A Land Called Paradise, Directed by Lena Khan:
Lena Khan won the One Nation Film Contest earlier this year with the video above, “A Land Called Paradise.” According to an article by Special Correspondent for American.gov Serena Kim, Khan has received a lot of attention since releasing the video. Kim writes:
Since the video’s launch, Khan has received hundreds of e-mails from people who say the video has made them cry, inspired them to open a discussion about Islam with their families or broken down walls built by stereotypes.
As the title of this post suggests, while Kahn considers herself a serious filmmaker, devout Muslim, and dedicated social activist, she also approaches her subjects with a sense of humor. Her other YouTube video is a short film called “Bassem is Trying,” a witty look at a second-generation Muslim-American just trying to fit in with the surrounding landscape. At one point, he blasts hip-hop at a stop light and awkwardly dances in his car to avoid being stereotyped for listening to Arabic music.
In addition to attention from YouTube viewers and other online users, Lena Khan’s films have also attracted interest from documentary veterans like Morgan Spurlock. As you may remember, Spurlock became famous for suffering through 30 days of eating nothing but McDonald’s food in “Supersize Me.” After the success of a hit documentary and Academic Award nomination, he moved on to create a reality TV show called “30 Days.”
Spurlock’s reality TV show aired an episode back in 2007 about Islam. That episode centers on “Muslim Dave,” as he’s now called, a Christian American who was willing to explore the Muslim faith for 30 days. In an interview available on Google, Dave and Spurlock reflect upon the episode “A Christian Spends 30 Days As a Muslim.” Dave says, “You can’t stereotype one billion people based on the actions of five,” in reference to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.
The interview also highlights some memorable moments from the show, including an interview with an American family that has Saudi roots. One woman discusses the need for Muslims to “come out of their shells” and help transform stereotypes. Her point is well made in the show when Muslim Dave leaves their home that night, flashing a peace sign as he walks out the door. “Did he just flip me off?” asks another family member. “No. That’s a piece sign, dude,” she responds.
These are the sort of obvious truths and common sense insights into Muslim faith that are glossed over by the mainstream media but picked up on in the social commentaries presented by documentaries and short films. Another example is Heavy Metal in Baghdad, which was the topic of our first Inside Islam radio program on Here on Earth: Radio without Borders. The film explores the human dimension of the Iraq war through the unexplored avenue of heavy metal music. We found metal to be a surprisingly popular form of music in the Middle East that may serve as an alternative way to express profound political frustration.
“If I didn’t play drums as hard as I can,” says one metal head in the trailer for Heavy Metal in Baghdad, “I was going to kill someone.” Saroosh Alvi, co-director of the film, joined us on air for that first radio show. You can listen to his interview with host Jean Feraca on the show page for “Heavy Metal Islam.”
Are there any documentaries or short films that you would recommend from the Muslim community or about Islam-related issues, particularly ones that might show under-represented or glossed over aspects of life as a Muslim? Do the works above change your opinions about Islam? What other aspects of Muslim life are you curious about? Please let us know your thoughts here on Inside Islam.
Post updated on December 15, 2008:
Lena Khan’s first video was “The Sleeper Cell,” a classic gumshoe short, with a funny twist (YouTube).