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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Blick - more coverage in Switzerland

A Muslim fighting for tolerance
To see this Man live is for the Ismailis more important than the pilgrimage to Mecca. The Aga Khan is - according to Ismailism interpretation - a direct descendant of Mohammed and the spiritual and secular leader of the Shia religious community. The approximately 15 million believers live scattered all over the world. Karim Aga Khan came to the throne 50 years ago. A documentary film now shows his political, religious and private life and gives insight into the world of Ismailis - which for many of the 1.4 billion Muslims around the world are not the "true" Muslims. The women do not wear veils and pray together with men, the girls go to school and they all stand for tolerance and openness. This is Islam too.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Aga Khan Film Premieres in West Africa!!!

Until two weeks ago, I never imagined a premiere of the Aga Khan Film in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. Last night, Oct 17th, it happened in Kinshasa with much success in front of hundreds of people. And there is another BIG screening tonight.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Press coverage - Switzerland

Interview at Star TV

(German to English translation as provided to Shamir):

20 minuten, Mohan Mani: SPIRITUAL LEADER
"An impressive British documentary that sheds light on the nature and mindset of the Aga Khan & the Ismailis. This reflection about Islam of yesterday, today and tomorrow is very well done. And I recommend it especially for those for whom Islam is a book with seven seals."

Zueritipp (TagesAnzeiger), Julia Marx: VOICE OF A LIBERAL ISLAM
[Just a description of the film]

NZZ Ticket (NZZ), Alexandra Staehli:
"This film portrays the Aga Khan as successful businessman, philanthropist and clearsighted thinker. His adventurous family history is told with "verve" (passion). Sometimes the the film switches abruptly into a didactic tonality . But despite this little narrative weakness the Aga Khan remains enough distant and fascinating to make one want to know more about him."

Links: (then go to premieres, the ak)

Monday, October 13, 2008

From an audience member in Switzerland

After the premiere in Zurich, I met Countess Leila Ganji. Her stories of interacting with the Aga Khan's captivated the imagination of over a dozen people who circled around us as she shared her photos and experiences.

Below is an email from her friend.

Oct 12, 2008

Dear Shamir,

Today the Countess Leila Gangji and I were fortunate enough to have met you after seeing your most moving and inspiring film.

Leila showed you some photographs - and here they are.

This is:Prince Karim, with an Ismaili from South Africa and Countess Leila Gangji in East Africa 1954

This is the late Aga Khan (Golden Jubilee) and Countess Leila Gangji's husband - (who was the personal advisor to the Aga Khan) - Count Abdulla Hasham Gangji

Please let me know when you will show your film in Geneva as Leila Gangji and I would like to come and see it again. Leila used to live in Geneva, and so knows the whole Ismaili community there.

Best wishes

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Switzerland Premiere - WOW

Switzerland Premiere - Oct 12, 2008
Day 2 of my trip here
Locations: Zurich, Basel, Bern
Screening Numbers: 1, 2 and 3

What a great day.

Its 2am and I just got back to Zurich. This will be a quick post as there is a television interview planned for tomorrow morning.

The premieres went fantastic. Just even numbers wise, for example in Zurich, we had 350 people at that screening. That's quite big! (There are only about 10 Ismailis in Zurich)**. The questions were thoughtful, the audience was engaged, I couldn't be happier. Thank you to all those who spread the word. Thank you to all those who attended. Thank you to the panelists. Thank you to Sara Leu/Docufactory for bringing the film to Switzerland. No, this isn't an Oscar acceptance speech (but thank you to my tailor, my agent, and my hair stylist too. :) )

Many people came up to me after the screenings to tell me about previous experiences they have had with the Aga Khan, his father and/or his grandfather. They were all so happy to have heard about this film and that a film was made on the Ismailis. They brought more than just stories, they brought photos too - especially to show and share with me. Oh and by the way, these were mainly non-Ismailis who were coming up to me with the anecdotes and picts.

What was really interesting was how the Zurich-based group of 10 Ismailis, who meet every week for prayer, found three more Zurich-based Ismailis whom they never knew existed (!) - and vice versa. The small community is a little less smaller and they were very happy. The known jamat here has now increased by 30% and they joked that it should be large enough for them to have their own jamatkhane*!

*Ismaili place of worship, comparable to a mosque

**Updated Oct 31, 2008: another friend there said there is more like 30 Ismailis in Zurich

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Switzerland - Landed

Switzerland - Day 1 - Oct 11, 2008

I took a Friday night/Sat early morning red-eye flight into Zurich. I was sad to leave Beirut as it is one of my favorite cities in the world. It is nice to be back in Switzerland though. Everything works, is on time and one does not need to haggle with taxi cab drivers over pennies because of principle. ("My foreign accent doesnt mean you can charge me triple!") Switzerland and Lebanon are worlds apart on the surface - even a Lebanese cab which costs triple the going rate is still significantly cheaper than a Swiss taxi on the meter!

The first time I went to Switzerland was to go ice climbing and canyoning. None of that natural beauty on this trip this time: tomorrow are the Switzerland premieres of AN ISLAMIC CONSCIENCE in Zurich, Basel and Bern and then I will be leaving soon thereafter.

In the country's papers, I saw a few articles on the film in them - from the translation that was given to me, I am told it was good overall.

