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From the heart of Kosovo

Jamie Donoughue
Jamie Donoughue is an Oscar® nominated British film director, producer and writer. He is best known for directing short-film Shok that earned him critical appraisal and multiple international awards including Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film nomination at the 88th Academy Awards. In 2016, he directed two episodes of the critically acclaimed BBC / Netflix drama The Last Kingdom. Here is an interview with Jamie, focusing on his moving short film, Shok.

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself? Your growing years, education and professional trajectory, perhaps? 
Ever since I was young my true passion was actually Judo and for many years this is what I wanted to do professionally. The first bit of filming I ever did was to film a local Judo contest and I guess this is where I got the bug. After finishing school I worked for a production company in my year out and then went to University to study TV & Film. During this time I worked at a local TV station, camera operating and directing. After leaving Uni I set up a production company making music videos. We were fortunate to grow quickly and had a lot of success working with some incredible artists around the world. However my true passion was always in drama. So after a (very early) mid life crisis I decided to move in that direction, starting with my first short film ‘Shok’. Shok has since provided me many incredible opportunities. I have just finished directing on season 2 of the BBC/Netflix Drama ‘The Last Kingdom’ and am currently in development of my own TV show with NBC Universal.

What inspired Shok? 
Back in 2010 I randomly visited Kosovo to shoot a commercial as a favour for a friend. It was planned as a three-day trip. Then the Icelandic Volcano erupted and I found myself stranded there for five weeks. I say ‘stranded’ but the truth was it was the most incredible time of my life; I didn’t want to go home. I met some amazing friends and was overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of the Kosovar people. Over time they began to tell me their stories and I could not believe what had happened less than ten years ago on my doorstep. It’s only when a person looks you in the eye and tells you their story that you fully understand the true meaning of the word ‘war’. What inspired me most however was that there was no anger, rather just a desperation for their stories to be heard. I wanted to give something back to them and tell as many people as possible about what I had learnt.

What kind of preparation went into dealing with something so nuanced and painful? 
A Still from the Film "Shok"

I knew very early on that I wanted to tell a true story based around people not events and most importantly relate to an audience by exploring the lives of the children during this time. One of the biggest challenges however was choosing what story to tell. Literally ever person in Kosovo had been affected by the war and each of their stories are as painful and inspiring as the next. One key story I landed on was of my good friend Eshref Durmishi. He survived the war and became an actor and actually ended up playing the part of his aggressor in film. My main concern however was to create a film that was true to the people of Kosovo, but yet appeal to an international audience. I did not ever want to be seen as a foreigner coming over and ‘using’ the country for its stories. The only way to overcome this was to truly understand the culture and the people. I therefore spent the next four years learning and researching everything possible about the country. I stayed with many families, meeting and interviewing hundreds of people. I ate, drank and lived Kosovo, even learning the language (granted very badly). Only after all this did I feel the time was right and I could represent them in the most honest and respectful way.

A Still from the Film "Shok"
What was your experience filming like? Do you have any particular anecdotes to share? 
It was an extremely difficult and logistically problematic to get us to the production stage. No one in the UK wanted to fund us and producing a coproduction between the two countries was not easy. I have to thank my amazing producers Harvey Ascott and Howard Dawson for making it possible. However once we actually got to the stage of filming it was an incredible experience. I had a mixture of UK and Kosovo crew and everyone involved had either been directly affected by the war or had spent time in Kosovo to truly understand what we were trying to achieve. The film had many difficult scenes but the truth is we kept the shoot light hearted and most importantly for me was that we all had fun. We were attempting something that had not really been done before and most people were working for very little money. It was a passion project for everyone. However one particular scene will stay with me for the rest of my life. When filming the raid on the house I first ran a rehearsal with just the actors in order to work out the camera movement I wanted. The entire crew plus the hundred or so onlookers were outside waiting. We rehearsed the raid of the house and removal of the family. I was in the midst of it and it was so real I was physically shaking. I walked outside to find everyone else in tears, traumatised from hearing the sounds alone. It was at that point I questioned everything I was doing and whether I was wrong to be playing with people’s emotions in this way. Then the neighbour from upstairs came over. She too was in tears. She said to me that the exact raid had happened here in that property. She then told me as and hard as it was to relieve she wanted to thank us all for taking on this story and enabling others to know the truth of what had happened.

What have your biggest challenges been? How have you dealt with them? 
Trying to make it in the Film & TV industry is incredibly hard. People always tell you this but you have no idea. Probably my biggest challenge was after leaving my company. I had spend years building it up and now had to start again from scratch. I risked everything on making Shok and put every last penny I had into the project. I had to take a job with a friend labouring on building sites. In fact I found out I have been long listed for an Oscar® whilst constructing a garden shed. All this was great training though. It allowed me to stay humble and realise patience, persistence and hard work is key. Also that once in a while it’s good to take a risk.

As a filmmaker, you are a storyteller who takes fact out into the world through an observer's lens. When you deal with difficult subjects, how do you retain your objectivity? 
Normally with Film or TV there is an understanding of using ‘creative licence’ i.e. manipulating facts and reality in order to benefit and enhance the story. However with Shok this was not something I ever wanted to do. These were people’s lives, and indeed deaths. The film dealt with war and atrocities and by its nature could appear extremely one sided. I was therefore very conscious of keeping my objectivity. I spent time in all other areas of the Balkans including Serbia, speaking to locals and hearing their experiences. I learnt that the truth is war is complicated and dirty and there is rarely a simple answer to who is right and wrong. However this film was never about the ‘events’; it was about the people and the true victims of war, whoever they are and wherever they are from.

You've been the voice of those that are otherwise not heard, considering how information on the situation in Kosovo is relegated only to a statistic. How does that feel?
When I set out to make this film I gave myself an objective; if just one person watches this film and decides to find out more about Kosovo then it will have been worthwhile. We have been incredibly fortunate that due to the success of this film Kosovo has been put on the world map. As well as its nomination for an Oscar®, over a million people have see the film along with vast international press exposure. We have done Q&A’s across the world, presentations in schools, been discussed at the United Nations, met the Royal Family and even our two child actors were invited by the Pope to perform at the Vatican for the consecration of Mother Teressa. This is not only proof of the power of film but also the power of people. How do I feel? Honoured, humbled and extremely grateful. It’s incredible to think that although Shok highlights the negativities in this world, its success has highlighted the positives.

