Chemical engineer and Mosquers Chair Fatima Faizi channels her passion for film to combat stereotypes of Muslims and Islam with international film festival Mosquers.
By Nadia Eldemerdash
Photos provided by Fatima Faizi
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Mosquers Film Festival, a short-film competition focused on showcasing Muslim film talent and bringing their experiences to the mainstream.
Mosquers, a play on “Oscars,” is held every year in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. What started out as a small event with a hundred people and some popcorn has grown to include an awards ceremony complete with a red carpet and featured entertainment component, and an audience of a thousand coming to see films from all over the world. “That growth is a testament to how the festival has stayed true to its intent,” says Mosquers Chairwoman Fatima Faizi.
Faizi has been involved with Mosquers since its early days, joining the team in 2009. She has witnessed firsthand how the festival has grown since then and the impact it has had on the community– as far as combating stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims and Islam.
“It’s amazing to see how one can be so much more expressive and really get [their] ideas out through creative means as opposed to just conversing about it,” Faizi says. “Some of these films have ended up being a lot more powerful and their messages have seemingly resonated a lot more with people than just, say, an interfaith dialogue or something like that.”
Faizi became chair two years ago, leading a team of 20 directors, all volunteers. Since then, she has sought to capitalize on that power by focusing on community outreach. She has introduced two new portfolios to the board, Outreach and Community Relations, focused on building bridges with groups that share similar objectives and interests. She has also brought on comedian Jeremy McLellan to be this year’s featured entertainment — it is the first time the festival has had a non-Muslim entertainer and Faizi hopes it will help attract a wider audience.
“Mosquers is, at heart, an outreach effort,” Faizi says. “We’re very grateful for all the support that we do get from the Muslim community, but one of the main objectives, especially in the last two years and one that I really am driving, is more outreach with non-Muslim communities and having that presence, because until you actually have that non-Muslim presence there, you’re never really going to be able to provoke thought and dialogue.”
For Faizi, attracting a wider audience has meant raising the bar on the production quality of the films shown at Mosquers. “I think we’ve established ourselves as great ambassadors of the Muslim community here in Canada. However, I did feel that in order to be more of a sustainable event, we needed to start investing a lot in enabling our filmmakers to produce high quality film,” she says. “So we do awards for best in cinematography, best performance in an acting role, all of those components, and I think if I look at the first year and I look at it now, honestly when you watch the films people are quite blown away.”
“There are extremely talented Muslim filmmakers from all across Canada, the U.S. … our best film winner was from London, UK, last year,” she adds.
Last year’s films covered a range of topics. The Best Picture winner, The Letter, directed by Sheroze Khan, followed a British anti-war activist struggling to cope after being separated from her lover – it also won Best Performance in an Acting Role. A Day in the Life of a Syrian Refugee, directed by Ahmad Asaad, won Best Cinematography. Muslim Writer’s Room, directed by Akifa Khan, is about a group of Muslim comedy writers trying to fix their boss’ poorly written “Muslim terrorist” narrative; it’s one of Faizi’s personal favorites from last year’s festival.
“Because the Mosquers is very open and we’re very accepting of different forms of expression, we had films that were submitted that were about some things that were taboo to speak of in the Islamic community, like homosexuality, various addictions, this and that,” says Faizi, adding that this has been a shift she’s noticed over the years.
For all her passion for Mosquers and Muslim filmmakers, Faizi herself is a chemical engineer by day. “It’s a pretty demanding profession outside of Mosquers as well, but…if you’re passionate about something you make time for it, right?” she points out.
“I love film. I love how powerful it is, and I love supporting Muslim filmmakers that I’ve met across north America and enabling them to showcase their work on this platform that we’ve developed,” she says.
This year, that platform will be held at the Winspear Center, one of Edmonton’s most prestigious venues, on September 9, 2017. Mosquers Film Festival is still accepting submissions; their final deadline is August 7. Learn more about the festival and how to submit an entry at themosquers.com.
Nadia Eldemerdash is a writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV. She is Managing Editor at The Tempest and has written for Muftah, Broad Street Review, and other publications. Nadia blogs about pop culture at Creative Quibble, and tweets about politics, writing, and the many pros of tea at @DemerN.