Los Angeles, CA: Before a sold-out house, the Muslim Public Affairs Council honored three exceptional projects -- “5 Broken Cameras,” “Bones” and the Sundance Film Institute -- for their Voices of Courage and Conscience at its 22nd Annual Media Awards this past Saturday.
The evening was filled with celebration, standing ovations and emotional moments as each of the honorees thanked the American Muslim community for their support and shared the inspiration behind their projects.
The Sundance Film Institute
Filmmaker Lena Khan, a past Emerging Artist recipient, kicked off the award presentations with the introduction of The Sundance Film Institute for supporting the professional development of artists in Muslim-majority countries.
The Sundance Institute supports independent filmmaking and has launched directors such as Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino.
“Filmmakers in the Middle East can finally tell their own stories. It’s going to start from filmmakers whose films were launched, developed or made cool to a mainstream audience by the Sundance Institute,” Khan said.
Matthew Takata, of the Sundance Institute, accepted the award, expressing his honor and gratitude for the recognition.
“Our Middle East film initiative was started in 2005, because like MPAC, we recognized the rapidly evolving role of film and the advance of ideas, movements, values and presenting authentic images of the Middle Eastern societies,” he said. "It’s designed to identify filmmakers with unique authentic voices throughout the Middle East, and since its inception has developed 80 feature-like films. This award is really important to us and we’re really grateful for this recognition.”
FOX TV Show ‘Bones'
Longtime MPAC ally, Ron Taylor, former Head of All Diversity at FOX, introduced the honoree “Bones,” a series that is committed to introducing diverse and under-represented narratives. "Bones" has featured a practicing Muslim character ("Arastoo Vaziri") as the central storyline of a number of episodes for the past five seasons -- an almost singular achievement on serial television.
Accepting the awards for FOX were writer Keith Fogelsong and actor Pej Vahdat, who plays Arastoo Vaziri. It’s his character that has made breakthroughs on the perception of American Muslims.
“Thank you MPAC for honoring me and ‘Bones’ for this wonderful award,” Vahdat said. “Thank you FOX for giving me something that I can relate to as an American Muslim. A part that’s not a terrorist.”
Vahdat joked that his mom gave him one year to pursue this role, and that was nine years ago.
‘5 Broken Cameras’
Quoting surah 3, ayahs 113-115, MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati introduced the next presenter, Rabbi Leonard Beerman
, founding Rabbi of the Leo Beack Temple.
“He’s a man of the good word and of righteousness,” Al-Marayati said. “The Qur’an and the Bible talk about the good word being like a good tree; it sustains people with its fruit for as long as people like. Its roots are firmly established and the good word is firmly established.”
Inspired by his legacy of work with the Muslim American community the crowd was moved to the first standing ovation of the evening.
Rabbi Beerman relayed the long story of interfaith relationships coming together to bring legendary actor Dustin Hoffman to the night’s celebration. In the end, Hoffman had contracted a serious virus and was unable to attend, but he decided to deliver an audio message for the event.
The award was presented to Emad Burnat, the co-director of “5 Broken Cameras.”
“My camera is a strong weapon and a strong witness,” Burnat said. “We should tell our stories before others hijack them. I got the idea to make this film from one of my friends who said ‘Why don't you make a film about us, who live here? You know how it is to live under the pressure, under the army, under the occupation.’
“I did this film from my point of view, from my heart, from my mind. I’m very happy because the message was sent to the world, and everybody was shocked and moved by its story.”
MPAC Senior Adviser, Dr. Maher Hathout,
closed the event by thanking each of the honorees for bringing such excellence to the table and for inspiring change.
“All of you are part of this night; all of you are our stars. They say that a beautiful sky is the one that is crowded with stars, and we are very happy to see our skies filled with so many stars,” he said. “Last week was a hard week and we really thought that the darkness was taking over. You being here is proof that the darkness can never take over; one candle can break the thickest darkness.”
Dr Hathout thanked all the honorees for being an oasis in the large desert of mass mislabeling, prejudices and biases. In conclusion, he summarized the thoughts of the staff and board by thanking those in attendance for giving MPAC the best 25th anniversary gift the organization could ever dream.
“It's been 25 years of hard work to engage, to inspire and to enlighten and I’m so grateful to God almighty for giving me time to be part of that,” he said. “We are knocking on the doors of the future and God willing it will open really wide for our new generations to step in, into a better, kinder, gentler, more creative, more just and more fair America.”
In an effort to promote positive and accurate portrayals of Islam and Muslims, MPAC each year recognizes Voices of Courage and Conscience who are the best in their field. Since 1991, MPAC has honored artists, actors, authors, and activists for their artistic contributions to mutual acceptance and diversity. MPAC's Media Awards are a production of its Hollywood Bureau, which serves as a resource and ally to television networks, film studios, screenwriters and the creative community at large.