What goes into making your creative process what it is? What inspires you? 
I spend a lot of time researching a subject and finding out as much as possible. It’s about the little details that you put into a film. Grated many of the audience may not pick up on these but overall it creates a richer and more impacting viewing experience. I have a clear idea of what I want but at the same time I realise most of the creativity is done ‘in the moment’. I like to empower the actors and crew and all work together to create something unique. For me inspiration can come from anywhere but I guess I am mostly drawn to true stories. This is especially the case if the subjects of these stories are still alive and I am able to talk with them. I think we have become desensitised to war and violence. Words such as refugees, displacement, famine, etc have become just that… words. I like to try bring meaning back to this by putting a face and personal story to these events. If an audience can relate to it then they can see in fact we are all actually not too dissimilar.

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More on the film
Twitter - @shokshortfilm

Download Shok 

 
Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Belarus, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Fiji, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Philippines, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, Swaziland, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam, British Virgin Islands, Zimbabwe
 
 
Kanopy (educational purposes) – https://www.kanopystreaming.com/product/shok
 
Worldwide excluding Kosovo and Albania
 
 
 
Serbia, Albania and Kosovo
 
 
 
USA

Colour you blind

Written by Ayesha Najma Musaliar | Photograph by Ayesha Najma Musaliar
A poem on the plight of LGBTQ's,on compassion and empathy for those fighting demons we cannot see. 

I am not black, nor am I white. 
I am more, than what was thought "Right".
I am grey, with the purpose of yellow.
As of today, I am a rainbow.

I may look green as most trees do, but I feel sad and I feel blue.
Underneath my brown bark, I hide what is true.
I hide because I fear,
that I am not, like you. 

The unstoppable

Shalini Saraswathi
Shalini Saraswathi is a quadruped amputee, having lost both her arms and her legs. But then, that hasn't stopped her from achieving her dreams, and how! Yashasvini Rajeshwar speaks to her.

Could you tell us your story to the extent that makes you comfortable? You have spoken about vacationing in Cambodia, coming back and falling sick with a fever. It turned out to be a very rare bacterial infection. Did the doctors struggle to diagnose it?
Cambodia was on my list of places to travel to, and we headed for a vacation on our 4th anniversary. I came back from it to handle one of our toughest client visits. The month was eventful - the trip, I found out I was pregnant, we were setting up the new home we had recently bought.

Towards the end of March, while I was at work I started feeling feverish and went home early. My husband was travelling, so I was home alone. I called my in-laws and asked them to send me some dinner. The next day I felt worse and it only got worse from there. The fever came along with shivers and extreme fatigue. We visited my gynaecologist and he recommended blood tests. The blood tests confirmed an extremely low platelet count. The obvious conclusions were dengue or malaria. I got admitted into the hospital and after a really tough first night in the hospital, I was moved to the ICU. And that is my last memory.

Over the next few days, I deteriorated further with me finally moving onto a life support system. My heart stopped twice, my kidneys failed, my lungs were filled with water. The doctor confirmed a 2% chance of survival. The doctors did struggle with identifying the bacteria since it is not known in India. There has been only one reported case of Rickettsial with morts in the world before, and that person did not make it through.

The doctors went back with a fine comb over the last few months of my life. They contacted doctors in Cambodia and that is how the confirmed the cause of the entire drama. The bacteria is contracted from dog ticks and I had petted stray dogs on the trip. Plus, my pregnancy had led to complications. Luckily I slept through it all. I woke up on April 5th, my birthday. In my head, I thought it was the day after my admission into the ICU.

The ICU is a crazy place to be in. There are way too many nurses making notes and checking on you. They wake you at 4 AM to give you a bath. I spent the next few days just lying around and watching the doctors. I desperately wanted the pipes off me and that was my priority. My next goal was to get out of the ICU. I did notice my arms at that time. They were dark blue and swollen, with massive blisters on them. My legs were also in a similar state. I did not mull over them too much then.

A few days later, i was moved to the ward and my ordeal of sleeplessness and excruciating pain began. One day, the psychologist arrived and broke the news. He said there was a chance of amputation of all limbs. I told him, “if that is what it is, then we will deal with it. You guys must have thought this through before talking to me.” I pushed it out of my mind. I knew a miracle would happen.

A week later, I was discharged and my primary goal at that time was to be pain free. I was relieved to be home. But the pain just would not go away. In fact, it got worse. I tried alternative therapies, but then gangrene set it. We moved to Ayurveda, which probably saved my body and soul. My body began to heal and things began to change until I fractured my left arm. When they were operating the fracture, they had to amputate it. I lost my right arm to auto amputation.

In the days following the amputation, where did you draw your strength from? What/who was your
go-to?
I just lived one day at a time, I focussed on just getting through one day at a time. Reading saved me - it was my perfect escape. I learnt classical music. I wrote. I did the things that Istill could. My friends and family played the role of a wonderful support system. My girl gang visited me every single day. On weekends, my home was filled with people who mattered to me and loved me. Everyone did their bit to make sure I was entertained. I spent hours talking to my nurse Mala. For the first year, I continued to work from home, so that kept me occupied 

Many do not even know what auto-amputation is. Did you? What was the thought process that led to the decision to amputate your legs too?
I never knew that auto amputation could happened. I was at home, lying in bed with my hand sticking out of the bed, talking to my brother-in-law sitting next me. I had a shooting pain in my shoulder and before I even knew what had happened, a part of my hand was lying in his hand. A look passed through us - me, my mom and my brother-in-law. My hand was bleeding, so my brother-in-law bandaged it up. That day was my sister’s housewarming ceremony so everyone was there. My brother-in-law told everyone and my nurse arrived to check on the bandage. Everyone else followed, not really sure how to react.

For some reason, I was relieved. I just knew it was a sign to move on. We called my Ayurvedic doctor in Kerala, who arrived a few days later. We agreed that amputating the legs was the next logical step. All these days, our primary intention was to save the one hand. Now that that was out of the way, we had to move on. I was happy because that meant I could finally get out of bed. I was tired of waiting. I was holding on for the rest of them but I just wanted to get out. I had seen two rooms and a balcony for two years of my life. I was carried around. I missed just getting out and seeing the world. I just wanted to move on.

