In “All Atheists are Muslim”, the solo performance by Zahra Noorbakhsh, one of the biggest laughs of the show was when she portrays the Iran of her parent’s youth as a magical land of flying carpets and disco music. When we talk about forgotten Islamic history we usually look to the philosophers and physicists of the Middle Ages, but there’s plenty of interesting forgotten history as recent as the 1970s. Pakistan held its first democratic elections after independence, Iran overthrew the Shah, women strolled through Afghanistan in knee high skirts, and thanks to the Immigration Act of 1965 which ended race-based restrictions on immigrants, the US enjoyed unprecedented levels of immigration from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
After 8 years of film-making Lena Khan is telling the story of one such immigrant in her directorial debut, “The Tiger Hunter”. Sami Malik is an ambitious young man with an engineering degree who leaves his successful life in India to seek love and adventure in 1970s Chicago where he’s faced entry level jobs, eccentric roommates and general culture shock.
Since I saw “Domestic Crusaders”, the play by Wajahat Ali, I’ve been saying that American Muslims are searching for their “Fiddler on the Roof”. From the sound of it, “The Tiger Hunter” may shape up to be our “American Graffiti”. Lena has taken a hodge-podge of the anecdotes from immigrants, hippies, cubical workers and others who lived through the 70s and produced a representative sampling of characters designed to challenge the usual stereotypes. It has all the hallmarks of a hilarious coming of age story.
Lena Khan showed up on my radar when her video “A Land Called Paradise” won the 2007 One Nation Film Contest. It was a simple, but powerful concept. Ask 2,000 American Muslims what they’d like to say to the rest of the world and set their answers to music by Kareem Salama.
This project is more ambitious than other attempts I’ve seen to change public sentiment. It’s not a billboard. It’s not a YouTube video. It’s a feature length film intended for full theatrical release. What Hollywood does with millions of dollars Lena will try to do with thousands. As far as I know this has not been attempted by anyone else in the American Muslim community, but Lena intends to be the first, not the last.
Lena has launched a blog which tracks her tribulation through this process. At the end she intends to publish it as a comprehensive journal that can be used to help others get their film off the ground. It’s called “Lena Makes A Movie” with her description “I’ve spent the last year writing a script that makes grown men giggle, I have a well-known celebrity in my cast, and a producer with A-list celebrities on speed dial. Follow me as I plunder and plead to find investors and juggle the exciting, frustrating and epic quest to make my first feature film.”
Of course investors are what make a movie happen. Even a low budget film is an expensive project. Although Lena is pursuing traditional funding methods she’s also launched a Kickstarter campaign to solicit grassroots support. Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects where people pledge money that is only charged if the project creator meets their funding goal. It’s all-or-nothing fundraising. I’ve seen Kickstarter fund everything from a lemonade stand to commercial space suits.
“The Tiger Hunter” is scheduled for release in 2015, but the real work happens now.