The City Dark (2011, USA, directed by Ian Cheney)
Koran by Heart (2011, UK-USA, directed by Greg Barker)
Marathon Boy (2010, India-UK-USA, directed by Gemma Atwal)
Fambul Tok (2010, Sierra Leone-USA, directed by Sara Terry)
Tropical Amsterdam (2011, Sri Lanka-Netherlands-USA, directed by Alexa Oona Schulz)
Gandhi’s Children (2010, Sri Lanka-India, directed by Vishnu Vasu)
Synopses of Documentary Films
The City Dark by Ian Cheney
THE CITY DARK is a documentary film about light pollution and the disappearance of the night. The film follows filmmaker Ian Cheney, who moves to New York City and discovers skies almost completely devoid of stars. Posing a deceptively simple question – do we need the night? – the film leads viewers on a quest to understand what is lost in the glare of city lights.
Along the way:
Each visit deepens viewers’ understanding of both the measurable and intangible benefits of darkness, while asking us to pause and consider whether “darkness” is a natural resource. Blending a humorous, searching tone with majestic footage of the night sky, what unravels is an introduction to the science of the dark, and an exploration of the human relationship to the stars.
Koran By Heart by Greg Barker
Each year during Ramadan, 110 of the best young students from over 70 countries across the Islamic world converge on Cairo for one of the Islamic world’s most prestigious contests – Egypt’s International Holy Koran Competition.
KORAN BY HEART, an HBO Documentary Film, tells the story of the most recent competition and follows three extraordinary 10-year-olds who go head-to-head with children nearly twice their age.
Djamil Djieng comes to Cairo from rural Senegal, unaccompanied by any family or guardians. He’s considered Senegal’s top young reciter, and his teacher tells him that he will be representing all of Africa at the competition. Djamil listens intently and sets out to live up to the high expectations.
Nabiollah Saidoff comes from rural Tajikistan, the star Koran reciter at a small rural Madrassa where students learn almost nothing but the Koran. Just before he leaves for Cairo, Nabiollah’s school is shut down by Tajikistan’s secular government as part of a crackdown against Islamic extremism. In Egypt, Nabiollah becomes one of the stars of the competition, the only contestant invited to recite for the President, while back home his father intervenes to set his son’s education back on course.
Ten-year-old Rifdha Rasheed from the Maldives is a straight-A student who is at the top of her class in every subject. She is only one of ten girls in the competition. In fact, many countries don’t allow girls to publicly recite the Koran. Rifdha is from a country that traditionally has practiced a very moderate form of Islam. However, Rifdha’s father is turning to a more conservative form of Islam and wants her to pursue a religious education in Yemen. At the same time, her mother encourages Rifdha to study science and pursue a career. As she excels in Cairo, capturing the hearts of the judges, Rifdha’s own future hangs in the balance.
Through the eyes of these young reciters, KORAN BY HEART offers a compelling and nuanced glimpse into the pressures faced by the next generation Muslims.
Marathon Boy by Gemma Atwal
MARATHON BOY is the story of a four-year-old boy who is plucked from the slums of India by his coach and trained to become India’s greatest runner, but what starts as a real Slumdog Millionaire turns into the stuff of film noir: a tale of greed, envy and broken dreams.
Fambul Tok by Director Sara Terry
Victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war come together for the first time in an unprecedented program of tradition-based truth-telling and forgiveness ceremonies. Through reviving their ancient practice of fambul tok (family talk), Sierra Leoneans are building sustainable peace at the grass-roots level – succeeding where the international community’s post-conflict efforts failed. Filled with lessons for the West, this film explores the depths of a culture that believes that true justice lies in redemption and healing for individuals – and that forgiveness is the surest path to restoring dignity and building strong communities.
Tropical Amsterdam by Director Alexa Oona Schulz
Colonialism marks the beginning of globalization. And this documentary is a humorous yet critical exploration of ideas about migration, identity and diversity. Tropical Amsterdam tells the story of a Dutch tribe left behind by colonialism in Sri Lanka and at the verge of extinction. Framed and guided by Christmas celebrations that have been kept up by the Christian Dutch Burgher community in Buddhist Sri Lanka (Ceylon) for over 350 years, we delve into the lives of several elderly Burghers who grew up during colonial times in Ceylon, and later as adults, in the now independent state of Sri Lanka, were forced to come terms with a very different reality. The film is a window into colonial life and how it played out after the white colonizers lost their power. It centers on the question of identity and investigates the paradoxes and contradictions within the community itself.
Gandhi’s Children by Director Vishnu Vasu
The director’s personal journey across India captures the stories of marginalized, powerless and the oppressed living in dire conditions while corporate India boasts of creating a superpower economy by 2020. Four powerful stories are woven around Earth Fire, Wind and Water, bringing out the discriminative manner in which the untouchables and tribal people are treated. After revealing many appalling stories, including a community that eats rats for survival, the film ends up adding hope by featuring a group of 100,000 marginalized tribals preparing to stage a nonviolent foot march covering 340 kilometres over a period of one month, demanding land rights in the year 2012.