I also think all this time gave me the chance to accept amputation as something to look forward to, not as something negative. It would let me do more than I currently did.

Today you are run and identify primarily as a blade runner. How did the journey of running start? Were you into sports even while you were growing up?
While I was growing up, I ran for my house in school. I was part of the volleyball team. Most of my physical activities were restricted to dancing. I'm a trained Bharathnatyam dancer, and i dabbled in salsa and kathak. I went for a dance aerobics class. That pretty much sums up my physical activities.

Post-prosthetics, I just wanted to get fit. I had sat at home and gained weight. I did go to a few gyms and the poor guys did not know what to do with me. I met Coach Aiyappa, and he said "I’ve never worked with anyone like you before, but let’s try". That is how it all began. We started with just walking, and then it progressed to fast walking, jogging, and then running. Simultaneously, I also started a pilates class with Anisha Naidu, who worked on flexibility, core strength and working from within. The blades followed through last year and I ran 10 kilometres in May 2016.


You are training for Tokyo 2020. What event are you looking to participate in? Tell us about that experience and what it means to you.
Well, it is an aspiration, but honestly, it’s going to be extremely tough. People train all through their lives for the Olympics, and here I am, starting in my late 30s. The plan is to sprint short distances, 100 or 200 metres. We are still in the process of figuring out where my strength lies.  I have been someone who has just taken things as they have come. I am following a path. My only input to the process is to give my 100% in terms of training. We cross the rest of the bridges as they come. I’m just hoping there are going to be so few quadruple amputees, that I place anyway. There may be just three participants! 

You now speak for corporate audiences and support a variety of causes. Your new page BeingYou has garnered almost 17,000 likes in less than a month, and the stories are being picked up and spoken about. Your own story has gotten 30 lakh views! Why do you think these stories are important? What led to BeingYou?
Post-disability, my life has been extremely enriching. I’ve just met so many positive, lovely people and my life is just more wonderful. Today, if you read the papers or log in online, all you see is murder, corruption, rape, the whole hog. It makes you feel like the world is a terrible place.

BeingYouwas initially created when we wanted to bring out an amputee calendar. We featured 13 different amputees across India. Preeti [Rai] and I worked hard to put this together with few others like Kumaran, Kanick Raj, and Sithara, who are all part of the ad world. They made this a reality.

We got a response that shocked us. Clearly there is a dearth of good positive stories. Every one of us has our daily struggles. Some of us cope with them better than others do. The ones who succeed are the ones who are persistent and stay positive no matter what. That is how BeingYou came about. We consciously put out positive stories - because humanity is largely made up of nice people and we need to let people know that there is hope. We never give up.

You can visit BeingYouhere.


Life Lessons from my Father: The Accidental Feminist

By Vandita Morarka  
Vandita with her dad
Some of my haziest memories of my childhood are of my father being a complete boss. I don’t think my father meant to be a feminist, I don’t think he even knows he is one today, but his actions make him one. And in being who he is, he taught me my greatest life lesson: that it is the doing and not just the saying that is important. My parents have raised me to be the person I am today and it is through their lived examples that I strive to be a better person, everyday. Today is for my father and the innumerable lessons he has left me with:
  1. Even before I was born, my father prioritised the health of my mother before that of their unborn children, he did not interfere in her agency to decide to have or not have children, for that I am grateful till today. Lesson: He taught me to always value the agency of the woman in making her own choices regarding her body and self, in doing so, he taught me how to value that agency in myself.
  2. I had zero pressure at home to do well in academics, sports or school life in general. I wasn’t told by my father what I should be studying, it was I that told him what I wanted to pursue. He only ever placed value on my health, well being and happiness (and his outbursts were only ever about me not getting enough sleep). Lesson: When my father can understand the importance of mental health over everything else in life, so can everyone else.
  3. While growing up, my father’s friends belonged to every socio-economic background. Even today, I always see my father give respect to a person on the basis of his measure of the person, never their socio-economic standing. Coming from the Marwadi business family set up that I do, such behaviour was oft looked at with surprise by others - I couldn’t be more grateful for him being this way though! He has taught me to value people for their innate goodness, never for their money. Lesson: There is no substitute for the lessons of the importance of dignity of labour and of the common thread of humanity that parents inculcate in their children.  
  4. I have always seen him divide the household chores with mom (my brother and I are lazy, hence no mention of us helping) when our staff isn’t around. Lesson: Domestic labour is not the price you pay for being a woman.
  5. I grew up watching my friends lie about where we were each night when we were at a party, I never had to do that. My father, both my parents actually, placed great stock in teaching me to be honest with them about everything I did. This doesn’t mean that it hasn’t led to flare ups or a difference of opinion between us, it just means that there has always been honesty and an attempt to understand in our relationship. Lesson: Trust and honesty are the greatest gifts you can give in any relationship.
  6. My father taught me that he and my mother would always hear my side of the story. Even when they have been called to school because of something I did, my parents have never even raised their voice at me without hearing my side of the story, actually maybe not even after hearing it. Lesson: You cannot make a decision without hearing every side of the argument. Valuable also to note that it is imperative to give the word of children equal importance as that of the words of adults.
  7. This is a incident I remember clearly. It was around 3 am and I was driving back with my girlfriends when the police stopped us for random checking. It was an all male police unit and I refused to step out of the car or let my friends step out. When they threatened us with taking this up with our parents, I was the only one in that car who knew without doubt that them calling my father would only give the police unit misery, unlike the very real fear of negative parental action I saw in my friends. My father knew exactly where I was and with whom, I was driving his car, with his full permission and only these words from his end, ‘If you need anything or are in any trouble, call me, always’. Lesson: When people love you, they do not stop you from doing things, even if they say it is to protect you, they devise other ways to ensure your safety. This has been such a key indicator of the relationships I have gotten into later in life, both friendships and romantic relations, and how I look at abuse and control in such relationships.
  8. My father does not understand my job, for most part he doesn’t understand why I would leave lucrative corporate options to choose to work in the social sector at a fraction of the pay. But what does he do? He continues to support me. He continues to tell me that he has my back. I realise the money aspect of it is a matter of privilege, but I also know that he has been immensely supportive in letting me make my life choices and mistakes (oh, so many of them!) throughout, even when it did not involve monetary decisions. Lesson: You don’t have to understand something completely to be supportive of the people you love while they do it.
  9. My father has shown no iota in difference in how he treats my brother and I, we were always entitled to equal privileges. When I was born, the hospital waiting room cleared out because a girl was born to my mother and my deeply patriarchal extended family thought it wasn’t worth their time no more, leave a handful of persons. This handful included my father, who danced around the hospital because he had been given a child, gender immaterial. Today my brother is a champion of gender equality, as am I (I am still the family favourite though), and this is because of what we have seen at home all our lives. Lesson: Gender equality is always a thing we start learning at home.

