It's a small world at Rochester film festival
THE MUSLIMS I KNOW: Muslim teens in a screen shot from Mara Ahmed's documentary. (Photo provided by Mara Ahmed)
WXXI offers 'virtual venue' for screening tonight
By Ben Beaglebbeagle@batavianews.com
Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:13 AM EDT
ROCHESTER -- The calendar says the eighth annual Rochester High Falls International Film Festival begins Wednesday at venues around the city.
But in a unique arrangement with public broadcaster WXXI, this year’s festival begins tonight -- in your living room -- with the first of many screenings that aim to increase our understanding of vastly different cultures.
Films can be found from the United States and Canada, and also such diverse countries as South Africa,Kazakhstan, Palestine, South Africa Sri Lanka and Tibet. Other offerings explore Inuit, Laotian and Iranian cultures. Together, the films help make our big, big world that much smaller.
First film screens tonight — on TV
WXXI-TV, channel 21 in Rochester, is providing a “virtual venue” for the Festival with a special airing of “The Muslims I Know,” the debut documentary from Pittsford filmmaker Mara Ahmed.
The film, which seeks to break Muslim stereotypes, airs at 8 tonight. The Festival runs Wednesday through May 18, with screenings, discussions and family programs at the Little Theatre, the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester Institute of Technology and other venues.
Ahmed’s documentary showcases Pakistani Americans living in Rochester and asks them questions that non-Muslim Americans have framed through interviews.
"If you search the words ‘moderate Muslim’ today you will get more than eight million hits on the Internet," Ahmed says. "The need to identify ‘militant jihadists’ by distinguishing them from moderate Muslims has cast suspicion on all Muslims in America. Stereotypes are becoming well-entrenched."
At the film’s premiere last June at the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House, Ahmed said: “This language of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ has created distance and misunderstanding rather than what is needed, which is dialogue. The goal of the film … It re-iterates something we all know instinctively -- that rapprochement is always possible.”
Ahmed will participate in an online chat about her film immediately following its broadcast. The chat can be found at wxxi.org/chat.
“The Muslims I Know” aims to open a conversation between American who might not otherwise interact by exploring the similarities between Islam and other faiths. The documentary also celebrates the cultural diversity brought to the American mix by Muslim communities.
"In a post-9/11 world, Westerners seem to be trying to make sense of Islam and its followers," said Rosie Taravella, executive director of the Film Festival. "This film is current with today's headlines and is relevant for every viewer.”
Taravella called Ahmed “a wonderful cinematic storyteller.”
Ahmed, who also narrates the documentary, has a master’s degree in economics from the University of Hartford, Connecticut, and another master’s in business administration from the Institute of Business Administration in Pakistan. In spite of her training in finance and economics, Ahmed was always interested in writing, art, and film.
Ahmed’s film training began in 2006 at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester. She started shooting The Muslims I Know in 2006. With the assistance Professor Cat Ashworth of RIT, Ahmed took about 40 hours of uncut video and created an hour long film during an 11-week period. The film premiered in June 2008 at the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House.