On January 27, 2017, less than a week after taking office, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States. The action was a strike against religious freedom unprecedented in this country’s history. Protesters rushed to airports where passengers were being detained while legal proceedings against the ban began.
For the next year and a half Muslim Americans and their many allies protested a string of executive orders declaring a travel ban. With a series of setbacks in the courts, the Administration continued to fine-tune the edicts in attempt to pass legal scrutiny. As the lives of American Muslims were upended and family members remained separated by borders, the Muslim ban slowly made its way to the Supreme Court. The trajectory of the ban provides the film’s backbone.
Kobir Chowdhury is a Bengali-American who came to the US at the age of 16. After working his way up in the world of finance, he became increasingly religious. He now serves as the president of his local Ozone Park mosque, and runs a small shop in the community providing financial services for new Bengali immigrants. He speaks eloquently about his own trajectory of becoming American, and is committed to easing the way for other newcomers from Bangladesh.
Aber Kawas is a young Palestinian-American and a rising star in community organizing, focusing on empowering and mobilizing Muslim youth. Her activism was triggered in the aftermath of 9-11, when her undocumented father was detained for three years before being deported to Jordan—from which he has yet to return. Her family’s separation is a similar fate many American Muslims now face, and provides the inspiration driving her activism against the ban.
Mohamed Bahi is an Algerian-American who fervently embraces Islam’s mandate to help those who are less fortunate. He started Muslims Giving Back with monthly food drives for his predominately Asian and Latino neighbors. Now, four years later, he oversees weekly food pantries and Saturday night expeditions to feed the homeless; runs the first emergency Muslim women’s shelter in New York City; and spearheads Project Transform, which sets out to significantly impact the life of one selected immigrant family a month.
Dr. Debbie Almontaser is a prominent educator and veteran activist. Her Yemeni-American community has been particularly hard hit by the Muslim ban. It’s said that within virtually every family there is at least one member—grandfather, wife, child—who is stranded in Yemen, unable to leave the war-torn country and join their loved ones who are U.S citizens. As her fellow Yemenis have become activated for the first time, Debbie is leading the charge in pushing back against the Muslim Ban.
Imam Shamsi Ali came from Indonesia in 1997 and is the head of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens. He’s a world renowned figure who represents Islam at events and panels internationally—a strong believer in pacifism, Islamic liberalism, and inter-faith coalitions. Shamsi has authored four books, the most recent featuring an introduction by Bill Clinton. His friends include hip-hop moguls, businessmen, and clergy from different faith. One of these is Joshua Davidson, Chief Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, with whom he works to bring together the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Adam Zucker (Director, Producer, Cinematographer and Editor) is an independent filmmaker. His most recent independent documentary is The Return (2014), about young Jews in Poland today rediscovering their Jewish identity. The film has screened at over 80 film festivals, community centers, synagogues and universities in the U.S., and in 13 other countries. Prior to that, Adam released Greensboro: Closer to the Truth (2007), about the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission held in the U.S. It received the Audience Award for Best Feature at the Rome International Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Dead Center Film Festival. He produced and directed the third episode of the Emmy-award winning series Free to Dance (2003, PBS), and he has received grants from the Sundance Documentary Fund, Jerome Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, The Southern Humanities Media Fund, The Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, The Foundation for Jewish Culture and many others.
Adam is simultaneously an award-winning editor and has cut dozens of feature documentaries. Edited projects include Dori Berinstein’s Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (Tribeca Film Festival, theatrical), Rory Kennedy’s American Hollow (Sundance Film Festival, HBO), Sue Williams’ Death by Design, Michael Kantor’s Broadway: The American Musical (PBS), Madison Davis Lacy’s Richard Wright: Black Boy (PBS), Ken Burns and Steve Ives’ The West (PBS) and Dori Berinstein’s Show Business and Gotta Dance (both Tribeca Film Festival and theatrical). He has also edited numerous films in the PBS American Masters and American Experience series.
Andrew Baker (Additional Cinematography) has built a career in both independent film and broadcast documentary. Recent personally-produced docs include “Beekeeping on Pluto” and “Lambing Season” (PBS), both portraits of artists who have chosen to pursue unorthodox paths in rural Vermont. Baker also wrote, produced, directed and shot the short narrative films “Plastic” and “The Mesozoic Era”.