As you can see, many parts of it are interwoven with how my mother has been invaluable too, but she gets a post on another day! I could go on about life lessons from my father for days, they have been such a strong part of shaping me as I am today. I call these lessons feminist because they have shaped my beliefs in how all relations should play out and in how people of all genders should treat each other, these are the lessons and practices that made me a feminist. Thank you, Dad! Thank you for being an accidental, fabulous feminist, and for teaching me how to be a better person, everyday. Happy Fathers Day! 

FAQs with a Catholic

“So you’re Catholic? All Mother Mary and all?”

“No we do not worship Mother Mary. We worship God alone. Worship of God, to us, means centering our lives on Him. We do, however, venerate her. This is primarily because she is the mother of Jesus. We also venerate her, because she is held highly in God’s favour for being a stellar example of living a life that was joyfully obedient unto God. You don’t get crowned queen of heaven without being pretty darn awesome. We do pray to Mary – but that is more a prayer asking her to intercede with God on our behalf. It is much like when you want to ask your father for something but you are afraid he might say no, so you ask your mother to present your case instead. The request for intercession is only a supplement to our prayers to God.”

“What do you mean you worship only God? You have so many saints, you worship them too!”
“I can understand how this misconception came about, but it couldn’t be further from the truth! Saints are also good examples of faithful life and so we venerate them as well. It is much like how you could venerate a King without worshipping him. Much like we ask Mary to intercede for us, we also pray to saints asking for intercession because they too are held highly in God’s favour. This is slightly different from the veneration of Mary, because she plays the role of a mother whereas in the case of saints it is more like sending the teacher’s pet when the class wants something as a whole.”
“What about the cross, then? Isn’t it morbid to worship an instrument of torture, especially when the one being tortured on it is someone you love so much?”

“The Cross is a ubiquitous symbol of the Catholic Church and while it might seem morbid prima facie it couldn’t be further from the reality. For us, the cross is the ultimate expression of unconditional love. This question has a multi-faceted answer. The first facet being God’s love for the world. We believe God is our Father. Now, if you are a parent, would you be willing to give up your child to flogging, followed by death on a cross, even if it was to save another child of yours? The cross resonates with us as a symbol of love and not an instrument of torture. Also, as a side note on a technicality – we do not worship the cross either. There is a whole section in the Good Friday Service which is called the ‘Veneration of the Cross’ because that is what we do – we venerate the cross because it had the privilege of bearing the body of some we love so deeply. We worship God.”
“That’s all fine and good and we get it but then why call the day Jesus died ‘Good Friday’? That is just misleading and a little weird!”

“Well, we are terribly sorry for misleading you. I can’t imagine it was easy wishing a Catholic happy Good Friday and have them tell you it is the day Jesus died. The most common reason we are taught is that it because it the day on which God’s great love for the world was expressed. It is the day that commemorates our freedom from being slave to sin because in Him all our sins are absolved.”
“What’s the point of the 40 days of Lenten abstinence from meat and alcohol? Do you really believe God cares about your meal preferences? And even if he does, do you think not eating some non veg and drinking some booze is commensurate with the sacrifice He made for you?”

“Good question. Yes God cares about every detail about our lives – meal preferences, fashion sense, even if you’re having a bad hair day. He cares about you and so in association cares about everything you do. But I do understand what you mean about the Lenten abstinence and I’m getting to it. The season of lent is in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, praying and resisting temptation. It was a time he set aside for God alone and away from temporal pleasures. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. While we don’t fast for 40 days, many of us choose to give up something we like during the season of lent. It isn’t always meat or alcohol. It could be something you love dearly or something to which you are addicted. So if you are a 14 year old Catholic it doesn’t make any sense for you to give up alcohol because you (under normal circumstances) are anyway not allowed to drink and may not even like it. So in this case, you could give up chocolates if you are a chocolate person. Catholicism finds strong foundations mainly in the Roman Empire. During that time the laws of abstinence and fasting were strict and very specific. However, it is important to realize that the Catholic Church is evolving, slowly, but evolving nonetheless. The Church prescribes rules for fasting and abstinence in the Canon Law and asks all members of the Church between the ages of 14-60 to follow Lenten abstinence. However, many contemporary Catholics may choose not to abstain at all, since the act of abstinence is a man-made law and not a law of the Scripture. Lent is a period of penance and self-reflection. It is important to not forget that everything about lent is about God and man-made traditions are only supplements, much like the annual picnic you might take with your family is an important tradition but it is more about spending time with the family. So if you miss the trip one year or never go but still spend time with the family – the objective has been achieved.”

“Okay, got that. Now tell me. You say you only worship God and his word. Don’t you have to obey the Pope?”

“As much it might surprise you, no. The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and acts as the Vicar of Christ. However, it is important to remember that he too is human and is not free from sin himself. So the Pope might provide Catholics with advice and guidelines but he is not the absolute authority over everything.

“That’s all very well. But I still have a problem with your religion. Catholic Priests are Child Molesters!”

“As spiritual leaders, it is tragic to find that a great number of priests have molested children but it is unfair to generalize the whole lot of them for the follies of some. The Church and its ministers do a great deal of service to many communities. As Catholics themselves, they are a part of our family and we are not happy with their actions, we don’t condemn all of them or lose hope in our church as a result. This is because while there are priests that molest children, there are so many more that lay down their lives for their faith, many more that bring the hope and love of God to broken families and guide communities. I know many priests who are such inspirational spiritual leaders and I couldn’t be prouder of them. So I beseech you to haste before you make judgement on all of them. Not all of them have fallen from grace.”

