Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The challenges of screening in Dushanbe

Our screenings in Khorog went wonderfully. Dushanbe did too but only after a lot of headaches to make it happen.

Two and a half months ago we started seriously exploring the idea of a screening in Tajikistan. Screenings can be tricky to organize. Usually we find a sponsor and then search for and secure a venue. Next, we promote the event to get a good-sized audience. Little did we know that screening a film in Tajikistan is much more difficult than that.

First it was a foreign country and we had no idea of venues that would screen the film.

Secondly, there is a language barrier. Most people speak Russian and/or Tajik. We spoke neither. Some cinema-owners spoke broken English, others, nil. We often needed to bring along a friend to translate. Cinema owners, naturally, figure us out to be foreigners immediately and as quickly, the price for hiring out a screen doubles or triples.

When we finally agreed on the venue and the price, you would think, this is it. All set. Create tickets, market the event, invite embassies and other VIPs, and we should be ready to go. And all was ready to go - till a couple of days before the premiere.

Just before the Dushanbe screening was to take place, we were informed by the owner of the agreed-upon venue, Dom Kino, that he had been visited by officials from the government of Tajikistan who told him that the screening could not go forward without their permission. Fresh off five hectic days in Khorog where we were able to pull off seven successful screenings, I rushed back to Dushanbe to help three of my friends - who are really the heroes out of all this - sort out the situation. Meeting after meeting with the government ensued through the Ministry of Culture and the Special Committee on Religion. We couldn’t figure out what had suddenly caused the problem – one Ministry official even implied that the roadblocks were being thrown into our path not because the government desired to block the screening, but rather at the instigation of AKDN Tajikistan. But when I asked the head of AKDN Tajikistan, he said it was the government.

All the way to the day of the screening we attended meeting after meeting after meeting, pressing our case to make this premiere happen. There was also one really stubborn official at the Ministry who would not watch the film and just kept on coming up with different reasons to stop the screening, none of which really made sense and, cumulatively, definitely did not offer a coherent argument. My translator / friend said it seemed he had a deal with someone to deter the film.

Apparently this issue went to the Deputy Minister on Fri, Aug 29. We are not sure what he said because we just could not wait around any longer. Luckily we had a backup plan and a backup venue, and via a frantic round of calls to embassy personnel, UN’ers, AKDN’ers and others, got many people to come to the new location.

In retrospect, I look back at my original email announcing the screening in Tajikistan. The email blast went out before any of the struggle in Dushanbe happened, but it is rather ironic how I mentioned this documentary was a fight against those who are in power who like to impose it on the rest of us, almost foreshadowing what was to come in Dushanbe. Without leading into a huge discourse as to what is freedom: freedom really is a timeless struggle.


Unknown said...


Knowing what little I know (first hand) about that part of the world; I'm not surprised at what happened in Dushanbe...

Kudos to you, your team, and your friends for doing all that you did - and for making the premiere in Dushanbe happen...

Quoting Albert Einstein:

“Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thoughts in clear form.”

Keep up the great work my friend - your work and struggle is admired and appreciated...petty politics are here to stay - and worthless, corrupt, politically-motivated morons will come and go - but your work and effort will remain etched in history for eons to come; standing tall, proud, and touching the hearts and spirits of many...

Kudos again!

Rahim Dawood

Shamir Allibhai said...

Great quote! And so true!

Many thanks for your support.


Unknown said...

First of all I'd like to express my gratitude to you and all those who made it passible to screen the film in Tajikistan. However, going through your stories that you have written in your blog about the issues occured in Tajikistan, particularly in Dushanbe, I want to share some of my opinions regarding why those challenges occured. I personally have watched the film and found it very apologetic. The reason i am saying this is that in the film you have created a kind of dichotomy between the Imam of the Time or even the entire Ismaili community and the rest of the Umma. The film indicates as is the Aga Khan and his followers are separated from Islam and as if the true ethical values of Islam are practiced by the Aga Khan and His followers. I think it was the main reason that you faced so many challenges in Dushanbe whee the majority of the population are Sunni Muslims. I am concerned that this can cause many other obstaces in the future for ismailis in Tajikistan. For this reason I think you should expect this kind of reactions from the officials in the government and the rest of the Sunni population of Tajikistan. I understand that your purpose of screening the film was not to promote Ismailism in Tajikistan, but you needed to take to consideration that if people (the Sunnis) were ready to accept what you show in the film.

Shamir Allibhai said...

Hi Temur

The challenges in Tajikistan (and it was only in Dushanbe - 1 screening out of 8) with respect to the government actually did not have anything to do with the content of the film itself. The guy who was blocking it had not and would not watch the film. It seemed he had a back hand deal going on. Plus maybe he wanted to be bribed? Maybe he felt upset we hadnt originally invited him to the premiere?

Where do you find the film apologetic?

The Ismailis have nothing to apologize for - the film merely offers a look at one community's experience, history, philosophy, theology, and vision.

We also do not say the Aga Khan and the Ismailis are separated from Islam - in fact we show them working with many different branches of Islam, in many countries where others Muslim branches are dominant. We also say the Ismailis are one side of Islam as the title reiterates: "AN" Islamic Consicence not "THE" Islamic Conscience.

But there is a dichotomy and it is between most Muslims and fundamentalists. Ismailis see and face this dichotomy too. Example of the moderates v. fundamentalism, the Marriott bombing in Pakistan recently: Muslims killing Muslims.

One needs to be sensitive in showing films with important messages in countries that may not be so open. But one also needs to have hope and courage. Everyone will not always be ready to hear the hard truth but the truth needs to still be said - and this can be done with thoughtfulness. And if a film generates debate we should be happy because this is where change starts: through dialogue.


Unknown said...

well said Shamir...

...I respect Temur's observations - and a very valid argument from that perspective - sadly, it is these very misperceptions that hinder true, progressive dialogue the world over...

...and that is why 'An' Islamic Conscience rocks, in my humble opinion - as it is a very sincere attempt at encouraging this dialogue that will (I hope) serve to bridge this diversity that is our reality today...

To all those choosing to interpret Shamir's work any other way, I humbly request you view the movie as many times as you need to - and seek from it that message of humanity, of peace, of unity, of generosity, of seeking merit and truth in all matters - that is reflective of Islam in its totality...and beyond Islam, is the reality of existence itself.

The fact that it is the 'story' of the 'Ismailis' as narrated by (an Ismaili) Shamir Allibhai, is irrelevant - what matters is the message within - the message that seeks to unite and empower all of humanity - the message that portrays diversity as the 'strength' that it realy is, rather than the 'weakness' you keep wishing it to be...

Anyone that seeks to cause rift and division only does so to fulfill selfish agendas...the essence is absolute - be you in any form, animate or otherwise - it's sad that you choose to continue existing in defiance of that truth....

“The Totality of Existence is my True Identity. I care not for your mundane illusions.”

- Rahim Dawood