As cameraman, he has worked frequently for Partisan Pictures, Part2 Pictures, Look Alive Films and others, contributing to such films as Partisan’s “All The President’s Men Revisited” (DISC), an untitled profile of jazz bassist Ron Carter, and “Betrayal” (MSNBC); Part2 Pictures’ “This Is Life” (CNN), “Our America, with Lisa Ling” (OWN), and “Hard Time” (NGC); and Look Alive’s feature-documentary profile “The War and Peace of Tim O’Brien”. He has also shot & edited web-series for Reuters (“Severed”) and the holocaust-survivors’ assistance group The Blue Card.
Paul Brill (Composer) has received three Emmy Award nominations for his film scores and recently won the first-ever Best Music Award from the International Documentary Association. He collaborated with Rock legends U2 on the HBO film, Burma Soldier, composing a new string arrangement for an acoustic version of their classic song, “Walk On.” His recent work includes the hit documentaries, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC), the Emmy Award-winning Page One: Inside the NY Times (Magnolia), the Sundance Festival winning films, Gideon’s Army, Trapped, and Love Free or Die, and the Emmy, DuPont and Peabody Award-winning, 6-hour PBS documentary, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, with noted historian Henry Louis Gates and additional musical contributions from Wynton Marsalis. He was nominated for a Golden Reel Award for his work on the hit Netflix docu-series, Bobby Kennedy for President, and he recently made his Off-Broadway debut, composing the score for Gabriel Jason Dean’s Terminus, which featured stage legend Deirdre O’Connell and premiered to great acclaim at The New York Theatre Workshop. His music was performed and featured by Phoenix Chamber Music Society in the Spring of 2018.
After the election of Trump, I was devastated. Like so many of my peers, I was shocked and virtually paralyzed.
A few days later I was invited by a friend to a Muslim-Jewish discussion-circle. There, we shared our feelings in small groups– our fears and outrage. Then a Muslim-American woman, Debbie Almontaser, rose and spoke about what was happening in her community. How anti-Muslim targeting had increased greatly, and reports of violence and hate speech against Muslims were clearly on the rise. At that moment I recognized that my Muslim neighbors were on the absolute front line in this new era of sanctioned bigotry. And at the same time, I was stunned to acknowledge that despite living in New York City my whole life, I didn’t really know any Muslim Americans.
Then and there I realized I had to get out of my homogenous Manhattan neighborhood and go meet my neighbors. I headed to areas of Queens and Brooklyn where I knew there were strong Muslim communities—I just wanted to make a connection and maybe offer to make short online videos, or perhaps produce an advocacy film for a non-profit. I wasn’t really thinking about making another feature-length documentary – I just wanted to get to know Muslim communities better and contribute in some way.
On previous documentaries I’ve always worked with terrific cinematographers, but I decided it’d be best to keep things as lean as possible. So I got together a camera set-up and started going out to see what I could do. After meeting many individuals and visiting numerous mosques I did my first shoot in January, 2017, the day after the inauguration. I rode along on a chartered bus to Washington for the Women’s March with a group of Afghan women, most of whom had never participated in any kind of political action before. A week after that, the first executive order of the Muslim ban was issued, and protests exploded across the city.
At that point I felt it was truly urgent to capture what was happening in a documentary—my path was clearly laid out for me. For the next year and a half, I followed the trajectory and pushback against the Muslim ban. At the same time, I became increasingly engaged in the lives and stories of Shamsi, Debbie, Mohamed, Aber and Kobir. I continued filming until the Supreme Court decision about the ban in June, 2018.
The result of that 18 months is AMERICAN MUSLIM.
DIGITAL INTERMEDIATE COLORIST
Ken Sirulnick, CSI, at Goldcrest Post Productions, NY
POST PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
Jordan Thompson Deson
SOUND DESIGN AND MIX
Quentin Chiappetta mixed at mediaNoise NYC
ADDITIONAL MUSIC COMPOSED WITH
Elizabeth Ziman and Matt Ray
Elizabeth Ziman – Piano, Keyboards
Matt Ray – Piano
Dave Eggar – Cello
Pete Lalish – Guitar
Brandon Terzic – Oud
Stan Harrison – Concert and Alto Flutes
Rob Jost – Double Bass
Bill Dobrow – Percussion
IN GRATITUDE FOR EVERYTHING
Naheed Samadi Bahram
Rabbi Joshua Davidson
Roya Arab Loodarich