Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: documentary

My Tribal and Powerful Mother

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It was a sunny April afternoon four years ago when I was working on my book that I received a call from Eman Jajonie-Daman, an attorney friend and magistrate at the 46th District Court. She said there were French reporters and filmmakers in town doing a web documentary entitled, My Beloved Enemy: Iraqi American Stories.

They wanted to cover an interesting story about an elderly Iraqi attaining their citizenship and hoped I could introduce them to Warina Zaya Bashou, who, at 111 years old, became the second oldest person to be granted U.S. citizenship. I had written an article about Warina the year prior, having lived only a few blocks from my house.

Warina was born in the then-Christian town of Telkaif in Iraq. One moment I remember clearly about our interview is when she said that the keys to living a long life are work, drinking tea, and not going to see the doctor. But when I called Warina’s family, they told me she had passed away a few months earlier.

I then invited the filmmakers over to my home to help them find another subject. An hour later, three beautiful and gracious French people came to my door – writer and director Claire Jeantet, co-director Fabrice Caterini, and chief cameraman Thomas Bernardi.

We had a little brunch, and they ended up interviewing my mom, who was visiting, about her experience in attaining her citizenship in 1997 – a tremendous accomplishment for her, since she had never gone to school. At that time, I helped her memorize fifty questions and answers about the United States, in Arabic, and I was permitted to be her interpreter during the examination. She had to get seven out of ten questions right. She only got one wrong answer.

“Why did you want to get your citizenship?” Claire, the director, asked my mother.

“I wanted to be like my children,” my mother said, and I interpreted. “They all got their citizenship, and so it was now my turn.”

I told the filmmakers how on the day of her naturalization, I was in a hurry to go to work. My mother wanted to take a picture with the judge, like the others had lined up to do. I did not see the point in a picture, though, and had not taken one when I received my citizenship. We left and ever since, when I thought about that day, I wished I had reacted differently. I did not realize it then, but this was my mother’s first major accomplishment for her outside of her home. She was proud to have received a document that honored her efforts; a reward, something that validated her capabilities outside of being a good housewife and mother.

“Now she got more than that picture that she had wanted sixteen years ago,” I said.

We laughed.

In September, the filmmakers showed the documentary at Visa pour L’Image, the premiere International Festival held in Perpignan, France.

“Oh Weam, your mother up there on the screen made a real impact,” Claire told me through Skype. “The audience loved her.”

Her words further illuminated what I had begun to understand about my mother, now that I myself was a wife and mother. This woman had deep tribal and ancestral powers that few people understood. Born in a village and never having gone to school, although she wished she had, she had impacted not only the lives of her twelve children and nearly two dozen grandchildren, but her story had landed in France and later traveled the world through the internet. And at eighty-years-old, she was not done yet.

That same year, my mother’s health drastically deteriorated. On several occasions, my siblings and I thought we were going to lose her. Later, we were also faced with difficult choices of who would care for her now that she was in a wheelchair and had dementia. In the end, I offered to take her into my home. The process has taught me quite a bit about God, life, and humanity.

My mother and I were so different. She was born and raised in Telkaif, a Christian village, and her parents, who lived on a farm, could not afford to send her off to school. I was born in the Muslim city of Baghdad and my attendance of school was as natural as learning jumping jacks. She married my father at age twelve. I married my husband at thirty-four. She never went anywhere alone and rarely left her home. I traveled the world alone.

Since I was young, I knew I had inherited my love for words, books, education, and adventure from my father. I didn’t realize until later in life that I could not have made my dreams come true without my mother’s teachings of discipline and faith in a higher power. She did not go to school, but she knew who she was, having made her life experiences her education.

This article was originally published by Arab America in honor of Women’s Month http://www.arabamerica.com/tribal-powerful-mother/#.WMlmTk7HNFg.facebook

My Beloved Enemy doc. link http://my-beloved-enemy.inediz.com/?a=391

 

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On the Way to School

On the way to school

While organizing my office, I watched a French documentary on Netflix called On the Way to School. I expected this film to occupy me a little while I multitasked. I did not expect it to capture my attention more closely than a suspense movie.

