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Houston Filmmakers and Actors: Trembling Before G-d

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Trembling Before G-d

2001 - France/USA/Israel - Gender Issues/Religions & Belief Systems/Social Issues
Reviewed by Elvis Mitchell

Turbulent Arts
Directed by Sandi Simcha DuBowski. (NR, 84 minutes).

With"Trembling Before G-d," the director Sandi Simcha DuBowski latches on toa provocative subject and invests it with a compelling tenderness. This documentaryis essentially about merging the Old World and the New, but with a twistthat is shocking: it concerns the heartfelt desire of homosexuals to finda place for themselves in Orthodox Judaism, where they are shunned and repudiated.The film tells several stories, profiling a number of people. Mr. DuBowskiknows that the film would shatter if his viewpoint were rendered in hystericalterms or even condescending ones. The film is more interested in dealingwith the intrinsic drama in these situations, like that of the gay Jews whodecide to divorce themselves from their faith with the same forcefulnessused against them.Elvis Mitchell , The New York Times

MPAA Rating: NR (Adult Situations)

Trembling Before G-d

November 2, 2004
Act of Faith: A Film on Gays and Islam

Documentaryfilmmakers have long wrestled with the need to obscure the identities ofgays and lesbians in their work, to avoid unpleasant consequences like jobloss or a falling out with family. Parvez Sharma, a New York-based director,has been worried that much worse could await the Muslim homosexuals profiledin his upcoming "In the Name of Allah," if ever they were identified.

Forsome, imprisonment or torture is a possibility, Mr. Sharma said. Indeed,one of Mr. Sharma's associate producers, a gay Egyptian man, will not belisted in the credits at his own request because of the perceived risk.

Andthreats to the director have become routine. "About every two weeks I getan e-mail that berates me, condemns me to hell and, if they are nice, asksme to still seek forgiveness while there is still time," Mr. Sharma said,speaking here about his as yet unfinished film, which he is preparing totake on the festival circuit in faraway 2006.

That such pressure isbuilding around a project still more than a year from completion is the bestmeasure of a perhaps widening gulf that separates an increasingly open attitudetoward gay and lesbian life in many Western countries from that of predominantlyMuslim ones.

With backing primarily from European television broadcasters,including Channel 4 in Britain, Arte in France and ZDF in Germany, Mr. Sharmaset out nearly two years ago to examine how homosexual Muslims around theworld reconciled their faith with their sexual orientation.

In doingso, the director received advice and moral support from his producer, SandiSimcha DuBowski, the filmmaker behind "Trembling Before G-d," a feature-lengthdocumentary that two years ago investigated the lives of Orthodox and HasidicJews who are also gay or lesbian.

"Parvez's film is extremely important,"Mr. DuBowski said. "It challenges the idea that there are no Muslim gaysor lesbians. It poses much the same question that 'Trembling Before G-d'did: why would gays want to be part of a tradition that rejects them?"

Mr.Sharma, who was born and brought up in India, said the inspiration for hisfilm came from his own experiences as a gay Muslim. His curiosity about howIslam and homosexuality intersect grew when he attended American Universityin Washington, where he received a master's degree in film and video.

Listeningto stories told by gay Muslims at the school, Mr. Sharma conceived the ideaof a picture that would "give voice to a community that really needed tobe heard and that until now hadn't been; it was about going where the silencewas strongest."

Mr. Sharma has conducted interviews throughout NorthAmerica, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, in countries like Afghanistan,Pakistan, India and Egypt. Many of the people he interviewed were found throughthe Internet.

"I received thousands of e-mails shortly after wordgot out about the film,'' Mr. Sharma said. "One 17-year-old Egyptian is remarkablybrave, quite open about his sexual orientation despite that country's crackdownon homosexuals."

As with Christianity and Judaism, there is a broadrange of expert opinion on the exact nature of Islam's official stance towardhomosexuality. Some scholars interpret the Koran as suggesting that thereis no condemnation of homosexuality, while others read Muslim scripture asindicating homosexual acts should be punished with death.

Given thehostility toward homosexuality in some Islamic factions, Mr. Sharma has goneto great lengths to reassure many of his interview subjects that they willremain anonymous. But this obscuring of identities has led to what the directorregards as one of his key challenges: filming people in silhouette or withtheir faces covered tends to reinforce a sense of shame around homosexuality,precisely countering one of Mr. Sharma's main objectives.

"One youngAfghan woman I've interviewed, if her family found out about her being lesbianthey would undoubtedly kill her,'' Mr. Sharma said. "So it's unavoidable.In certain circumstances, I'm going to have to conceal faces. But I'd rathernot."

Still, nothing in that difficult process - including the threatsto himself - has destroyed Mr. Sharma's faith in the ability of Islam totolerate diversity.

"You have to understand," Mr. Sharma said, "thatIslam is a religion of more than a billion people, one more than 13 centuriesold, that has been hijacked by an extremely small and sometimes loud minority."


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