This documentary follows the journey of two young journalists - Niamh (age 10) and her sister Sofia (age 8) trying to wrap their heads around something incredibly serious and weighty: the sometimes-bloody Sunni – Shia conflict that has been going on for decades. The girls talk to religious figures, scholars, well known clerics, believers, political pundits, the public and more all in the hope of understanding this absurd conflict. As they continue their road of discovery the two journalists soon realise that what unifies us as Muslims is far greater and more powerful than our differences.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Hoda Yahya Elsoudani
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I’ve been thinking about doing a film about the Sunni – Shia conflict for many years now. My main focus and intentions was to show that violence and aggression has no place in a difference of opinion. I wanted to objectively address as many key points as possible that one sect would have towards the other sect and then breakdown the misconceptions so that some kind of bridge can be built between the two sects once they realise that they have so much in common.
I felt that that people needed to be reminded to go back to their routes and embrace the simplicity of just being a Muslim regardless of which sect one follows and the best way one can do that without causing offense or coming across as too preachy was through a light hearted film.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
The film offers educational insight about the Sunni – Shia relations and breakdown, misconceptions and stereotypes about both sects worth exploring. Although it covers a complex political issue It’s directed in a light hearted and not offensive way which makes it unique and more digestible to the audience.
I wanted to take people back to their routes, remind them of the simplicity of the religion Islam. I felt that if I addressed such a complex sensitive issue so simply through the eyes of 2 innocent yet mature children that would somehow have a great impact in influencing mindsets, because it connects us to the child within and makes us reflect on our actions, behaviours and thought patterns more than if it was a documentary presented by adults.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Yes as the story unfolds more, the direction in which I took the film changed to which I’m hoping is for the better.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
I premiered the film at the Tricycle theatre privately for the very first time and the reaction I received from the diversely mixed audience was phenomenal! The vinema theatre was really packed and it seemed as though people were very enthusiastic and hungry for such a film. Prior to this most people were very supportive of the film and eagerly waiting i’s release. I did, however, receive three to four abusive emails from both Sunni and Shia individuals who would not care to unite Muslims and would rather wage a war than wave a peaceful flag!
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I was absolutely astonished and overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received and in many ways felt very much supported. This gave me hope that people really do want peace and unity between the 2 sects.
On a general scope In a world where the film industry is mostly dominated by men it may be a challenge for some but In my experience so far I feel that people are very supportive and encouraging of what I do even more so because there aren’t many British Iraqi female directors around.
Also one challenge I personally found that many may relate to is the difficulty of fitting in the mainstream media and getting our voices heard as an ethnic minority. I hope to continue the journey of filmmaking so I can open up doors for more female directors from different ethnic backgrounds.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
I want to set awareness to a wider audience both nationally and internationally through my documentary. By breaking down the misconceptions and stereotypes one sect has towards another, I believe some kind of bridge can be built between the two sects once they realise that they have so much in common.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I would like distributors, journalists, film festival directors, and Producers to recognise the film and to spread my message and offer me other opportunities to make more peaceful films, especially financial backing as that has always been the biggest struggle.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I’m very luckily and privileged that this film is already being toured around the UK but I would love to see the film be screened and translated in different languages internationally around the world!
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Can Sunnies and Shias unite?
Would you like to add anything else?
The Sectarian conflict in Iraq impacted my work greatly! I’m sure we have all watched the news where you hear about a suicide bomber who has just killed X number of souls targeting a particular sect and you’re left with a bitter, anger feeling where you wish you can do something to help but you feel immensely helpless. So I decided to direct that energy into a film that will hopefully enlighten people, especially the younger generation. Also many years ago in Iraq, people from different faith groups and sects lived very peacefully together. They would marry into the same families and so on and so forth so I wanted to bring that back!
People may have an opinion that the film is painting a romanticised picture of Sunnies and Shias uniting but I would say if it existed once, then it can exist again just like we are able to live with other people of a different faith group. I’m sure we can be less arrogant and more accepting of the other sect, and that’s why in one scene in the film I decided to interview a Sunni- Shia couple.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I love tapping into identity issues or cross cultural issues or something that would enliven our conscious and promote peace. I mostly love addressing unspoken social or political subjects that we tend to shy away from. And that’s why I recently established my own production company, which I called Spoken Iris Films.
Interview: February 2017
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Why Can’t I Be A Sushi
This documentary follows the journey of two young journalists - Niamh (age10) and her sister Sofia (age 8) trying to wrap their heads around something incredibly serious and weighty: the sometimes-bloody Sunni – Shia conflict that has been going on for decades. The girls talk to religious figures, scholars, well known clerics, believers, political pundits, the public and more all in the hope of understanding this absurd conflict. As they continue their road of discovery the two journalists soon realise that what unifies us as Muslims is far greater and more powerful than our differences.
Directed in a light-hearted and innocent way, the film tackles a series of hard hitting and pertinent points without causing offense or apportioning blame. It offers its audience a chance to consider how religious choices and practices may appear to the outside world, all through the eyes of these two innocent sisters. It takes us back to our routes and reminds us of the simplicity of practicing the religion Islam.
Director: Hoda Yahya Elsoudani
Producer: Hoda Yahya Elsoudani
Writer: Hoda Yahya Elsoudani
About the Director : Hoda Yahya Elsoudani is a British Iraqi independent documentary film maker and creative director of Spoken Iris Films in the UK.
Where can I see it next month:
Available on DVD (click www.spokeniris.com) and touring around the UK