Art of Moviemaking Crosses Borders, Says Acclaimed Film Director Mira Nair

Nov 1, 2005 — Independent film director Mira Nair spoke to YU students about the importance of movies that break down cultural barriers at a talk sponsored by the Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs and the Yeshiva College Book Project Nov. 6.

A native of India, Ms. Nair began her career as a documentary filmmaker before going on to make such well-known movies as Monsoon Wedding, Mississippi Masala, and Vanity Fair.

Although most of her work deals with Indian themes, she has worked hard to encourage the formation of local film industries all over the world. Through her production company, Mirabai Films, Ms. Nair established Maisha, a film laboratory for aspiring screenwriters and film directors in East Africa and South Asia.

“If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will,” she told the audience at YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

“It is our fervent wish to expose our undergraduate students to other cultures and to works of art that value trans-nationality and the encounters of different cultures,” said Elizabeth Stewart, PhD, director of the YC Book Project and assistant professor of English.

The event included a screening of Ms. Nair’s contribution to 11.09.01, a collection of short films made by 11 filmmakers, each 11 minutes, nine seconds, and one frame long, made in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Ms. Nair’s film is a retelling of real events in the life of the Hamdani family in Queens. Muslims, their eldest son went missing after the attacks, was accused by the media of being a terrorist, and was later discovered to have died at Ground Zero while working as an EMT.

11.09.01 had a very small release in the United States because the media described it as “anti-American,” she said. “Our only revenge is to make cinema that eliminates misunderstanding by telling human stories.”

The lecture was followed by a showing of Salaam Bombay!, Ms. Nair’s debut feature film about street children in Bombay. She cast actual street children and held a months-long workshop to gain their trust before starting work on the film, a component of her work that she described as “social science research.”

“Such research creates a foundation for bridging differences and helping to forge understanding and cooperation,” said Ruth Bevan, PhD, the David W. Petegorsky Professor of Political Science and director of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs.

Under colonialism, people from countries such as India could not tell their own stories, Ms. Nair said. “Now is the time to make stories our own way. We must put this crisis of confidence behind us. Every artist should embrace the world fully and own all artistic conventions.”

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