Doc Blog

It has been almost seven years since I landed on the shores of "the free world" in my rickety boat and now we all find that the torch the lady on the Hudson holds has never burnt more feebly. As a Muslim filmmaker from India I have been honored to have the current US regime re-classify me “an alien with extraordinary abilities.” This is a real Department of Homeland Security category also known as the O-1 visa.

Interestingly, I was entering fairest Halifax in Canada on the day that Toronto announced A Jihad for Love as part of its official documentary line-up. I was there in the middle of a very hectic post-production schedule, hoping to get the US consular office to stamp my one-year  US visa renewal. As I was sent for “secondary inspection” (as I always am), a wholesome and buxom Nova Scotia border agent asked me what my film was about. This time I told her that it was about Islam and homosexuality and that Toronto had selected it. She smiled and told me that she had just read about it in the Globe newspaper and hoped to see it. She waved me on. Only in Canada!

Just three years ago, when I still had the re-drawn map of North America, as my screen saver (the post US election one - which showed the “red” states as “Jesusland” and everything else as “The United States of Canada”), I was leaving Canadian soil triumphant with my first O-1 visa stamped. I was taken for secondary inspection (this time by the US border agents stationed in Toronto) and asked what kind of “filmmaker” I was. All I could muster was “a documentary filmmaker doing a film on gays in minority communities.” I have come a long way and so has this film in the last three years.

The film started when I was a student shooting on borrowed two chip Sony cameras in Washington DC. It was only after my remarkable producer, Sandi DuBowski (who has legendary skills in documentary fund raising and outreach) came in a few years ago that I found the resources to film in countries like Egypt or Bangladesh. Visible and invisible forces, thoughtfully supplied by autocratic regimes have watched my every move. In Bangladesh, I had to depart hastily once state security ransacked my hotel room.

As many of us independent documentarians already know, filming without government permissions is a remarkable risk.  I have discovered that the thrill of landing wherever home or "safe" might be - with those tiny mini DV tapes intact in your checked baggage - is an indescribable reward. As a “Jihadi”  filmmaker I also know that the democratization of the industry with digital technology and smaller cameras has created a revolution in the stories we dare to tell. My advice: try to look like a tourist and no tripods EVER! This means you better work on those handheld skills.

I still have a film to finish so that you can all see it in a few weeks and I promise to return with more musings from the frontlines of this, our love Jihad. Watch this space for my own blog:
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