Films

Some of these films have small group dialogue sessions or lesson plans prepared and available for use at no charge.  A bold capital C or D will link from these entries below to the Curricula and Dialogue pages.

          Contemporary:

Afghan Star(documentary) “After 30 years of war and Taliban-rule, pop culture has returned to Afghanistan.  Afghan Star–a Pop Idol-style TV series–is searching the country for the next generation of music stars.  Over 2000 people are auditioning and even three women have come forward to try their luck.  But in Afghanistan, even music is controversial. Considered sacrilegious by the Mujahiddeen and outright banned by the Taliban (1996-2001), music has come to symbolize freedom for the youth.  So many of those taking part are literally risking their lives. Still, millions of people watch the show (11 mn watched the final–a third of the country) and vote from their cell phone for their favourite singers. For many, this is the first time they have encountered democracy: one man or one women equals one vote.  All–the different genders, ethnic groups, age sectors–are equal. This is a highly radical idea in a country still essentially based on a male-dominated tribal elder system.  For the first time young people, ethnic minorities and women have an arena in which to shine. The main characters reveal the true hopes and dreams of the Afghan youth, their desire for peace, education, and freedom to express themselves. 60% of the Afghan population are under 21, and despite the backdrop of conflict, corruption and repression they are funny, articulate and ultimately inspiring.”  D

BESA: The Promise “weaves Albania’s heroism in WWII through the vérité journeys of two men.  One is Norman Gershman, a renowned Jewish-American photographer determined to document first-person accounts of the Albanian Muslims who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.  The other is Rexhep Hoxha, a Muslim-Albanian. Rexhep must fulfill the promise made to a Jewish family his father rescued during the Holocaust and return to them a set of Hebrew books they left behind.  And Rexhep’s promise is more than words — it’s part of his besa — an honor code that, among other things, pledges all Albanians to offer safe harbor to refugees.”

Honor Diaries: Culture Is No Excuse For Abuse “features nine courageous women’s rights advocates with connections to Muslim-majority societies who are engaged in a dialogue about gender inequality.  These women, who have witnessed firsthand the hardships women endure, are profiled in their efforts to affect change, both in their communities and beyond.  The film gives a platform to exclusively female voices and seeks to expose the paralyzing political correctness that prevents many from identifying, understanding and addressing this international human rights disaster.  Freedom of movement, the right to education, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation are some of the systematic abuses explored in depth.  Spurred by the Arab Spring, women who were once silent are starting to speak out about gender inequality and are bringing visibility to a long history of oppression. ….  More than a movie, Honor Diaries is a movement meant to inspire viewers to learn more about issues facing women in Muslim-majority societies, and to act for change.”

Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think is another great resource. This 1-hour documentary excerpts and collates the results of official Gallup Poll interviews conducted with Muslims world-wide after 9/11. “This film explores the expertly gathered opinions of Muslims around the globe.  Researchers began by asking the questions on every American’s mind. Why is there so much anti-Americanism in the Muslim world? Who are the extremists and how do Muslims feel about them? What do Muslims like and dislike about the West? What do Muslim women really want?  Focused on the issues of Gender Justice, Terrorism, and Democracy -the film presents this remarkable data deftly, showing how it challenges the popular notion that Muslims and the West are on a collision course. Like the research, the film highlights a shared relationship that is based on facts – not fear.”  You might be interested in the five short summary documents on this page with some of the Gallup findings.  20,000 Dialogues, part of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF), is facilitating group screenings and subsequent guided discussions. And individuals can watch it online at no cost hereC

Muslims – “Frontline examines Islam’s worldwide resurgence through the stories of diverse Muslims struggling to define the role of Islam in their lives and societies.”

Once In Afghanistan from Dirt Road Documentaries reflects on the cultural immersion experiences of a group of young American women who went to Afghanistan for two years.  The film was created in 2008 largely through interviews since the group had gone with the Peace Corps decades earlier–around 1970–to vaccinate against smallpox. It considers a number of subjects, including Islamic culture, but perhaps primarily it recognizes and treasures the underlying humanity in people from vastly differing worldviews and lifestyles.  It does so through the personal stories of the women recalling their life-changing experiences as outsiders temporarily living within a society completely disparate from their upbringing.  The dvd is available from Amazon.

