Americans Meets Islam In A Film Festival

. 4/27/08

The seventh annual Tribeca Film Festival, which opened last week, showcases nearly 19 films on Islam and Muslims.

With a diverse collection of movies featuring stories from and about the Muslim world, the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival is an eye-opener for an American audience fed with misconceptions about Muslims and their faith.

"Even in as wealthy and as big a country as the United States, people know very little about the rest of the world," Peter Scarlet, the festival's artistic director, told Reuters.

"Films are the last chance we have to understand what we as human beings have in common."

The seventh annual Tribeca Film Festival, which opened last week, showcases nearly 19 films on Islam and Muslims, nearly 10 percent of the 200 features and shorts shown in theaters across New York city.

"Baghdad High", an 82-minute documentary featured in Arabic with English subtitles, offers a glimpse into the lives of Iraqis trying to lead ordinary lives in hard circumstances.

"Fighter," a Turkish movie by female director Natasha Arthy, tells the story of Aicha, a Muslim high school senior whose conservative parents expect her to become a doctor, but the girl dreams of kung fu.

In "Donkey in Lahore," Faramarz K-Rahber documents a love story between an Australian puppeteer and a young Muslim woman from a traditional family.

"This is done from a love point of view," the Iranian-born director told Reuters.

"This is not about terrorism, this is not about the extremists, it is purely about love and how a religion can bring them together."

The 12-day Tribeca Film Festival was launched in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal and famed actor Robert De Niro in response to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the consequent loss of vitality in the Tribeca neighborhood.

With over 250 films and 1,000 screenings in 2006 and 2007, it has become one of the most prominent film festivals in the world.

Scarlet, who has been working with the festival since 2003, says it has become the key destination in North America for films on Islam and Muslims.

He was dumbfounded in his second year when asked by a journalist if Tribeca would continue to show films "from the people who brought us 9/11."

Nearly seven years after the terrorist attacks, Muslims in the U.S. still complain of facing discrimination and stereotyping because of their Islamic identity.

"The real function of a film festival is to open our windows, open our eyes and open our minds," Scarlet believes.

"Films might be our only chance to understand people who may look different, whether they live on the other end of the world or maybe they moved in across the street or across the hall."

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that the majority of Americans know very little about Islam.

It found that the view of Islam in society is largely affected by the media, with about a third of those polled saying what they have seen or read in the media has had the biggest influence on their views.


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