MYG helps rising filmaker document American Muslim Identity
By: Susana Casares
Making films is not easy, especially if you are a student in a foreign country. I moved to Los Angeles from Spain four years ago, thanks to a scholarship that allowed me to pursue an MFA in filmmaking at UCLA. I have always felt very close to the Islamic heritage of my country and I have tried to build bridges between the two shores of the Mediterranean with my work. When I came to Los Angeles, I knew that I wanted to continue reflecting on the connections between Western and Islamic traditions. That’s why I wrote Tryouts, my thesis film at UCLA. Tryouts tells the story of a Muslim American teenager in her quest to define her identity. My background is in documentary film so even if I wrote Tryouts as a fiction short, I wanted to make sure that it was true to the experience of young Muslim American’s today. I wanted to tell a story that would break the stereotypes so that anyone, regardless of their cultural or religious background, could relate to the story and the issues it explores.
Thanks to the generosity of Soha Yassine and Jihad Turk, I was able to present the project to the Youth Group at the Islamic Center. As a teenager, I remember I was constantly questioning and redefining my identity, so I really wanted to grasp the youth’s different approaches to growing up: what are their struggles as young Muslim Americans? How do they balance their values in high school, when they are surrounded by non-Muslim friends? How is their dialogue with their family? I attended the wonderful panel about youth with Dr. Maher Hathout and visited the Youth Group a couple of times. The experience was so enriching that I soon realized that I wanted to give back to the community. I offered Soha to volunteer during the MYG Summer Session to share my knowledge of video production with the youth. The result of that week of work with Soha and the youth was a handful of beautiful videos about what it means to be a Muslim. We showed these PSAs at the Pre-Ramadan fundraiser last summer and it was heart-warming to see the support of the community. Working closely with Soha and the MYG was a memorable experience, not only as part of the creative process for the film but also at a personal level. I felt that I was somehow part of the community, which gave me the push that I needed to go into production with the certainty that I would tell a story that matters.
We shot the film earlier this year and I am extremely happy with the footage. We are now in the process of editing so I cannot yet share the film with you, but I have put together a post production fundraising video with images of the film through Kickstarter.
It’s been three days since the campaign is up and it has already received special attention from the Kickstarter staff, who have featured it in their “Staff picks-Discover great projects” section. This is a huge reward for us but we are still far from reaching our fundraising goal. I am convinced that it will be a very powerful film that will bring attention to the experience of young American Muslims today.
Susana Casares is a Barcelona- born Los Angeles-based filmmaker. She just completed an MFA in Film Directing at UCLA thanks to a scholarship from Fundació La Caixa, a prestigious Spanish foundation. She is also a current Film Independent Project:Involve fellow and a Telluride UCLA FilmLab fellow.