Jawad Jafry Talks to Siraj Wahab During His Recent Visit to Jeddah
JEDDAH, September 29, 2007 — Beyond the glitz of the North American media work are the documentary filmmakers who tackle issues beyond the realm of the sound bite. Canadian filmmaker Jawad Jafry is one of those whose focus ranges from battling the ignorance behind Islamophobia to looking at the plight of recent immigrants to the New World and the obstacles they face.
A producer, director, writer, editor and narrator, he has produced programming for television, educational and corporate media markets throughout the West. Jafry also is the creator of Islamic video cartoon series “Adam’s World,” which has been distributed widely. He says the explosion of satellite broadcasting has created a market for him.
“There are a number of TV channels offering different types of programs,” Jafry told Arab News during a recent visit to Jeddah on his way to perform Umrah. “So you have news channels; you have entertainment channels; you have documentary channels; there is lot of media space available, but the market is also fragmented. So what is happening is that there are specialized documentaries for different channels. They look for content from independent producers like me.”
Forty-two-year-old Jafry’s first documentary, “The Wonders of Islamic Science,” detailed the Qur’an’s inspiration that led to remarkable achievements by Muslims in astronomy, medicine, mathematics, geography, botany, zoology and many other fields, which in turn powered the Renaissance of Europe. He followed that with another fact-based film “Hijab: An Act of Faith.”
“Hijab is one of the most misunderstood symbols of Islam,” Jafry said.
“My documentary tries to explain Islam’s concept of modesty and why Muslim women cover. A number of articulate and committed Muslim women with varied backgrounds share their experiences and insights about their choice to wear hijab. The film also tackles many stereotypes relating to hijab and highlights the duty of Muslim men to observe modesty. ‘An Act of Faith’ was an important video for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
When Jafry turned his attention to the plight of many immigrants, the result was “Night Shift.” “The paradox of foreign-trained doctors, engineers, PhDs and other professionals driving taxis and doing other low-level jobs has been so common in Toronto that it’s almost a cliché,” Jafry said. “Night Shift” is a 30-minute documentary that examines the plight of underemployed foreign-trained professionals in Toronto.
It took a certain degree of courage to participate in the film, as proud men and women found themselves in sometimes-pathetic circumstances. “What we basically did was follow somebody around for five months,” Jafry said. “He is Malik Khan. Armed with a master’s degree in chemistry and four years of experience in his native Pakistan. Khan arrived in Toronto in 2003 with high hopes, but the only job he could find was working the overnight shift as a security guard at a downtown condo. He shared a tiny apartment with three other men and made weekly calls to his new wife, Fareeha, back in Pakistan.
“Khan was somebody who was qualified — somebody who has the qualifications that should be market-worthy — and he was working as a security guard at night because he couldn’t find any other job.”
Khan’s story is not a rarity. Jafry says while they were doing research for the documentary they heard of a brain surgeon from Iran who was driving a cab. “We tried to convince him to feature in the documentary, but he would not,” he said. “This is quite a common problem. It is a generational problem. People come here and basically get stuck in a wrong job, and then they sacrifice themselves for the next generation to succeed.”
Jafry, a longtime Toronto resident who holds a radio and television arts degree from Ryerson University, is the son of media personality S.G.P. Jafry. He says he is in a good place that could be a better place. “Maybe it is too much to ask, but I’d really like to see the day when our community identifies areas where we are under-represented, makes it easy for our youth to enter those fields, and, when they graduate, has them work within the community,” he said. “I think we would all be so much better off if that happened.”
The city of Toronto gives him another unique opportunity to make a film of which he has long dreamed. “I have been working on a project for several years off and on trying to find the right candidates for a documentary on the victims of torture,” Jafry said. “A friend of mine told me once that Toronto was the first city in North America in which a center for victims of torture was actually founded. So among all the people in Canada there are some who have been victims of state-sponsored torture. They have been through horrendous situations. I want to reflect their trials and tribulations.”
Quite a shift for the creator of a children’s cartoon series, but Jafry realizes the important difference that his storytelling can make in helping to shape young minds.
“I once interviewed a woman for our ‘Hijab’ documentary who said that her mother used to read her bedtime stories about the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him),” Jafry said. “She said she always grew up wanting to be like them. That blew me away. It continues to amaze me how children can learn so much from the stories and characters they grow up with.”