Pelin Esmer in Honolulu

Although Hawai‘i, as a crossroads between the United States, Asia, and the Pacific, is a very cosmopolitan place, it is rare to find connections to Turkish culture—and visitors from Turkey are even rarer. Shangri La was pleased to host Turkish filmmaker Pelin Esmer for a five-day residency January 10–14, 2014.

Esmer arrived on January 10 from snow-bound Idaho, the previous stop on her lecture tour. She seemed shocked as she emerged from Honolulu International Airport into the blazing sunshine and warmth. She was delighted to learn that her hotel sat on the beach in Waikīkī, and was able to add a daily swim to her busy schedule.

Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Esmer’s first public presentation was on January 11—an afternoon talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker. The talk was moderated by Dr. Vilsoni Hereniko, an award-winning Fijian filmmaker and professor of film at the University of Hawai‘i. That evening, Esmer introduced a screening of her award-winning film Watchtower at the Honolulu Museum of Art and answered questions from the audience following the film.

Esmer also gave a presentation and screened film clips to students enrolled in Global Studies classes at James Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach, which gave her a chance to experience O‘ahu’s more rural settings. The students enjoyed her clips and comments, and had many questions for her about how she writes the stories for her films, about how she gets her films made, and about everyday life for people in Turkey. Her presentation at Campbell High School was co-sponsored by the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, a Honolulu-based organization with a mission to promote greater awareness and understanding of international affairs and to strengthen Hawai‘i’s role in the Asia/Pacific Region.

Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

In every presentation, Pelin Esmer clearly demonstrated that her stories about life, everyday problems, and the complexities of human emotions resonate with people worldwide. Those who were lucky enough to attend her events are already asking when she will return to Honolulu. Shangri La staff are grateful to Caravanserai for helping us bring such a wonderful and talented filmmaker to Hawai‘i. We hope that the transition from Honolulu to Anchorage, Esmer’s next stop, won’t be too much of a shock for her!

Diverse Muslim Voices Exchange at Shangri La

On April 4–5, 2012, 22 emerging documentary filmmakers, television producers and members of the Independent Television Service (ITVS) gathered at Shangri La as part of the Diverse Muslim Voices Initiative funded by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts’ Building Bridges Program.

Convening participants in front of the Playhouse at Shangri La

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Musa Syeed (Valley of Saints, Bronx Princess, A Son’s Sacrifice) opened the meeting with a talk on media portrayals of Islam and Muslims in the United States today. Of Kashmiri descent, Syeed  grew up in Indiana, which made him adept at seeing cultural issues from a variety of nuanced perspectives.

Next, the emerging filmmakers got a chance to pitch their latest projects to representatives from major funding organizations—among them Orlando Bagwell, director of JustFilms media content fund at the Ford Foundation; Ryan Harrington, director of documentary programming for the Tribeca Film Institute; Leslie Fields-Cruz, vice president of operations and programs for the National Black Programming Consortium; and Sapana Sakya, public media director at the Center for Asian American Media. The experts provided valuable insight and feedback, as well as pointers about marketing, partnerships, and funding.

Here are just a few of the great projects presented at the meeting:

Heavy Metal Islam, a film by Jed Rothstein, was originally envisioned as a documentary about the heavy metal music scene in Egypt. In 2008, midway through filming, Egypt’s Arab Spring erupted and the film became a story about a revolution.

Two Children of the Red Mosque, a film by Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi, examines the very different lives of two children enrolled in the Red Mosque madrassa, one of Pakistan’s most notorious institutions.

Filmmaker Idris Abdul-Zahir pitching his film project Iladelph Break Boy to the panel

Five Broken Cameras, a film by Emad Burnat, chronicles five years of West Bank protests and the extreme difficulties of everyday life in Palestine through the eyes and experiences of a Palestinian photographer and his family.

Iladelph Break Boy, a film by Idris Abdul-Zahir and Usame Tunagur, follows an African-American Muslim from Philadelphia who achieves international fame as a break dancer, but then must return home and redefine his life.

Islam on the Inside, a film by Justin Mashouf, documents the experiences of three Muslim converts transitioning out of incarceration on the Southside of Chicago.

Convening participants departing Shangri La following a fruitful day of dialogue via the Mughal Garden at Shangri La

Mashouf reflected on the convening: “Coming from a television background in LA, where documentary concepts spark, fizzle, and are replaced in an instant, I often find the task of producing sincere stories about Muslims to be impossible. The Diverse Muslim Voices Exchange allowed us an opportunity to better produce these stories and to share moments of solidarity with one another as we face many of the same challenges.”