Launch of “Beyond Tolerance” DVD,
University of Glasgow,
Tuesday 2 June 2009Dr Maureen Sier and her daughter Sonya (Director of Freshlight Films) launched the DVD and education pack, Beyond Tolerance, an inter faith resource for young people and adults. Young people from a variety of religious and national backgrounds were interviewed in the film and spoke at the launch about the ways in which interfaith engagement had made a positive impact on their lives.
I was invited to attend this event and I just couldn't say no. Great to see this happening in my old stomping ground, have the chance to catch up with some old friends and colleagues from the early days of my interfaith activities in Glasgow - and, hopefully, to make some new ones.
In Sonya's presentation at the launch she told the story of how this inspiring project got started (Sonya's words below are lifted wholesale from the Firstport website.
"This interfaith documentary project all started a few months before my mum, Dr Maureen Sier, left for America in August 2007. She'd received a UK/US Fulbright Interfaith Scholarship and I was very proud of her and eager to hear about everything she'd be doing. We were sitting at the dinner table late one night, mum was excitedly telling me about the amazing people she would be meeting in America; activists and scholars from around the globe who were at the forefront of interfaith learning. The plan was for the Fulbright scholars to share what they knew and explore ideas for the future. Each scholar would then go to a different grassroots project, to see what life was really like on the ground. Finally they would each return home and use their experiences to improve interfaith relations in their home country.
"My mind was buzzing, this was really something - people who cared, who wanted to really make a positive difference. At the same time I started being plagued by the question - How were people going to hear about this? The answer came to be in a flash, literally a light bulb moment. I was convinced that if I could make a documentary about mum's journey, the people, places and organisations she met along the way it would be of interest to everyone, especially to young people who I think are the key to making real change in the world. At the same time as all this was happening I noticed whenever I watched the news, it was a doom and gloom, in fact depressing, broadcasters showed nothing but images of war, terrorism and violence, as one of the my interviewees says in the DVD 'if it bleeds it leads!' No wonder people feel hopeless!
"And so it was from this desire to make a difference, to show the world in a more positive light that Beyond Tolerance was born. I wrote a proposal and sent it to everyone I knew and sometimes people I didn't. Mum left for America and there was no sign of funding, and I was beginning to feel like perhaps it was not meant to be. Then all of a sudden some funding arrived from the Scottish Government, the Baha'i Council for Scotland, British Airways, and Scotland UnLtd. It was enough to take a small crew to America.
"There we found wonderfully inspiring people especially youth, in fact so many people wanted to share their stories and experiences that we ended up with over thirty hours of footage. When I got home I knew the one thing that was missing was UK and Scottish voices, particularly those of young people and so another bout of filming took place and I was able to interview amazing young people from the UK.
"The editing process was a long labour of love there was so much footage than we could ever have anticipated and I really wanted to make the most of it. Thankfully some further funding arrived from the Sikh Community and the Scottish Inter Faith Council an this allowed for the process to be completed. While the post production work was happening, work started on the education pack which could be used in schools, universities, religious groups, homes and youth centres. It had to be relevant to issues of diversity, full of activities that could be done anywhere from a small classroom to a large church hall and it had to be engaging for the participants. A tall order I hear you cry. Well, yes, but we had the assistance of many wonderful consultants from across the learning and artistic sectors. The final combination of interfaith documentary and education pack is something we're very proud of and it's already being used here in the UK."
The launch went without a hitch and the guest speakers included Dr Rose Drew, from the Glasgow University Centre for Inter-faith Studies, MSP Fergus Ewing and Haroon Ahmed, Magdalen Lambkin, Frances Hume and Dr Maureen Sier, all of whom are interviewed in the film. The atmosphere was one of hope, excitement for the future and positivity about the role interfaith can and does play in building good community relations. Many personal stories were told and MSP Fergus Ewing spoke of the continued need for education against sectarianism, bigotry and religious hatred. Dr Drew said, "This project is timely, education is vital and not just the academic level at the grassroots is really where it will make the biggest difference." There are great plans for Beyond Tolerance, already Sonya has been in discussion with Australia and New Zealand about it being used down under so it is with great expectations that we "watch this space" for further development of this inspirational project.