When I was at Needham High School in Massachusetts, I was a basketball star with ambitions of playing collegiately. When I arrived at American University in Washington, DC for a Bachelors degree, I shifted priorities and dedicated my energy to scholarly activities. Within the last year, I continued this pattern upon studying Political Science at the University of London for an MSc. Now, just days after finishing my dissertation and arriving back in the
United States, I find myself the director of a documentary. The times have certainly changed. Certainly, I have changed as well.
In London, I remained in close contact with Ambassador Ahmed. His assistant, Jonathan Hayden, notified me of ‘Journey into America’, a continental expedition to study the American identity through the eyes of Muslim Americans and their neighbors. I raised a large sum of money on my own to embark on the trip, an event that is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life thus far.
As an assistant to Ambassador Ahmed in 2007, I wrote numerous articles and attended many events in the Washington, DC community. I figured I would have a similar role on this journey, like helping out with writing, research and collecting data. The team sat down no more than a week ago in the Ambassador’s office to sketch out the nature of our study. I was informed of the projects effort to create a documentary. Five minutes after this conversation began, I was appointed by the team as its director.
The director of a documentary? Never in my life would I have thought of such a title. But in just three days, I find myself completely invigorated and immersed in the intricacies of the job. Angles, lighting, facial expressions, scenery, objects, and symbolism – all of these elements are crucial in grasping the essence of the characters and events we have already experienced.
Ambassador Ahmed calls me ‘the next Steven Spielberg.’ Big shoes to fill, for sure! Right now, the team is in its third day of research and filming in St. Louis, where today we met with former Governor Holden of Missouri. We have also searched for conceptions of the American identity in meeting with Muhamad Hasic, a Bosnian Imam, and Mufti Minhajiddin, the Imam of St. Louis’s largest Islamic center. Tomorrow, we are meeting with local Rabbi’s, and even the Mayor of St. Louis.
Is filming challenging? Absolutely, but it is a challenge that I am most certainly excited for. Keeping that arm straight is perhaps the biggest of all problems. I hope, though, that the battery of my camera does not run out anytime soon, for this journey has only begun.
Here’s the video of us listening in the car on the way to a Mosque. We’ll write about that later. Watch for a hilarious reaction from the team at the end of the clip.