“Yeah okay, but why is the Catholic Church Anti Women?”

“I understand that this is probably coming from the fact that women cannot be priests. The Catholic Church institutionally might seem to harm the feminist morale by closing the door of priesthood to half its population. However, the Catholic Doctrine in itself isn’t anti-women at all!! Catholic Feminism does exist! The Gospels are not anti-women either. The Bible in fact has multiple instances of strong women characters. There are also a great deal of women leaders in the Church. I am a Catholic woman myself and I am a strong feminist. Just between you and me I think God is feminist too. The only thing missing is the title of priesthood – hopefully that will come soon too.”
“Why are you guys homophobes, then, if you say God is feminist?”

“While the Catholic Church does not condone homosexuality – the changing world makes it a huge grey area. I can’t speak for all Catholics, but I know for a fact not all of us are homophobes. Homophobia is more characterized by personal beliefs than our faith. People usually quote Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Well, to those Catholics who believe this and to non-Catholics who ask me why the Bible says this – I always narrate the same anecdote. In Jesus’ time prostitution was an offense punishable by stoning to death. However, when the crowds gathered to stone a prostitute to death, Jesus stopped them, and asked any among them who hasn’t sinned to cast the first stone. You can guess what happened next. None of them found themselves guilt-free. So, they threw their stones to the ground and left. Jesus then asked the woman where they’d gone and she said they’d refused to condemn her. Then Jesus, one who was without any sin said, “If they do not condemn you, neither will I. Go and sin no more.” That’s right! He forgave her, though in all authority – he could have stoned her. So, the important thing for Catholics to remember is that no matter what it is you think is a sin against God – Homosexuality, Abortions, whatever – nothing is beyond God’s mercy! And if He who is so sinless doesn’t judge you for you indiscretion, under whose authority are you to judge someone, when you yourself are not free from sin. So please, do not be homophobic. Remember Jesus said “Love one another, as I have loved you.” I know it’s hard to replicate that love – but try.”

By Tanya Jaison



Happy Birthday, Anne Frank

Drew Kahn (c) Bruce Fox, SUNY Buffalo State.
Drew Kahn is a full time professor of Theater at Buffalo State College where he teaches acting, voice, movement (President's Award for Excellence in Teaching/SUNY) and directs mainstage productions (Kennedy Center Award). He is the founding director of "The Anne Frank Project," a multi-layered social justice initiative at Buffalo State College that utilizes the wisdom of Anne Frank as a springboard for the intense examination of genocide, bias and conflict resolution through the lens of storytelling and performance. He presents internationally on the universal language of theater and the intersection of storytelling and genocides as a means towards meaningful social change. Here's his story in his own words:

I enjoy driving the Anne Frank Project bus, but there are a lot of seats and people in it, and lots of help. Collaboration is at the heart of storytelling and what we do. I always feel like if we are not doing what we are teaching, we are not authentic. Our business plan is really, just doing what we teach. I know that we are wired to communicate, to commune, to collaborate and to connect. I don’t think it is overstating it by saying that all of the world’s problems come by defying this design. We are meant to be with each other and solve the problems together. That’s the thing about the story-building process when students get very concerned about the product and what we will put on stage. I tell them, that I have a secret for them – I don’t care about the story. What is important to me is the process you have gone through to build that story. That to me, that story and story-building is a vehicle for community. I really want them to understand in this laboratory that we have in the form of the theatre hall, is that they have the tools and the vocabulary to make people, communities and their families and organizations outside their theatre better. I’m fortunate because I get to practice what I preach.

The university I teach at, I think they thought I was a little cuckoo when I would say that theatre is really only here to make the world better. They were like ah, he is a theatre professor from California, he is crazy – but now, I hear our college administrators saying things like theatre exists only to make the world better. I think that is primarily why theatre should exist in an academic framework, not necessarily to make more actors but to create more diplomats, conflict resolvers, community builders and identity explorers.

One of the things we do is work with many schools, middle and high schools, and the teachers ask me after a workshop or a residency what I believe are the most important lessons for a teacher. I always have two quick answers to offer: (a) Listen to your students, their stories, they’ll tell you where they want to go, and, (b) You have to model, especially in today’s generation. Students are very savvy and if you do not do what you say, they disregard it.

I started at Buffalo State University, which is part of the SUNY (State University New York) system, which has 64 campuses in this large system in New York State. Buffalo state is one of those campuses, and I’ve been teaching here since 1993. For the first decade of my work, I was a traditional theatre professor, teaching and directing plays, but always tweaking plays because I thought they were great vehicles for issues that mattered to students, not just about making a good production that looked good, but also those that added meaning to their lives. As my mom would always say, I’ve always had a social justice bug. I’ve always been a little itchy and angry. Part of being an activist is that you wake up being a little angry at the start of the day, and you want to be less angry at the end of the day. But that fight, that fire – that keeps me going.

My campus is a very diverse campus. Half of our students are non-white, which is beautiful. So, very often, we produce plays in America that are written by white men and with parts for white people. So, a lot of our diverse communities don’t see themselves on stage. That’s a big loss because a big part of America looks as much as like you as it looks like me. When we decided I was going to direct the Diary of Anne Frank – I being Jewish, grew up with Anne Frank, but I was shocked to know that a lot of my students didn’t know about Anne Frank. Of course, it is mandatory reading for most American seventh grade schools, but a lot of teachers have gotten bored and have chosen to look at other Holocaust readings. One of the frustrations for me is that Anne is looked at as a celebrity, like the poster child of the Holocaust. We lose the fact that she was a little girl. I wanted to reintroduce our audience to the little girl, Anne Frank, not the celebrity. I also wanted my students of all cultural and diverse backgrounds to see themselves on stage.