I met up with Sara Leu, who is helping with the screenings, tonight. She took me out for some fabulous schnitzel. After this, I was hosted by an Ismaili and the small Zurich jamat. Most had not seen the film and were looking forward to seeing it on Sunday. They have many questions they tell me.

Till tomorrow...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Struck Gold – The Last Lebanese Ismaili

The Middle East Premiere - Beirut, Lebanon - Day 3 - Oct 7

The phone calls and e-mails finally led to success. I think I found what may be the last Lebanese Ismaili living in Beirut. And I think you all know him from the film.

Remember this shot:

This is 1957 when Prince Aly Khan landed in Beirut and drove to Syria to tell the Ismailis there that his son is the rightful successor to the Imamate and to follow him. Look at the person on Prince Aly Khan’s right (the person at the far left of the screen). This is Abdul Hamid El-Fil. He is a Lebanese Ismaili still living in Beirut – and I met him! The above is a frame from the film. This is Abdul Hamid’s photo of the same event:

Virtually identical.

Abdul Hamid is wonderful person with incredible stories – and lots of great photos.
This is one of them that he says is of that same event when Prince Aly Khan drove to Syria. Abdul Hamid is in the passenger seat with Prince Aly Khan behind the wheel.

Abdul Hamid (born in 1931) told me how his father was close to the previous Aga Khan and how they had gone to the funeral in Aswan. Since then Abdul Hamid has accompanied Prince Sadruddin, Prince Aly Khan and the current Aga Khan when they used to visit Beirut. It was with much happiness, he tells me, that when the Aga Khan visited Syria this past August, Abdul Hamid went there to attend an event. He retells that the Aga Khan was shaking the line of stretched hands when he saw Abdul Hamid and said enthusiastically in French, “Oh, here is the family of Lebanon. It has been fifty years.”

Abdul Hamid was very moved.

Though he has not had much contact with the community for the past few decades, Abdul Hamid still has the love and affection for it and its Imam, and with many fond memories.

The (Aga Khan-following) Ismailis are designated as one of the official religions of Lebanon as listed in Lebanon’s Constitution. There is no community remaining though as most Ismailis, he says, left during the numerous wars in Lebanon.

His wife jokes that during one of the evacuations, they started frantically packing, and Abdul Hamid ran for the photos of him and his family with the Aga Khan. His wife said, “What about the valuables and the jewelery?” He said, “Those are all replaceable. These pictures are not!”

They eventually returned back to their home. Plus they have a factory in Bekaa, Lebanon.

Abdul Hamid tells me of how he got his business started in Lebanon: it was through the Aga Khan. The Aga Khan introduced him to the Madhvani family of East Africa in the 60’s. At that time, the Madhvani's were looking to get into textiles. Abdul Hamid knew a German girl whose family was involved in textiles and introduced them to each other which eventually led to a deal. Instead of getting the 5% commission for the deal introduction, Abdul Hamid just asked the Madhvani family to invest in a glass factory in Lebanon. A deal was struck and they went into business together.

The factory has done really well until it was bombed in Israeli air strikes during the 2006 war. I had to ask if it was a legitimate business. He said of course. I asked why he thinks they bombed it. He said Israel was probably trying to destroy the infrastructure of the country. Or maybe they have glass factories of their own and saw his as competition. I asked him and his family if they have ill feelings towards Israel? They said no, rhetorically asking, “How can you have ill feelings to all of the people? You can have ill feelings towards policies, not to all the people.”

Abdul Hamid’s wife is Sunni and their three kids are the same as her. He emphasizes we are all Muslim. Later he adds that his experience as an Ismaili has been formative and wishes his kids could have that interaction with the community as it is like a close-knit family. His daughter adds, "The stories he has told you today - we kids have never heard them. We didn't even know they existed. But we are very happy to have heard this side." Abdul Hamid said that watching the film has been a spark to these memories and adds that these stories from decades ago are as if he can see them right in front of his eyes again. "It is like it is just happening. Memories I make a few months ago, I may forget. These memories are vividly etched in my mind."

Abdul Hamid gave me these links and photos to share:
An article on the bombing of his factory: Daily Star
A post on when the Aga Khan came to Beirut:

Hassan El-Fil (left), father of Abdul Hamid, with His Highness the Aga Khan (right) and Mustafa Mirza of Syria (center)

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan with Abdul Hamid El-Fil at the El-Fil residence

Bombay 1957, the Aga Khan (left) and Abdul Hamid (right)

His Highness the Aga Khan received by a few Ismailis from Lebanon. Abdul Hamid is standing far left.

Prince Aly Khan at Beirut Airport's official lounge. On his right, Mustafa Mirza (ex Minister of Syria) and on his left Abdul Hamid El-Fil.

Prince Sadruddin at Beirut Airport's official lounge. Abdul Hamid is on the right.

At a gathering at the El-Fil residence with Prince Sadruddin.

Bombay 1957: His Highness the Aga Khan with Abdul Hamid El-Fil. Abdul Hamid says it was around this time when he pledged spiritual allegiance to the Aga Khan

On a visit to the El-Fil residence in the mountains of Lebanon, the Aga Khan and Abdul Hamid walk together.

Abdul Hamid (left) and Shamir (right) at the El-Fil residence - Oct 7, 2008