Saturday, September 13, 2008
A Land Called Paradise
A Land Called Paradise (2008)
Director: Lena Khan
USA, 4 minutes
A Land Called Paradise put a big fat smile on my face. It isn't that it's adorable (it is) or beautifully shot. It's a simple music video, shot primarily in a studio with a plain red background, featuring several individuals or groups of Muslims with messages written on cards and posters.
It is humanity on display.
One could ask, "What's so great about writing something down on a sign? I can see that at a baseball game, a protest, or next to some panhandler on the street and I'll forget it in two minutes or less." That's okay. I forget those too. These cards had a lot more thought and care put into them than "J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS." They all stick out to me. They display the best of every individual in the video. If you challenged me, I could probably remember every single one without seeing the video again. I don't want to fill space with a list, so just take my word for it.
The film makes a great effort to encourage viewers to see themselves in those featured. The director could have gone super simple and just slotted in one message after another. It still would have been a very moving film. Instead, she created a quasi-narrative for some of the characters, revealing them in bits and pieces and bringing them back later in the film so you can see them again and feel attached. Two examples stand out: 1) The kid who is sitting at a desk staring at a Rubik's Cube comes back a few seconds later holding his sign ("I am a total idiot") upside-down. He comes back at least three more times. 2) The man who sort of flips his hair near the beginning... then isn't seen until the last third or so of the film, when his message is revealed: "I am not ashamed of my virginity." Quick pivot! The director wanted the ladies in the audience to see a hot guy, but then turned it on them and showed how much Islam means to him.
I'm glad I just chose that word: showed. That's another huge reason that the messages stuck out to me. Each person showed us their thoughts in their own handwriting, and the director helped out with that quasi-narrative. They showed us that the messages were genuine. Had each message been spoken, they would have been telling us something instead of showing it.
Everyone who has ever made a generalization should see this film. It should play in every house of worship in the world. This is the kind of film that crushes stereotypes and humanizes abstract concepts, and it does it in four minutes.