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Lena Khan

De countryzanger Kareem Salama heb ik eens eerder genoemd op jullie favoriete weblog. Onlangs zag ik zijn clip ‘A Land Called Paradise’ waar ik erg van gecharmeerd ben. Zowel technisch als inhoudelijk is het een zeer sterke video waarin meer dan vijftig Amerikaanse moslims hun verhaal doen door middel van zelfgemaakte borden in plaats van te praten. Het is beter als je de film met eigen ogen ziet.

De regisseuse Lena Khan blijkt met deze film de Grande Prize van de "One Nation, Many Voices" contest te hebben gewonnen. Dat zij zeer getalenteerd is, bewijst het feit dat Lena ook een prijs heeft binnengesleept in de categorie ‘minder dan zestig minuten’ met haar video "Bassem is Trying", een weergave van de dagelijkse strijd van een jonge moslim. Erg geestig.

De wedstrijd was georganiseerd door Link.tv voor de beste video’s omtrent de werkelijke american muslim experience. De slagzin van de wedstrijd zegt veel: Muslims in America, Stories not stereotypes. Maarliefst honderd filmmakers, grotendeels moslim, reageerden op de oproep om een video op te sturen. Het resultaat mag er zijn.

Zowel de stemmers als filmmakers moesten Amerikaans zijn, maar dat wil niet zeggen dat de films niet relevant zijn voor andere landen. Dat is ook waarom ik de clip van Lena Khan zo goed vind: Op een krachtige wijze behandelt het in een paar minuten alle vooroordelen en stereotypen van moslims. Alleen al in Nederland zullen tienduizenden moslims (en anderen) Lena dankbaar zijn, want het wegnemen van vooroordelen is een dagelijkse bezigheid van moslims.

Ik heb contact met haar opgezocht en heb speciaal voor jullie een kort interview met haar gehouden.

Lena, could you tell us more about yourself?

I’m 23 and graduated a year ago from UCLA Film School. In college and since, I have been focused on making films about social issues. I have spend my time working on my own projects and also working directly in Hollywood. I have worked in film development at Participant Productions ("Syriana," "Good Night and Good Luck", "The Kite Runner") and Valhalla Motion Pictures, ("Armageddon," "Terminator") where I have been able to play a direct role in determining which films make it on to the silver screen, as well as being able to learn about how the industry works in general.

Why did you choose to make movies?

I went into college thinking I wanted to be a professor. Just before finishing my bachelor’s degrees in history and political science, however, I just got this feeling that there was such a large bulk of America that received most of their education on the world and social issues not from professors but from movies. And on top of that, I had already known and had regularly bemoaned the portrayal of Muslims in cinema, whether it was in "The Siege" where a man is obviously shown making wudu` (ritual ablution) before hijacking a plane, or in "Blackhawk Down" where militants and "enemies" are shown while the call to prayer rings in the background.

So with all these things sparking in my mind, I figured instead of complaining about it I would just be the one to make the movies myself and educate the public through films that entertain but have a message.

How is it to be a ‘muslim’ movie director and win the ‘one nation many voices’ award?

As a filmmaker, it doesn’t mean anything particular, my being a Muslim, except that I should realize, more than those of other faiths, that it is my job to tell others in the world nothing but the truth. I chose film in order to do this because it is one of the most powerful and compelling ways to tell the truth–the truth behind issues, the truth about our experiences, the truth about our lives and life in general. Film is one of the most powerful means of telling a story–of telling, our stories…one of the most powerful ways of conveying a point of view that others would otherwise either not listen to or not understand. Film tells what is real, and more than anything Muslims just need to find the most effective way to tell what is simply the truth.

Surrounded by an industry that bases itself on licentiousness, drugs, alcohol, sheer capitalism and a philosophy that art triumphs all morality, it’s been an interesting experience as a Muslim woman, particularly one who wears that distinctive piece of cloth on my head. Once I became confident enough with my identity however, and refused to conform to the Hollywood stereotype however, somehow I became more accepted than I ever was before. My co-workers respect me, my fellow non-Muslim filmmakers are more than willing to support me in making films even about Muslims or with Muslim characters, and I find the most difficult obstacle in the end is really only myself.

To win the ‘One Nation Many Voices’ contest was an immense blessing. I have been able to meet more people and get my name out there in a way more effective than I otherwise may have been able to. It was also an amazing confidence booster and a big help in terms of simple monetary resources for future projects.

Have you heared about the dutch parlementarian who is about to release a movie against our prophet (pbuh). what do you think about it as a movie director?

I have heard of Geert Wilders and I suppose I am a bit conflicted. As a Muslim, I am obviously hurt by his incendiary comments, but as an artist and an American, free speech and expression is no doubt important to me and I can see their merits. I do believe that his film will be malicious and should not be made, but I am in doubt as to whether it should actually be illegal or banned…though if its content incites at all to violence against a group, or undue prejudice, than I would change my opinion on this.

I am not sure of this, but my gut feeling is that films like this should be technically allowed, and Muslims should take more seriously their job of countering these claims. I think most Muslims would agree with the right of people to make films (as are shown so often on the History Channel) criticizing the Bible or Judaic scriptures.

And to the best of my knowledge those who spoke against the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Islam when he was actually alive were not punished. His opponents wildly criticized both the Prophet and Islam without any measures against them. I see not much difference between then and this case.

I do however believe that Muslims have every right to use the means available to them to approach television channels and other media and express their disapproval for such films, which insha’ Allah will keep them from airing.

What can we expect from Lena in the future?

If those who have any interest in my career continue to pray for me insha’ Allah you can expect that I will simply be doing larger scale projects in the future. I am working currently on a music video for Muslim country singer Kareem Salama, who has been covered in the New York Times and various other major periodicals, and then I will be doing a few shorter films on various social issues, the first which has to be do with labor issues and immigration. My goal is to make a feature film.

So, when are you coming to holland?

As soon as I have a movie that requires me to shoot in a beautiful country and enough financing to take me there, I’ll be heading to Holland!

Met dank aan Nilou.

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De oprichter. Geboren, getogen en woonachtig in die mooie stad achter de duinen. Altijd klaar voor een revolutie of gewoon een kopje thee. Typisch Faisal...

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