The Mosque in Morgantown
While election-year rhetoric is turning up the volume on such hot-button issues as terrorism and xenophobia, a documentary series is doing its part to rationally examine what it means to be Muslim in America.
"In the midst of a rise in Islamophobic temperature, we curated a trio of American Muslim-themed documentaries," says Carmen L. Vicencio, series producer and director of America ReFramed, a coproduction of American Documentary, Inc., and WGBH Boston's World Channel.
"The films took us on emotional journeys, challenged ingrained perceptions and introduced to us American Muslims across the country, whose diverse views and experiences we might otherwise not encounter."
Those films — American Arab, The Mosque in Morgantown and Adama — are just part of the show's recent slate of docs by up-and-coming directors that, Vicencio says, "aim to shine light on underexplored stories and socially relevant issues."
America ReFramed has focused on topics ranging from the adversities faced by a black congresswoman who ran for president to a look inside the only all-male hula school in Hawaii.
"From healthcare to politics, religion, gun violence, disabilities, women-centric stories, veteran issues, LGBT narratives, immigration — it's everything we see and hear about in the news," Vicencio explains. "But our films give it a face and a name, a real story to the headlines."
The series, now in its fourth season, doesn't set out to raise hackles, but being relevant and timely often leads America ReFramed to controversial issues — as when it tackled the discrimination faced by U.S. Muslims after 9/11. But, "we're not just after diversity of content," Vicencio adds. "We want diversity behind the camera as well."
Which means that filmmakers don't have to be Oscar winners to make the cut.
"We're looking for folks who are probably not as experienced, but who are on the emerging front," says Chris Hastings, executive producer on the series and an editorial manager of WGBH. "We want authentic stories. We're looking for people who are part of these communities, who are out there on the front line."
Not surprisingly, the weekly series — hosted by Natasha Del Toro — has launched the careers of some filmmakers. "We've had a few of them come back and tell us that because of America ReFramed, they were able to secure funding for their next project," Vicencio says. "It has also helped garner festival attention."
And with films like the trio on Muslim life, America ReFramed is meeting its key goal, Hastings says: to fuel conversations about overlooked topics.
"Muslims continue to face persecution because of their religious beliefs and ethnic background, out of fear of association. Documentaries can speak truth, and America ReFramed's mission is to share stories that help to dispel fear and fight intolerance."