Posted as received from Tanya Panjwani, organizer of the Apr 30th, 2009 screening at York University, Toronto, Canada:
I still remember the day I heard about The Aga Khan Film, one of only two official documentaries made about His Highness in fifty years of his Imamat. I recall my friends excitedly ordering dvds for their families and friends, watching the film and discussing it amongst themselves, and even hearing about screenings happening all over the world, from Boston to Beirut, Atlanta to Africa. I also remember organizing a gathering of students about a year ago to watch both the 1961 and the recent film, to discuss the progress that has been made in the past fifty years, and to shed light on the Imam’s international recognition, especially in the context of the globalization phenomenon. It was incredible to see the amount of discussion and dialogue that the film sparked, because not only were we bouncing off ideas that were brought up in the film by various academics and members of the Ismaili community, but these ideas branched off into even more interesting discussions. It was then that I realized how powerful a medium film could be in creating awareness about a unique Muslim leader and his community, something that has not been tapped into until this documentary was made.
Little did I know that a year after our powerful discussion, Shamir Allibhai himself would grace us with his presence at York University. When I heard that Shamir was interested in premiering the film in Toronto at York University, I leaped at the chance to host the event. I knew that I wanted to share this film with the York community, and Toronto at large. Shamir and I kept in contact for a few weeks to prepare and organize the event, and finally the day arrived. I was surprised at what a great turnout we had, certainly a good mix of age groups, religious communities, and people of a variety of different ethnic backgrounds. Clearly news had spread amongst Ismailis too, because they occupied the majority of the audience, many commuting from all over Toronto to attend the event.
Watching the film was an exciting experience to share with such a large crowd, and brought to life many of the lived experiences of the Ismaili community and most of all, the Aga Khan. The best part of the event, though, was the Question and Answer session. I was overwhelmed with the amount of hands that went up when the session began. Professor Zulfikar Hirji, a professor of Anthropology and Islamic Studies here at York University, moderated the questions. People asked a variety of different questions, some thought-provoking and based on His Highness and the Ismaili community, and others about Shamir’s experiences and his personal journey in creating the film.
Overall, I believe the event accomplished its goal, which was not to create an all-encompassing idea of who the Aga Khan is or who the Ismailis are. Rather, it scratched the surface of the question, and posed even more questions that caused excitement, positive energy, and interest, sure to be spread even beyond the halls of York University. I remember one non-Muslim student approaching me at the end of the event, who claimed that though she had been studying Islamic studies for some time, she never knew that an Islam such as this existed. She was in awe of how little she was made aware of the Ismaili communities that exist all over the world, and while she knew about it in name, she felt that the film gave her a perspective that was beyond what she had learned in the classroom. This awareness that was being created seemed like only the beginning. While it has been over a year since the film was premiered, its impact is still echoed by countless voices, both Muslim and non-Muslim, in houses, theaters, and school halls all over the world.
Shamir's comments: Thank you very much, humbling and with gratitude. A lovely write-up.