Thursday, November 27, 2008

Film Premiere Pictures - DRC - Day 2

Aga Khan Film - West Africa Premiere
The Democratic Republic of Congo - Day 2 - Oct 18, 2008

I started the day with local students speaking about filmmaking in general and the journey of the Aga Khan Film in particular. We also spoke about Islam, engaging with people of other faiths, and pursuits towards peace. The students were very bright and inquisitive, asking dozens and dozens of insightful questions. Many of these students came to the evening screening event to watch the film.

Day 2's premiere was mainly for Ismailis. The audience was at capacity with over 500 attendees.

Shafique, one of the organizers of the event.

Here I am, speaking to students about filmmaking

A promotion poster for the film in Gujarati - a base language for most DRC Ismailis

Buses were organized so that Ismailis could come straight from jamatkhane after prayers to the hall for the film screening.

Sayna, giving the introduction

Neemat, one of the organizers of the event.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Film Premiere Pictures - Democratic Republic of Congo - Day 1

Aga Khan Film - West Africa Premiere
The Democratic Republic of Congo - Day 1 - Oct 17, 2008

Hot on the heels of the Lebanon and Switzerland Premieres, I ended up in the DRC for the West Africa Premiere. There are about 1300 to 1500 Ismailis who live here, most of them originate from India.

Awhile back, Ismailis in the DRC had somehow got a hold of the Aga Khan Film and a group of them were especially keen to host a public screening of the documentary. They diligently planned and organized the event, including finding sponsorship and securing a venue. It wasn't until 2 weeks before the screening, when Neemat, one of the organizers, suggested that they should invite me, did I even get involved. To a large extent, this is exactly what I hoped for: people are moved and motivated to host screenings of the film - with or without me. They aspire to have the discussion and debate with regards to the issues the film touches on: Islam and plurality, the fragmentation of the Muslim World, and the Ummah and its relation with the West. And the supporters use their experiences, contacts, and resources to make it all happen.

The first screening was open to all including invites that went to ambassadors, elected officials, business people, academics, and government/embassy staff. Day 2 was a screening specifically for Ismailis.

See some of Day 1's pictures below.

DR Congo, a country struggling under a weight of conflicts, aspiring for peace

Ismaili volunteers who did a wonderful job with setting up, food prep, and cleaning up

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aga Khan Film - Switzerland - 6th week

The Aga Khan Film will be playing for the 6th week in Zurich again!

Next Screening: 12:30pm, Sunday,
November 16, 2008
- Zurich, Switzerland

Cinema Location:
Arthouse Commercio
Mühlebachstrasse 2
8008 Zürich

A Swiss Article, translated from German:

(translation was sent to me and some aspects seem to be lost in translation)

An interview with film producer Shamir Alibhai, whose documentary “The Aga Khan and the Ismailis” had its premiere last sunday.

Shamir Allibhai, for whom have you made this film?

Shamir Allibhai: This film project has been a long time concern of mine, and the necessity of it became more obvious in the past years, when the topic of fundamentalism became more and more acute with Islam so frequently being equated with the name „Bin Laden “.

The film addresses itself to a western public, to which I would like to show that the Islamic world represents a mosaic rather than a monolith. But naturally it addresses itself also to the east, were a lot about Islam but nearly nothing about the Ismailis is known.

In the film the commitment of the Aga Khan is represented as exemplary since he is building bridges between the Western and the Islamic world. Is his way the only possible way?

Shamir Allibhai, film producer: It would not be desirable to have only one facette of Islam. Islam is more than the Koran: Living this religion encompasses also culture and history – Islam is about pluralism. Also the bridging to the Western world can express itself in various shades. This is why the film is called „an Islamic Conscience “and not „the Islamic Conscience“. On the other hand the film deliberately illustrates the social projects initiated by the Aga Khan - as these can indeed be seen as role models.

The Aga Khan corresponds to the West expectations of an ideal dialogue partner representing the Muslim world. Is there no danger that he could be instrumentalized?

The Aga Khan leads the Ismaili community since more than 50 years, it would be naive to assume that he could be instrumentalized by current streams of Western politics. He has got his focus on a long-term commitment and is not so easily deterred from this.

His ways are very diplomatic. This is illustrated in the discrete way he expresses himself. He says: „There are friends and people, who are less well disposed“. And he works without seeking media attention. For example it took a whole year before he granted us an interview for this film.

Couldn’t this restraint also be a problem? Moderate voices of Islam cannot be heard often enough...

This restraint could also be a strategy of the Aga Khan. Perhaps the fact that he works behind the scenes is exactly one of the key elements of his success. He does not waste his energy by deliberately building up a media image. He gives his total committment to the social projects.

The film throws a critical light on the Sunni Muslims. These are nearly always portrayed as traditional, looking backwards and opposed to the Western ideal of the enlightened human being. This can hardly correspond to reality?

This is not totally correct. For example Imam Fiesal from New York, who is interviewed in the film, represents a moderate Sunni voice. Also it is not the goal of the film to illustrate all Islamic realities, but to outline the biography of an unusual man. And it is a historical fact that Ismailis who have been speaking up for tolerance and progress have been and are persecuted to this day.

The Aga Khan is considered as the only spiritual leader, who is relevant for the Ismaili Muslims. Do they see him as the manifestation of God on earth?

The devotion and love that the interviewed people have for the Aga Khan should not be understood in a way that they see him as the manifestation of god on earth. But they see how much he has done for them, and also how much he has sacrificed.

Where lies the hope for the Islamic world and the future?

I follow the analysis of the Aga Khan: Todays conflicts are not about a „Clash of Civilizations “, but about a „Clash of Ignorance “, we speak of a war, whose roots lie in ignorance. The solution for a peaceful and tolerant coexistence lies in education: Reading, learning, debating - there lies the chance for change, development and a hopeful future, also in the Islamic world.

Source: Panel discussion with Sara Leu, Managing director docufactory distribution, Shamir Alibhai, film producer and Arnold of the Hottinger, longtime correspondent of NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung).