Today on April 27, the Chelsea Clinton produced short documentary "Of Many," was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by Linda G. Mills, the film tells the story of the beautiful relationship between NYU's Orthodox Rabbi and Imam. We attended a screening of the film, which was introduced by Chelsea Clinton.
"I hope by the end of the film you will understand why we were so compelled to make it and even more why we were so compelled by the work that Khalid and Yehuda have undertaken here at NYU. Because we really believe that it can serve as a model for the different ways in which various faith communities can interact and work together and build relationships together on college campuses but even more broadly on communities across the country and across the world," Clinton said in her introduction.
She continued, "We certainly hope that this film will not only help others to overcome, what often I think is a failure of imagination in thinking that antagonism is the only way in which different communities can relate to one another. But even more we hope that it will invite others to share with us with what they're doing on campuses and in communities across the world."
Check out highlights from the panel featuring the film's subjects Imam Khalid Latif, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, and director Linda Mills:
Q: Do you feel that the relationship you've been able to forge between you and with your groups is unique to NYU? Or is this something that you have tried to replicate on other campuses in the United States?
Sarna: I'd say that this is, even though this story focused on our friendship, that these kinds of things are happening all over the place and what we were trying to do is create a film which gives people narrative to attach to because there are so many friendships like these that are happening. Not just college campuses, but in communities and to be able to give voice and to create this narrative that people can feel like they're living out in a way ... all the other films that we looked at on this subject were all a story of conflict. They weren't a story of how things could work. Sometimes people are scared to be optimistic.
Latif: I would echo those statements. I feel that when you look at narratives that engage populations that are not meant to necessarily engage one another or can get away with not interacting with each other ... if there's some kind of story that is told of two groups or if there are more than two groups that usually focuses on very polarizing arguments, hostility and tension, and I think that's unfortunate because it then becomes assumed that that's the norm that exists amongst these groups everywhere. When I think in reality, even in the work that we've done when we've gone with our students to different areas in the south we actually meet populations and communities that are thriving on doing work together. It's just ... their stories are not being told. The alternative narrative is one that we're seeing too much of.
Q: What are your plans for getting the film out and being seen by a broader public?
Mills: So that was really what the film was about, right? How do we talk about the work, how do we start a different kind of conversation and how do we advance that conversation? So I think there are so many platforms for that and I think that this is the beginning of that and so I think we're in an exploration mode. We were very heartened by the response to the press that's already been written about the film and that people are feeling attached to the story already in this very affirmative way. Because I think there aren't a lot of affirmative stories about particularly Jews & Muslims in the world, let alone in the United States, let alone in New York City. So it feels, to us, like it's already happening and we're not exactly sure what that will look like and I think we're open to that developing.
Q: Of the themes of this film, what does success look like for you?
Sarna: For me if the takeaway is "let me become friends with someone who otherwise I wouldn't have thought I could become friends with and let that friendship mean something beyond just itself and let me be engaged in friendships where I'm not muting my identity and where I can speak openly about my identity, I think if there are more one-on-one relationships which magnify each other," ... I think for me that would be success.
Latif: This time watching it, it really hit me that much harder seeing my daughter holding your son's hand and I think, you know, a narrative that is lived, that kind of goes beyond generations and starts to craft a new narrative is something that's really powerful. I think it hit me really hard that my daughter has Jewish friends who she plays with quite regularly and she interacts with not in superficial ways, but in very meaningful ways. It goes back to what we were saying before ... the importance of affirming for individuals the idea that it's okay for you to actually break out of certain communal expectations at times that unfortunately restrict us to become very insularized and only engage those who are very similar to us when in reality if we can start to transcend some of that the potential impacts that you can tap into can be really remarkable. I think letting people understand through our story that there are stories similar to this one are actually okay and they should be out there pushing that narrative as well so that we can start to counter a lot of the unfortunate divisiveness and polarization that exists amongst our communities.
Q: How did Chelsea Clinton get involved and what was her role as an executive producer?
Mills: So Chelsea was with us at NYU and she and I were working together in this multi-faith space at a critical moment when Khalid and Yehuda were developing their work. So she has been very much apart of the work, she and I are co-directors of the Advisory Board of the Of Many Institute. So this is really driven by our multiple, in that sense, commitment to this work. She observed very clearly when she started to watch the work that was happening here in the multi-faith space as being crucially important and really having the potential to build an institution around it which is why the Of Many Institute became so important. The work was happening amongst students with Khalid and Yehuda's inspiration along with a number of faith leaders here at NYU. That work was happening, but there was a way in which we needed to take it to the next level. That was happening in the work and then the film takes it to yet another level.