The Diary of Anne Frank (Jewish Anne)
(c) Bruce Fox, SUNY Buffalo State.
In my research, I looked at comparative genocide and Holocausts. I had known about them. But when you immerse yourself deeply, though, as a theatre director, you see some consistencies. One of the most frightful and terrifying things was that it is the same formula that is repeated: you dehumanize your victim, you provide a system for the eradication of that victim, you fund that in some financial way, and you make sure that good people do nothing. That recipe is a recipe for disaster. We’ve seen it time and time again. Genocidaires learn from each other, and we are seeing elements of it around us. Some techniques around us are borrowed from predatory governments of the past.
The Diary of Anne Frank (Rwandan Anne)
(c) Bruce Fox, SUNY Buffalo State.

Anne Frank has taught us to put our radar up and to realize when things like this happen. The same ingredients go into making bullying successful: dehumanize your victim, provide a system to harm the victim, get support for it, and make sure good people do nothing. Those little microcosms, those little atoms – if you let them go unattended to, you let them become things like genocide. It’s the same format – I try to impress upon teachers and students that we can eradicate this.

As I was looking at all these genocides of the 20th Century, I came across Cambodia, Turkey, Bosnia and Rwanda. America was introduced to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide by that movie, Hotel Rwanda. It was helpful in being an ambassador for what was happening while we were ignoring it, but it was filled with fallacies, too. I did a lot of work and I came across a really beautiful Documentary on Rwanda by HBO, called Sometimes in April and another one called Ghosts of Rwanda. Those two pieces of research really opened my eyes to what was happening in 1994. My students were born in 1993, 1994 and 1995 – it wasn’t this distant thing called World War II. It involved Africans, so a lot of our non-white students could see themselves on stage!

We ended up saying, why not have two Anne Franks? – our Jewish Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis during World War II, and our Rwandan Anne Frank, a Tutsi girl hiding from Hutu extremists in 1994 Rwanda. There’s a book called Left to Tell, by Immaculee Ilibagiza – who is really Rwanda’s Anne Frank. She was really the source for my Rwandan Anne Frank. In the native Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda, we called our Rwandan Anne Frank “Anana,” which meant looking up to god.

In the theatre production of Anne Frank, Anne is hiding in the annex. The way the play passes time, is when Anne is narrating her story, she breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience directly, quoting passages from her diary to the audience. Then, she returns to the annex, which may be a couple of months later. During those moments, I brought out both Anne Franks. They shared the diary. Unbeknownst to them, they were reflecting each other. We also had a short movie I made, preparing the audience with images from the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. Their souls were already warmed with the idea that something unique was going to happen. That eventually, seen together, was so successful, largely because of the team, the designers, the faculty and the students, who were incredible. They embraced the concept, and we had a great rehearsal process with survivors from both Holocausts. They lived the work in a way that was really committed. After the first week of showcasing the play, we broke attendance records.

I started to feel a little guilty because we should have had 30 Anne Franks on stage – the theory that we have an Anne Frank in every genocide proved true. Calling the project the Anne Frank Project was amazing – it is amazing that we have this diary, because she was an incredible writer with a huge soul and crammed an enormous amount of life within her fifteen-year long journey.But what about all those diaries we missed, those children, from Syria and every country imaginable? How about those diaries we don’t have? Certainly those stories are worthwhile. If I had a dream to do the play again, I’d do it with different nationalities every night – and unfortunately, we would never run out of ammunition.

Story Building work in Limuru, Kenya (c) Bruce Fox, SUNY Buffalo State.

The President of the college told me that we should do the play every year because it activates our diversity mission. We’re on an academic campus where thinking is everything and doing is not as important – but on our campus, thankfully, both are equal. I told her we can’t do the play every year because it will get boring, so maybe we could do a conference. I was invited to present our work in Amsterdam in the International Diversity Conference. I didn’t think anybody would pay attention, but they were hungry for what we did. SO I thought we could do a one dayconference and rally around one of Anne’s quotes, and then have other departments do a kinesthetic workshop around it. We didn’t want it to be about talking about it – we want to do it. You don’t ask students to be involved in a story or peace process by saying “Here are theories you can apply some day.” We want them to leave the work of the Anne Frank Project having already done it – that they leave as an activist, not as a hopeful activist. We did that conference and called for proposals. It started at 9:00 AM and was to go on until 4:00 PM, but it lasted until 8:00 PM when I had to kick the students out of the theatre—it was clear that we were on to something special.

The students felt so good about applying their passion! We used Anne’s quote to ignite the conference: “How wonderful it is that we need not wait a single moment before starting to improve the world!” We were onto something that needed to continue. This year will be our 8th Annual Social Justice Festival. It is a mainstay and an expectation on our campus. We’ve gone from a theatre program to an arts program to a university-wide program. I now report to our Provost, and AFP is a tool for our campus in many ways. We invite people to participate from all over the world – we have a 1/3rd-2/3rd system, with 1/3rd being theory and 2/3rd being action for every session. We’ve welcomed over 40,000 participants to our festival over the years. We have always identified our mission to be consistent with the mission of the college. I consider us a car in the college’s garage that they should drive when it is about activating the diversity, community and international education missions. That festival is our annual big event.



Immaculee spoke at our campus, in 2010. We also have Sophia Veffer on AFP’s advisory board, who happens to be a Holocaust survivor, and went to school with Anne Frank and had a very different experience of the Holocaust. She had 15 different hiding places, until they found her and she spent two years in Bergen Belsen. She eventually survived. Her legs were badly damaged. She was in hospital, and a female doctor in Holland at that time – which is very rare – told her that she wanted to give her a book that had a story which reminded the doctor of Sophia. It turned out to be one of the original printings of Anne’s Diary – except, back then, it was a compilation of her entries, not so much the publication it is today. She went back to Holland and resumed her life. She has been at the center of the Anne Frank Project in multiple ways. You could imagine – introducing her to Immaculee was heart stopping. Sophia speaks at our festival each year. We always pair her with another survivor. Last year, we had a 25 year old Congolese student who survived the war in the DR Congo. We’ve had survivors from Nepal, from Cambodia, others from Rwanda, from Bosnia – but always, in partnership with Sophia.