On the Way to School is the story of how children in different parts of the world, who live in remote villages, get to school. Jackson and his young sister live in Kenya and walk ten miles a day each way to get to their school.  They have to beware of the wild animals in their path. Carlito and his younger sister ride their horse more than eleven miles each way across the plains of Argentina. Zahira and her friends live in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains and their journey, partially on foot and partially hitchhiking, takes four hours to get to their boarding school. In India, two brothers have to push their brother Samuel, who’s in a wheelchair, 2.5 miles each way to get to school.

These children not only go to school, but they also help around the house. They did not complain, analyze or compare their situation to anyone else’s. They did what they had to do and learned a great deal in the process. They had an attitude of gratitude and a type of understanding that parents hinder their children from having when they baby them too much.

When I finished watching this documentary, I told my children they had to help me clean the house. I handed out a list of tasks and I stopped feeling bad about telling them to make their own sandwiches, grab their own drinks and potato chip bags. Since I watched the movie, each time an inner complain wiggles itself inside my head, I think of them. I think of their dedication and perseverance and I switch my complaints to an attitude of gratitude.

That’s what good movies are all about. They make you visit other peoples’ lives, learn something new, gain a different perspective, and maybe, hopefully, make a change.

Unique Relationships Serving Communities

As I watched Laila and Georgia, the 6th episode of the Intersection of Faith and Culture short documentary video series, I thought, “I know these people!” Laila has been quite supportive of my work and Georgia is the wife of Stephen Coats, a filmmaker I met at a journalism conference. We sat on the same panel and since we have followed each other’s work. But, I had no idea Laila and Stephen’s wife are such close friends.

Laila is a Syrian-American journalist who works incredibly hard, acting as an powerful and influential mouthpiece for her Arab Muslim community within the broader American culture. Laila’s friend, Georgia, is Greek-American, and has been a longtime companion of Laila.

“When I came to this country I had no one,” said Laila with teary eyes. “Georgia and her husband Stephen took me in like I was family.”

Over time, the two women have become like sisters to each other.

“I believe that life is deeper and richer and more spiritual when I know and love people who are different than me,” said Georgia, who moved to Dearborn just before the 9/11 attacks. The next day, on September 12th, she was teaching a class, English as a second language, to primarily Arabic-speaking women.

Before moving here, people warned Georgia not to go to Dearborn, which has a large Muslim population, because it’s considered dangerous. But she put her trust in God and figured, she just came from Colorado where in the 1999 the Columbine High School shooting occurred.

“How is this place safe to be, and Dearborn isn’t?” she said. “We don’t know where the dangerous people are.”

When the controversial Pastor Terry Jones wanted to have a protest in front of the Islamic Center of America, the community of Dearborn came together in opposition to his agenda.

“There’s a verse in the Bible that says in the end, there will be people worshiping God from every town, every tribe, every nation and every language,” said Georgia. “That’s what I believe.”

Laila and Georgia are of completely different backgrounds, but they have more similarities than differences – they are both mothers, both spiritual, and they serve their communities in wonderful ways.

Having survived cancer, Georgia shares her journey as a cancer survivor, a wife and mother through her blog http://thecrazyedamommy.wordpress.com/ Laila Al-Husseini is one of the most famous Arab anchors in the United States and is known for her popular show US Arab Radio. The program broadcasts Tuesday mornings, live on WNZK 690 AM to audiences in Michigan, Toledo, Ohio, and Windsor and for audiences in Washington, Virginia, and Maryland, the program broadcasts on WDMV 700 AM.

It makes you wonder why Pastor Terry Jones’ desire to burn Korans and not Laila and Georgia’s example of peaceful relationships get the media’s attention. And what role, do we the audience, play in that?

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The Clearing, a Magical School

Jens Jensen

A week ago I went with my sister to the Henry Ford Estate, to watch the documentary screening of Jens Jensen: The Living Green. We parked our car and to reach the house by foot, walked through a dense woodland area which was created by Jens Jenson, a Danish American landscape architect, known for his “prairie style” design work. He designed the gardens at the Henry Ford Estate and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House.

I loved the character of this man, who considered himself an artist, not an architect. Jenson saw a connection between the performing arts and nature. He was called a Native Nature Poet. He summed up his philosophy by saying, “Every plant has fitness and must be placed in its proper surroundings so as to bring out tis full beauty. Therein lies the art of landscaping.” He believed that only when we leave the beauty of nature alone, as God created it, would we really have democracy.

