on June 22nd, the day before the Golden Jubilee Games begin. If you are going to Nairobi for the Games, please join us: we would love to see you there! Follow all the action on our blog and please help spread the word.

Best wishes
Shamir & the Aga Khan Film team

Starting June 17th in Dar es Salaam
Screenings in Tanzania, Uganda, & Kenya

Use the links below to register for the appropriate event.

Dar es Salaam (semi-private): June 17th. FREE.
Dar es Salaam: June 18th. FREE:

Kampala: June 20th. FREE:

Mombasa: June 21st. FREE:

Nairobi: June 22nd.

Nairobi Screening Sorted - see below our mass email

Dear all

We had so many requests for screenings elsewhere in East Africa that we delayed our original planned Tanzania screening so we can accommodate as many of the suggestions as possible. We are pleased to announce the Aga Khan Film - East Africa tour now begins on June 17th in Dar es Salaam and ends in Nairobi on June 22nd, the day before the Golden Jubilee Games begin. If you are going to Nairobi for the Games, please join us: we would love to see you there! Follow all the action on our blog and please help spread the word.

Best wishes
Shamir & the Aga Khan Film team

Starting June 17th in Dar es Salaam
Screenings in Tanzania, Uganda, & Kenya

Use the links below to register for the appropriate event.

Dar es Salaam (semi-private): June 17th. FREE.
Dar es Salaam: June 18th. FREE:

Kampala: June 20th. FREE:

Mombasa: June 21st. FREE:

Nairobi: June 22nd.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Boston International Film Festival

Our Aga Khan film is screening at the Boston International Film Festival this weekend. Sunday, 1PM at the AMC Loews Cinema, Boston Common. See Session 9:

Road to Ingwavuma, a look at post-apartheid South Africa, has its world premiere on Friday followed by a red carpet party. See details of the film below.

Tickets for this and my film can be purchased from the Festival at:


The extraordinary journey to the heart of
post-apartheid South Africa by a
delegation of some of America's most
respected stage, screen, and music
artists and their families. With Carlos
Santana, Samuel L. Jackson,
LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Alfre
Woodard, CCH Pounder and Artists
for a New South Africa. Special
appearances by Former President
Nelson Mandela and Archbishop
Desmond Tutu and other giants in South
Africa's fight for freedom and the war on
HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty.
Writer, Director, Producer: Barbara Rick
Writer, Narrator, and Executive Producer:
Deborah Santana

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Time dif et al, its been tough coordinating screenings in Africa from Boston but I think we are almost there...

We have moved the Africa Launch of the Aga Khan Film from May to June to try and accommodate all the requests we have been getting for screenings elsewhere in East Africa.

We are happy to announce the first few screenings:

Dar es Salaam (semi-private): June 17. FREE.
Dar es Salaam: June 18. FREE:
Kampala: June 20. FREE:
Mombasa: June 21st. FREE:

Yes, all the announced screenings are free!! An unsubtle acknowledgment to all those who are not afraid to help facilitate dialogue so we can speak openly and frankly about what we aspire for our faith, for our community and for our society. A special thanks to the not-for-profit organization Avicenna Tanzania that has been particularly wonderful in this regard.

We hope to see you there. Reserve quick.