Having done so much on Rwanda, after Immaculee visited, I wanted to go to Rwanda. I received a grant, and went with a dear friend of mine, Carl Wilkens. He was the only American that was in Rwanda during the genocide. He was doing work for the 7th Day Adventist church. He and his family lived there. He stayed and helped save lives of many orphans and children. I met him at a conference and asked him to take me to Rwanda – I had enough money in the grant to pay for both of us. It was an incredible honor and I got to access places I wouldn’t have known about without him. I went on a friend-raising tour to see if I could bring students. We went to experience first-hand Rwanda’s reconciliation process. It was life changing. The country’s story is not spoken about enough and should be a model for so many countries suffering from conflicts and oppression! I’ve visited once a year, for the past ten years, and for five of them, with students. To put them in the middle of this country that has decided to rebound from a bloodbath, and rebuild themselves based on community, unity, forgiveness and compassion, is a sincere honor – one of my students on the way back, was processing and crying, and she tried to put into words what she experienced. She said, “In Rwanda, they don’t just read or talk the Bible. They live it. They live it. They live it.”

We go to schools and prisons and teach drama-based education, communicate and dance. We visit victims and their families. We go to refugee camps of mostly Congolese, and to arts organizations. We go on a safari to watch animals. We go to Genocide memorials. Rwanda chose to memorialize Genocide in a very non-Western way. For instance, popular locations for the horrors of the genocide were the many churches. They would tell Tutsi on the radio to come to a church and father so-and-so would protect them – but once they got there, they were killed. Rwanda chose to leave the churches as they found them. There’s blood on the walls, clothing of those who perished on the pews. It is an enormous emotional experience. My son once asked me if I get used to it – But no. I can taste it as I tell you and it is extreme. Rwanda wanted to make sure that people remembered the truth. There are many genocide deniers and this memorialization is therefore very important. My students have to process that and we go to two or three of these memorials where they have to put words and feelings to this. We do a lot of drama-based education, exploring and processing through story-building. We walk the walk of storytelling…we use it as our primary processing tool.

The President of our college says that going to Rwanda is not just an academic brain-stretching experience, it is a heart-stretching experience. That’s something we do not do enough of in Western Academia. Life is really difficult and if our job is to prepare our students to navigate the complexities of their lives, then to take them to London to see theatre and have fish and chips may not be enough. We need to trust our students and we need to immerse them in situations where they develop the tools and vocabulary to succeed. Since I graduated from Grad School, no one ever asked me to write a 30-page term paper. But they have asked me to tell my story and life continues to present me with heart-stretching, challenging and emotional experiences. Shouldn’t our responsibility at least partially be to prepare students for experiences they are going to experience, and not those that live in a book?

To continue that sequence, we bring students to Rwanda, their hearts explode, we do it carefully of course. We come back together, take a few weeks off and then we spend the semester together in a class called Ensemble Theatre. We ask them to consider their international learning and present their experience in any way they find it fit to the campus community. They have to give it a theme and title, and unbeknownst to them, they are involved in these story-building processes.

That’s the first part. Then those stories come together, and there’s usually about 10 to 14 students in class. We take all those story’s themes, find common themes they talk about, and then we take all of those stories and start to build our story. That’s the second part of the class. We build a story with the intention of performing at the end of the semester, and tour it to local high schools in the following semester. It is not a play about Rwanda, but one inspired by Rwanda, with the full knowledge of what the students would like to have seen and taught when they were in high school. Last semester, we eclipsed 100 schools that we’ve visited! We have become a staple in the local school system, and never do a play without a workshop. A play, then, in a sense, is always unfinished. We leave the play at a point of “What would you do?” My students follow the play with a workshop. They go from actor to facilitator and teacher, and they cross that sacred boundary of the stage and go into the audience. The workshop is always about having the students who just watched the play to practice the lessons of the play.

One play my students built was called Dear Me, about a boy whose best friend committed suicide in High School because he came out as gay and that didn’t go well, so he drowned himself in the school pool. The play starts at the funeral. The main character runs away from the funeral and goes to their secret hiding place and he starts to write him a letter because his friend loved writing. As he writes souls from conflicts past come alive, Anne Frank, a Native American, a teacher killed in a school shooting, a Rwandan genocide survivor all visit him and help him through the grieving process. At the end of the play, we ask all of high school students to write a letter to someone they want to connect to. The theme of Dear Me is toshow that you can always stay connected. Then, we choose one of the letters to make into a physical play. We have had some incredible experiences with that play. And we do this in the presence of the school counselors – we are not therapists, so we make sure that there is help if it is so needed. We’ve had a bunch of high schools asking us to do a Social Justice Festival exclusively for them. We’ve also evolved into residencies where we spend a full semester at schools to train teachers how to use the story building process of AFP in their classrooms.

Going back to the four-fold process that keeps everything from bullying to genocide alive…the way to counteract bullying, oppression and genocide involves three steps, which I learned from Rwanda. One, the perpetrator must publicly apologize. Two, the victim or their representative must publicly forgive. Three, the two of them must come together to agree to a reconciliation process guided, driven and tailored by them. People in Rwanda have used this – to the point that a person they once saw as the devil, is now seen as a family member.   This process is difficult and incredibly successful in Rwanda—exposing our students to this proves to them that real change through forgiveness is actually possible.


Today, when I look back, I always say that the Anne Frank Project has been the biggest professional mistake of my life – it’s been a beautiful accident that I did not intend. 

FAQs with an Intersectional Feminist

“By the time I was your age, my younger child was in the fifth standard.”

“That’s great. Did you aspire to marry?”

“Ya, what else? Now you also should get married…”

“I have different aspirations and I’ve worked towards them. I’m perfectly happy where I am, and will marry if and when I think I am ready and want to.”

“If you stop all this feminism-veminism and all, you’ll get married soon.”

“What makes you think feminism is exclusive of marriage? I know plenty of amazing feminists who are happily married.”

“How? Feminism tells you to hate men.”

“Nope. To the contrary. Feminism advocates equality.”

“That’s ridiculous. If it’s equality, why should we call it feminism?”

“One reason is ignorance like yours. It is called Feminism because women need to be put back in to the equation of equality and restore the balance.”

“But women are already doing so much, they are not poorly off. Women are going to school, going to work and all that. So many women leaders also you see!”

“That’s only a fraction. Did you know that many times more than this number of women face violence every day?”