          General:

Inside Islam: A Sweeping Story of One of the World’s Great Faiths is a film by the History Channel. This film “lifts the veil of mystery surrounding a misunderstood faith. Trace its roots back to the Hebrew Bible and discover how the Five Pillars, the religion’s central tenets, helped spread Islam to the far corners of the world. Find out what the Qu’Ran says about war, violence and suicide, and how these words have been co-opted by extremists. And hear from experts like Khaled Abou el Fadl (author of Speaking in God’s Name), who explore the challenges facing Islam today, including a crisis of authority and deep divisions among many sects. 100 min. 2003. D

Inside Mecca is a film by National Geographic that serves as an excellent documentary introduction to the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars (essential spiritual practices) of Islam.  It can be viewed at home via the National Geographic channel on YoutubeD

          Historic:

Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain – “Over a thousand years ago, the sun-washed lands of Southern Spain were home to Muslims, Christians, and Jews living together and flourishing, their culture and beliefs intertwined. Here, the knowledge of the ancients was gathered and reborn. But this world vanished too quickly. Greed, fear and intolerance swept it away.” (2 hrs, UPF)  C

Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet “is history in the present tense — presenting the fascinating biography of Muhammad through the lives of contemporary Muslims living in the United States. This is the story of American Muslims and the man they call the Messenger of God, who changed the course of history 1,400 years ago.” 2 hours, UPF.  This film is now available on-line for viewing..

Mystic Iran: The Unseen World – “This is a beautiful and intriguing film that is sure to make You think.  The first known written declaration of freedom of faith was discovered on a stone scroll dating back to the time of Cyrus the Great, King of ancient Babylon.  Persian filmmaker Aryana Farshad recently journeyed through Iran, which borders the ancient lands of Cyrus the Great, to film the great variety of ancient religious rituals still practiced deep within her native country.  Over a period of nine months, Farshad filmed spiritual rites hidden for centuries from the outside world and in 2002 she completed the documentary Mystical Iran: The Unseen World.  Farshad’s camera crew traveled into women’s chambers in the great mosques, captured a spontaneous fire ritual in a cave occupied by followers of Zarathustra, and filmed dervishes in the Kurdistan mountains performing sacred dances to pulsating drumbeats.  From the narrow alleyways of Qom to the stunning interior of the great mosque, Mystic Iran: The Unseen World takes the viewer on a breathtakingly beautiful spiritual journey. ” (2002, 52 minutes. Producer: Aryana Farshad)

          Islam in America:

Allah Made Me Funny, “a landmark concert film, follows acclaimed comedians Mo Amer, Azhar Usman, and Preacher Moss on stage and off as they lift the veil to reveal the humorous truth of what it’s really like to be Muslim in America.” (UPF)

American Muslim Teens Talk “records a roundtable discussion held in New York City in 2004 among nine American Muslim students from a variety of backgrounds.  Moderator Alex Kronemer, producer of the video Muhammad: Legacy of  Prophet, asks the panel to share their thoughts and experiences on an array of topics.  Communicating with heart-felt honesty, wisdom and humor, the panelists are able to connect to American teens just because, as teens, they share so much in common with their audience.  The teens also convey ways in which as Muslims they may differ from their peers, and explain how others can better respect and understand those differences.”  This video is available from The Islam ProjectC

Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath “is an award-winning film by Sharat Raju & Valarie Kaur, who was a 20-year-old college student when she set out across America in the aftermath of 9/11, camera in hand, to document hate violence against her community. From the still-shocked streets of Ground Zero to the desert towns of the American west, her epic journey confronts the forces unleashed in a time of national crisis–racism and religion, fear and forgiveness–until she finds the heart of America: halfway around the world.  By New Moon Productions, this is the first feature-length independent documentary film about hate crimes since September 11, 2001.” (90 min. 2008)

On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly “follows Monem Salam, an American-born Muslim with a very inconvenient dream: since childhood he has wanted to get his pilot’s license. Several years after 9/11, he decides it’s safe to try. The call from the FBI is only the beginning of his problems. The film alternates between gentle humor and white-knuckle moments as it delves into the life of a devout Muslim American family as they pursue happiness and the American dream.” (1 hour, UPF)

