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Culture

Turning A Modern Spotlight on Islam

A pilot project is offering young people in Germany an insight into modern Muslim lifestyles by screening 5 popular movies in 16 German cities. The aim is to break stereotypes and present Islam in a new light.

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East meets West - Swedish film "Jalla! Jalla!" by Josef Fares

The word "Islam" often conjures trite images in the West of Muslims praying five times a day in the direction of Mecca, fasting during Ramadan and women covered in the all-enveloping burqa.

It’s exactly cliches and stereotypical pictures such as these that the organizers of the ongoing "Project Week Islam Cinema" hope to banish with their arsenal of five movies, all which have enjoyed successful runs at the box office.

Organized by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, the five films which will be screened at large movie halls and multiplex cinemas across 16 German cities, are meant for a predominantly young school-going German audience.

Calling all German students

Katrin Willmann of the Federal Agency and one of the organizers of the film festival told DW-RADIO that the Federal Agency wanted to basically target young students with the project. "It’s also planned, that the students actively participate in the project. We also speak to them directly to get their school or class to come to the movie halls."

To make the process more interactive and ensure that the students stay interested, a host of competitions and initiatives and online chat shows invite students to participate and pose questions to actors and prominent Islam experts. Another incentive for students is that the films are screened during school hours and tickets available for a discounted price.

Katrin Willmann also believes that by selecting popular films which have already had a run in cinema theatres rather than documentary films, the films are more likely to have the desired effect on young students.

"Students can in particular learn about things that they wouldn’t usually voluntarily do – namely, learn about foreign lifestyles and foreign cultures. In this case we are trying to show them Islamic reality and everyday life with five films that will be screened on the five days of the week and which deal with completely varied topics."

Eclectic mix of films on Muslims

One look at the films on offer confirms that. From Muslims reconciling traditions with Western values to emotion-laden dramas and fast-paced action, the films show various facets of modern Muslim life both in Europe and the Islamic world.

The Swedish film, Jalla!Jalla! a colorful comedy on love, relationships, family, sex and the confusion of cultures set in contemporary Sweden deals with Lebanese-born Roro’s attempts to thwart his parent’s efforts to arrange his marriage with his cousin and be with his Swedish girlfriend instead.

The award-winning Journey to Kandahar by Mohsen Makhmalbaf traces a journalist’s trip from exile in Canada back to Afghanistan in search of her younger sister and the treacherous journey from the Iran-Afghanistan border into the Taliban stronghold.

The other films include the emotional rollercoaster Anam from Germany by Turkish-born director Buket Alakus, the hit film Propaganda from Turkey and the much talked about US film, Ali starring youth idol Will Smith who plays the role of the great boxer Muhammad Ali, who converted to Islam.

"We believe that these films deal with themes that interest young people in any case, without religion or Islam being the prime subject matter. Instead the main focus is on the fact that they (the films) deal with a foreign culture, one that we’re trying to bring closer to young people through this project," says Willmann.

The project is being financed from the special anti-terror fund set up by the German interior ministry in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11 in America, whose responsibility it is to illuminate, dissuade prejudices and encourage mutual understanding between different religions and cultures.

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