“Hey come on, that’s all because these girls dress so badly these days and go running to clubs and pubs. They shouldn’t be staying late.”

“That, right there, is why we need feminism. Your mentality is reflective of something called patriarchy, which is a form of structural violence. Patriarchy thinks that men have a right of dominance and power over women and their bodies. And this is so deeply ingrained in our society, that it affects how we think, how we interact, speak and behave, and affects our systems.”

“But tell me, isn’t it right? If you have a watch worth millions of dollars, will you keep it on the street?”

“Your choice of likening the body of a woman or a girl is precisely what is structural violence. By likening her to an object, aren’t you detaching the personal agency of a woman from her? Aren’t you reducing her to a certain value you ascribe to her, and then think she is nothing more than property.”

“Oh…”

“When you look at a woman through such a lens, you are creating a space for the assumption of her inferiority, and you constantly encourage the perception of her mind and body in this way. Since you think of her as an object, you don’t think that her consent matters, that her choice matters, that her freedom matters, that her safety matters. It is this mentality that puts the honour of a whole family or a society into the woman’s vagina. But it’s truly her body and her choice, she cannot be forced to carry the honour of her family!”

“But tell me, if a girl is raped or molested, isn’t her family reputation defiled? Who will marry her?”

“Let’s unpack that a bit. Why should her family reputation be defiled when she did nothing wrong? Tell me, do you punish the murderer or the murdered? Do you punish the bully or the bullied? We punish the perpetrator, right? Similarly, the molester or the rapist or the one causing the assault is the wrongdoer here. Now the second part – again, why are we saying that a woman must only aspire to marriage? She can be so much more – if she wants to marry, she will marry someone of her choice, who she is happy with. By wondering who would marry her and giving that more importance over helping her heal from her trauma, you are again reasserting that she is property without personal agency.”

“So you are saying all this is because of patriarchy?”

“Correct. When patriarchy subverted equality, the male was dominant, and the female was subjugated. But gender, you see, is fluid. This fluidity allows for one who may identify as male to also identify with certain aspects of female, or, for one born as male to identify as a female. This fluidity was seen as anomalous – for it was not considered “normal” or “acceptable” for the dominant to identify as the subjugated. So – feminising the rhetoric by putting women back into the dialogue will lead to creating an equal space where none is seen as the dominant or the subjugated, and therefore, fluidity will not be an anomaly.”

“Fluid? What do you mean fluid? Gender, sex, all the same. Man or woman. That’s all.”

“Ah, my friend. Neither gender nor sex is binary or confined to male and female or man and woman. Sex is what you are born with – your anatomy. This means that someone looks at your body parts and says you are a boy or a girl, at birth, and then they bring you up that way. But, sex is more than that: you can be born with boy parts or girl parts, or even be born intersex. Doctors and parents try to “correct” intersex bodies – which is actually unfair because unless it is a medical hazard, such correction surgeries encroach bodies by making perfectly normal bodies come across as abnormal. Now gender, on the other hand, is a social construct and a question of personal identity. It is what I want to identify as, and so I can be anything from male to female, to fluid, to a-gender, to questioning, to queer, or even transgender.”

“Wait, wait. If it is so personal and it is one’s choice of identity, why does this even matter?”

“It matters because gender identity has been turned on its head to create hatred and discrimination on the basis of gender. People are forced to conform to what some people consider to be normal – when in reality, nature has never defined a normal. It’s just mankind and its inherent insecurities that sought to assert something as the acceptable norm, to exclude those that they didn’t want to include.”

“Right. So then we’re still not so badly in need of feminism, right? We have so many schemes and laws for women. We can just create more.”

“That’s a bit of an oversimplification that does no one any good. This has two components. First, you can’t just make laws and schemes, you need to implement them. Second, when you implement them, you should be aware of the many dimensions involved in the way they manifest when implemented. It is important, then, to acknowledge something called intersectionality.”

“Are you saying that many other factors intersect to affect women?”

“Exactly that. As a community of people, they have faced years and years of oppression and marginalization, and are placed vulnerably at the bottom of the hierarchical ladders of India’s caste system, class segregations and gender identities. If feminism was not intersectional and looked at her from a choice-consequence dimension, it would view the Dalit Woman as one identifying as a Woman; as one who is vulnerable to violence; as one who is, well, like other women. Intersectional feminism, however, would see her differently. Vulnerable as a woman, disenfranchised as a caste, marginalized as a caste, isolated and oppressed in society and therefore, even more vulnerable than most other women. And there are numbers, facts, stories and truths to back this correct understanding of a Dalit Woman’s position. There is enough and more in the form of evidence to show you exactly how Dalit Women are exploited, oppressed, discriminated against, isolated and vulnerable to violence. In a nutshell, not only are they dominated over by men in the power relations of a patriarchal social order, but are also fighting against a toxic hegemonic pillar of power in the form of caste, and coping with the poverty that comes in with a progressively divisive class system. This establishes the circumstance. Let’s say a Dalit Woman and a woman from a caste and class that are higher up (let’s call her privileged woman) in the hierarchy are brought into the mix. Let’s just say that the both of them have aspirations for their lives ahead, and let’s say that they aspire to pursue a course that would make them Mechanical Engineers. (If you raised an eyebrow, check your privilege and break those limiting stereotypes inside your head). The Dalit Woman is encumbered by the burden of a system that started with her exclusion: she had no access to education that would suitably enable her to attempt the entrance exam, which, by the way, is administered in English. But the privileged woman has had the benefit of school, extra classes and access to resources online. They take the test. The privileged woman makes it, but the Dalit Woman doesn’t. Strike one. She still harbours some hope, that she will make it in the quotas that have been reserved for a range of castes and classes. But no, she is among the last few in the pecking order, and therefore, waits, and waits, and waits. Strike two. Almost like an afterthought, she is sent an admission letter – a rarity, for many of her caste are left at the bottom of the pot. But the fee she is expected to pay is the next new hurdle in her path. Where can she afford to pay a year’s tuition if her family can’t scrape enough to afford a square meal? Strike three. This shows you how constrained choice truly is. These “choices” are not choices. And so, even without the right to make a choice, she has to bear consequences.

“Interesting. So it’s not black and white?”

“Nope. It never was, and can never be.”



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