Reel Bad Arabs; How Hollywood Vilifies a People is a “groundbreaking documentary [which] dissects a slanderous aspect of cinematic history that has run virtually unchallenged from the earliest days of silent film to today’s biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Featuring acclaimed author Dr. Jack Shaheen, the film explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs–from Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and gun-wielding “terrorists”–along the way offering devastating insights into the origin of these stereotypic images, their development at key points in US history, and why they matter so much today. Shaheen shows how the persistence of these images over time has served to naturalize prejudicial attitudes toward Arabs and Arab culture, in the process reinforcing a narrow view of individual Arabs and the effects of specific US domestic and internationl policies on their lives. By inspiring critical thinking about the social, political, and basic human consequences of leaving these Hollywood caricatures unexamined, the film challenges viewers to recognize the urgent need for counter-narratives that do justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people and the reality and richness of Arab history and culture.”  Though Arab and Muslim are not synonymous, Islam did originate in Arabia and in the Western mind there is often a conflation of ethnicity and religion.  C

Talking Through Walls: How the Struggle to Build a Mosque Unites a Community “takes viewers into the rural town of Voorhees, New Jersey, and documents the struggle of Zia Rahman to build a mosque in his community. Against the backdrop of post-9/11 fears that threaten to scuttle the project, a coalition of Jews, Catholics, Buddhists and others join Zia to support his efforts, revealing the best of American ideals at one of the most difficult times in American history.” (1 hour, UPF)

The Muslims I Know a film by Mara Ahmed;If you yahoo the words “moderate Muslim” today you will get more than 8 million hits on the internet. This interest is the result of a post-9/11 Western world trying to make sense of Islam and its followers. … Stereotypes are becoming well-entrenched. The purpose of this documentary is to break those stereotypes by showcasing Pakistani Americans and asking them questions non-Muslim Americans have framed through vox pop interviews. A secondary goal is to educate people about the basic tenets of Islam in order to highlight similarities with the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Wearing Hijab: Uncovering the Myths of Islam in the United States
“Contesting the myths imposed by outsiders about women wearing Hijab, six young Moslem women share their perspectives on wearing Hijab and the Islam religion. They all attend a university in Colorado but come from different ethnic backgrounds. Some are foreign-born and others American-born. Four were born into Islamic families and the rest are converts. Not all wear Hijab regularly. All agree that wearing Hijab is liberating (e.g., from sexualization of women) rather than oppressing. Breaking the myths of Moslem women as uneducated, oppressed, and unwilling to assimilate, these young women educate the viewers about the diversity of Moslem women in the United States.”—Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education  (2003, 34 min., Films for the Humanities) CD

Welcome to Shelbyville – “In one town in the heart of America’s bible belt, a community grapples with rapidly changing demographics. Longtime African-American and White residents are challenged with how to integrate with a growing Latino population and the more recent arrival of hundreds of Somali refugees of Muslim faith.”

          Sufism:

Islamic Mysticism: The Sufi Way – “It is said that while a Muslim prays five times a day, the Sufi prays without ceasing. This film, shot by Elda Hartley, captures the Sufi quest for deeper meaning in all things, and provides a window into the rigorous Sufi schedule of prayer, fasting and study.  Professor Huston Smith, renowned scholar of world religions and author of A History of Man, adds commentary as the camera takes an in-depth look at this gentle, mystical branch of Islam.”

Rumi Returning – “This film biography of the beloved 13th century saint, Mevlâna Jalâluddin Rumi, is a passionate rendering of his life and the spiritual intoxication that led him to the arms of the Beloved.  Each year on December 17th, what Rumi called his
“Wedding Day” is celebrated in Konya, Turkey, honoring his passage from this world and the consummation of his divine love.  Rumi Returning traces his life from both a historical
and theological perspective through dramatization, art and current day footage. Interviews with Akbar Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, Üzeyir Özyurt, a
Sufi dervish born and living in Konya, Coleman Barks and Andrew Harvey help us understand Rumi’s complex life and times.” (1 hr, Heaven on Earth Creations)  C, D

Sufi Soul: the Mystic Music of Islam – “With a dogmatic and fundamentalist view of Muslims increasingly predominant in the Western media, there has never been a more important time to show an alternative view of Islam. Sufism is the mystical dimension of Islam that preaches peace, tolerance and pluralism, while encouraging music as a way of deepening one’s relationship with God. This documentary explores Sufism and its music in different parts of the Islamic world, including Syria, Turkey, Pakistan and Morocco.  Sufi Soul reveals the views and beliefs of devotees while examining the growing threat from fundamentalist Islam and showcasing fantastic performances from some of the world’s greatest Sufi musicians.”  (50 min., director Simon Broughton, 2005)  D