At 75 years of age, Jensen, who wanted to create harmony between the hand of man and the hand of nature, established a school in 1935 called The Clearing in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin. It taught environmental citizenship and sought students Jenson thought would “study profoundly… do things worthwhile… not for oneself but for others.”

Jensen died in 1951, at the age of 91. But the school he founded is pretty alive. The Clearing offers year-long educational opportunities in three programs: the Summer program, the Workshop Program and the Winter Program. All programs offer a wide range of classes (which are taught in a relaxed and informal style), including painting, writing, quilting, birding, wood carving, poetry, rustic furniture making, photography, poetry, fine wood-working, music, weaving, philosophy, stained glass, metal work, nature study and paper arts.

Sounds like we have in our country more magical programs than Harry Potter ever did. The only thing is we need to discover them.

Detroit Unleaded – Red Carpet Premiere

Detroit Unleaded

When I received an invitation to view Detroit Unleaded at the Detroit Institute of Film, for its red carpet premiere, I had to smile. “You did it, Roula!” I thought.

Roula Nashef, the writer, director and producer of the film went to the same film school I went to, Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. I had met her on several occasions and I have been following her hard and long journey towards completing her first feature film. As a filmmaker myself, it is inspiring to see a woman like Roula not only get her film onto the big screen, in an industry where the percentage of women filmmakers is less than 9 percent, but for the film to also win awards.

The Director of the Detroit Institute of Films was at the Toronto Film Festival when he decided to watch Detroit Unleaded. He was impressed.

“When I find something that is extraordinary I try to present it to as many people as humanly possible,” he said tonight. “I fell in love with this movie. The whole country will ultimately fall in love with this movie because it is a wonderful movie.”

That it is. Aside from the fact that it is 100% cast and filmed in Detroit and that it portrays a more realistic image of Arab-Americans, Detroit Unleaded is nicely done, with genuine humor.

Roula will surely one day make Hollywood films. I look forward to watching her career move in that direction.

For more information about the film, visit http://www.detroitunleaded.com/
To watch the trailer, click here http://www.detroitunleaded.com/trailer.html

Iraqi-American Stories, Shown by French Filmmakers

I’m sitting at my computer, having my usual morning coffee and writing my next post about the web documentary My Beloved Enemy: Iraqi-American Stories, since their trailer was just released online. Suddenly the phone rings and I see a strange out-of-the-country number. I answer and lo and behold it’s Claire, one of the French directors of the web documentary.

My Beloved Enemy, which includes my mother’s story of how she attained her US citizenship, will be released December 10th. In early September, there were three crowded screenings of this web documentary at Visa pour l’Image, the premiere International Festival held in Perpignan, France.

“Claire, this project is great, but so is its artistic quality,” I said, after having viewed the trailer.

She told me how in France they recently had this debate of whether a journalist can combine artistic work into their story or if they must remain objective. In my opinion, journalists with a lot of courage and strong feelings cannot keep their feelings to themselves or hide it from their work. That is why in recent years so many artists have dove into independent projects, so they can unleash their own heartfelt truths. Plus, no reporting is truly objective. Look at CNN and Fox News!

Also, given what Claire told me previously, that the audience at the festival was touched and impressed by the Iraqi-American stories they watched on the big screen, I say, use the artistic and journalistic and whatever other talents God gave to inspire, educate, and shed light on the world.

My Beloved Enemy

Documentary about my mom – Coming in September!

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Remember the three beautiful filmmakers from France who honored my home with their visit? Well, they just informed me that the documentary about my mother’s experience in attaining her US citizenship is coming out next month. It will be posted on their website, http://www.mybelovedenemy.com , sometime in September.

My Beloved Enemy is a project portraying Iraqi-American stories ten years after the start of the war. The film crew toured different parts of the United States to show the challenges and triumphs that various Iraqi-American individuals and families face.

With all the misconceptions and stereotypes that exist out there in the mainstream media, this kind of project is especially important today. It shows the everyday truth that is neglected, overlooked and undermined. Yet it is this truth that could help us put an end to unnecessary killings, even wars, that were ignited by misconceptions and stereotypes.

It is also important because in 2007, the U.S. refugee program began admitting Iraqis to the country, to date some 85,000. Still more are entering the United States every day. What better way to know the people who are to become our neighbors than to watch a real heartfelt documentary about them!