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An Interview With Amina Chaudary And Beth Murphy

On June 19, 2014, Babar and Haris Suleman – a father-son pilot team – began the adventure of a lifetime – a round-the-world trip to fulfill their own dream and inspire the dreams of others.

"Breaking out of the routine of day to day life requires bravery in more than one form," 17-year-old Haris said after he and his dad took off from Indiana's small Greenwood Airport in their single-engine plane. The plan was extraordinary: Haris would attempt to break the world record as the youngest pilot to ever circumnavigate the globe in 30 days, and the mission would do much more than garner the attention of the Guinness Book. It would raise funds to build schools in Babar's native Pakistan – in villages where boys and girls have no educational opportunities.

A tragic crash during their journey ended their lives, but not their mission. In this remarkable and inspiring story, we come to know the Suleman family as they search for meaning – not in death, but in the way Babar and Haris lived.

Amina's work is inspired by the belief that stories told through words, visual elements, and conversations with all types of people and in the absence of preconceived judgment, have the power to break down barriers and stereotypes leading to new paths of connection and positive interaction.

As a true visualizer, she has spent more than a decade interviewing notable thought leaders and finding under representative communities and people to help tell their stories. Her passion for storytelling comes to life most in the film that showcase positive, impactful stories about minority American groups often misunderstood in the mainstream press. Her film Tariq's Cube, won the audience award at GlobeDocs 2018 and was broadcast on PBS Wold Channel in the fall of 2019. She holds an MA from Columbia University in Human Rights, an MA in Near Eastern Civilizations from Harvard University and a PhD in American religious and minority history from Boston University. She is working on three different character-driven documentaries.

What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?

AMINA CHAUDARY: Films are a powerful tool for storytelling, through a combination of strong visuals and audio that drives stories forward. Audiences are able to connect more to characters and protagonists in films because of the way in which films allow for relatability, or empathy by bringing viewers along for a journey into their lives. I have worked on stories or interviews in print and audio platforms and the cinematic language always seems to appeal to audiences in more intense ways. As a documentary filmmaker in particular, I am most moved by being able to follow a subject in parts of their lives and witness it from behind the camera.

BETH MURPHY: What draws me to filmmaking is my belief that documentary filmmaking is the art form most well-suited for entertaining audiences while underscoring the common humanity we all share, inspiring social justice, building cross-cultural empathy, and motivating people to take actions that can lead to systemic change. I am not drawn to filmmaking for only the filmmaking itself but as an incredible means to social change and for the impact campaigns that are possible to build around them.

Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school?

AMINA CHAUDARY: Nothing competes with actually making a film or giving you far more experience than attending a school would. While making a film, you learn how to relate to your subjects, reassure them of the process, manage relationships with individuals and organizations supporting the film, etc. In the case of this film, you learn about true run and gun style and are constantly modifying your style, technique and approach. More than that, every single film, and even every moment in the film, requires one to constantly readjust based on setting, subject, circumstance or whatever else. I did attend a professional track film certificate course at NYU and it gave me more confidence to hold a camera and trust myself in my judgement on what could be a story on film. But my most solid work came from actually working on a real story.

BETH MURPHY: Film school and real world experience combined can’t be beat! But I think there are many roads to travel to arrive in a place to tell powerful stories. My own journey began not with film school but with work in radio and television news and degrees in history, international relations and international communications.

What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?

AMINA CHAUDARY: There is something very dynamic about the visual component to storytelling. Being able to see a person's face, watch them interact with people, and when combined with the right audio elements and making strong cinematic judgement so much connection can be made from the screen to the viewers.

BETH MURPHY: I believe filmmaking is an art form. And I really can only echo my first answer about my belief about its ability to entertain while inspiring social change.

Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script?

AMINA CHAUDARY: The narrative arc is pretty consistent with how the actual events unfolded, and we knew we wanted to follow the Suleman family in their journey to retrace the steps of Babar and Haris and to actually see the schools being built -- from the money that they raised during their around the world journey.

BETH MURPHY: I’m quite partial to verite and longitudinal filmmaking. These were not options for LIVE LIKE HARIS as we did not start making the film until after Haris and his father had been tragically killed in the plane crash. This means the most important way for us to communicate visually is through the huge amount of archival photographs and video we have to understand their love for one another and their shared mission for humanity.

How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?

AMINA CHAUDARY: since this is a documentary film based on actual events, we followed the surviving members of the Suleman family and worked through archival footage of Haris and Babar in order to retell their historic and inspiring journey around the world.

How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?

AMINA CHAUDARY: This film was entirely supported by the community efforts and fundraising. Through online crowdfunding at LaunchGood and fundraising events, we raised enough funds to keep the project moving. At the same time the project was a labor of love and done with a tight budget when compared to other feature length documentaries filmed over a year and in different parts of the globe.

Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist?

AMINA CHAUDARY: Being an independent filmmaker is often challenging and rewarding at the same time. It is challenging because one is left to navigate and find creative ways to promote the film, secure necessary funding and convince supporters of the value of this story being on film. Without having the backing of major networks or well funded institutions, it becomes a struggle in and of itself. At the same time, being independent allows for me to help find those stories that are often never told, or themes or subjects that are often misrepresented too.

BETH MURPHY: I consider myself a social justice filmmaker and cinematic journalist.

What is the distribution plan for your film?

AMINA CHAUDARY: Right now we are submitting the film to festivals and working through official selections and film competitions. We have great hope of broadcasting this film on a platform with a wide and international audience.

What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?

AMINA CHAUDARY: My primary objective is through beautiful cinematography to tell really inspiring undertold stories that otherwise would not be told, and that have the possibility of creating new points of human connection and understanding.

BETH MURPHY: Time and again throughout my life and career, I am drawn to the quiet heroes around us... ordinary people who are confronted with extraordinary circumstances and remind us of the power and resilience of the human spirit. I think in many ways, I am trying - in the words of Terry Tempest Williams - to find beauty in a broken world.

What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?

AMINA CHAUDARY: This is a story about the extraordinary lives of two people who dreamed big and took a chance to change people's lives for the better. It's a story about a unique bond between an immigrant father, with his history of finding the American dream and coming to America for a better life for his children, and his second generation American born son, and his effort to connect with his dad and reconnect with his heritage and roots. It's about living life with purpose and giving back to society. This film asks each of wonder, what legacy will we leave behind when we are gone?

BETH MURPHY: Both of us directors want our film to provide a perspective that creates an understanding of shared humanity. The political climate in America today is resulting in narratives that are anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. This is part of a larger historical phenomenon where nativism, or the vilification of newly arrived minority groups, leads to an increase in hate crimes, attacks and negative views of those communities. A major part of creating an environment of acceptance, mutual trust and understanding is through nuanced, accurate portrayals of people and groups that eliminate sensationalized rhetoric. The overwhelming negative portrayal of Muslims in America requires that a counter-narrative be supported. The story of a father and son—one an immigrant and naturalized American citizen, and the other born in America—is a poignant reminder of how immigrants contribute in a most positive way to our communities and our world. It is also our hope that audiences will be inspired by the themes presented in the film: the power of family bonds, the craving people have for adventure, and the incredible human ability to find hope in the face of tragedy.

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