June 20, 2007
New Visions: Sundance Documentary Film Program 'Work-in-Progress' Screening
The screening of the New Visions program at this year's HRWIFF marks the inauguration of the series showcasing upcoming documentaries that were made in collaboration with the Sundance Documentary Film Program. The interactive program combines both panel discussion and open forum formats for the discussion of the process of collaborative filmmaking, as well as excerpts from the films themselves (each roughly 20 minutes in duration).
The first film preview is A Jihad for Love, by Parvez Sharma who was accompanied by the film's producer, Sandi Simcha DuBowski, the director of the groundbreaking documentary, Trembling Before G_d that explored homosexuality in the Orthodox and Hasidic Jew communities. The collaboration between Sharma and DuBowski seems particularly suited since A Jihad for Love is a companion piece of sorts to DuBowski's film, an intimately told panorama of the gay experience throughout the broad spectrum of Islamic communities around the world, from conservative societies where homosexuality is outlawed such as Egypt and Iran, to secular Islamic societies such as Turkey (where many gay Iranians seek refuge to avoid persecution), to non-Islamic, free societies such as France and South Africa where, despite the protection of civil liberties, people continue to be persecuted, often from within the Islamic community. One of the main narrative arcs presented in the film is the story of a young Egyptian man, shown with his face obscured, who was prosecuted by the government as part of the "Queen Boat 52" (a group of gay men who were arrested on a floating nightclub in Cairo under assorted charges intended for prostitution) and who, before his retrial, escaped to France to avoid prosecution. After years of secrecy and despite the financial hardship of starting over as an immigrant in foreign land, the young man is ready to embrace his newfound liberation, and allows Sharma to photograph his undisguised face as he enters his new apartment.
The second film preview is an equally fascinating and illuminating collaborative personal journey, Project Kashmir by long-time friends Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel who, having grown up in the United States, had never had to confront the minefield of deep seated emotions and cultural biases that define everyday life in the disputed region of Kashmir, where the war for control still rages on, and people, in their profound distrust, have stopped talking to each other. Guided by an anonymous telephone informer who is quick to advise the filmmakers not to take anyone's word at face value (and least of all, the press), Kheshgi and Patel attempt to navigate the treacherous maze of occupation, insurgency, unrest, censorship, and religious animosity, slowly pulled apart by their own increasing identification with the opposing factions of the interminable conflict. As a Hindu in an Indian-occupied land, Patel immediately finds herself in a position of privilege, often afforded access to places and information that Muslims are denied. Meanwhile, Kheshgi, a Muslim, excluded from the community that has openly embraced her colleague, naturally gravitates towards the plight of the persecuted Muslim majority. Barely speaking to each other by the end of the film excerpt, Kheshgi and Patel's experience serves as a powerful example of the dehumanizing toll of systematic oppression and injustice, and the importance of open communication and honest dialogue in the path towards moving forward and reconciliation.