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Well documented

Tribeca short documentaries focus on clinical depression and Muslim-Jew conflicts

By Karen Martin

This article was published April 25, 2014 at 2:31 a.m.

the-friendship-of-imam-khalid-latif-and-rabbi-yehuda-sarna-the-muslim-and-jewish-spiritual-leaders-representing-new-york-universitys-student-body-is-the-subject-of-linda-g-mills-documentary-of-many-a-film-executive-produced-by-chelsea-clinton

The friendship of Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna — the Muslim and Jewish spiritual leaders representing New York University’s student body — is the subject of Linda G. Mills’ documentary Of Many, a film executive produced by Chelsea Clinton.

NEW YORK - Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words to tell a story. Images are required.

This is evident in two films in an 83-minute short-documentary program titled City Limits that premiered at Tribeca Film Festival on April 17. The films’ subjects - clinical depression and conflicts between Muslims and Jews - are certainly worthwhile,but don’t exactly scream for audience attention.

It’s the pictures, as much as the words, that make these films riveting.

My Depression: The Up and Down and Up of It is a 40-minute animated adaptation of theater director/composer Liz Swados’ award-winning My Depression, a Picture Book. Made for HBO with the voice of Sigourney Weaver as narrator, Swados - who has suffered with depression for decades - takes a clever, colorful and meaningful approach to the mainstream’s blase “snap out of it” attitude to explain the pain and challenge of this affliction.

Kinetic animation by Robert Marianetti brings to life the main character of Liz, who uses simple language, songs, rhymes and physical situations (like melting into a puddle) to describe the episodes that make up depression. Other players include Swados’ empathic and long-suffering poodle companion, friends who are clueless about what she is going through, an unsettling “suicide mobile” with a manic driver (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and finally the discovery of a doctor who partners with Swados in working toward recovery.

“Animation is a great way to catch people off guard,” she said at the Tribeca screening of her film. “So many people are hiding or scared about being depressed. I wanted them to know they’re not alone. I want us to laugh at ourselves if we can.

“I don’t think we’ve made progress in helping or understanding the mentally ill,” she continued. “The idea is to help people in pain. If this film can help people be open about it, it will accomplish something very important.”

A look at relationships between Muslims and Jews at New York University seems best suited to a scholarly publication. The subject takes on global relevance in Of Many, a 28-minutedocumentary that focuses on a developing friendship between Rabbi Yehuda Sarna and Imam Khalid Latif, leaders of their religious communities at NYU, amid a background of religious hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim students.

The intimacy of viewing these two very different young men - baby-faced, earnest Sarna and compact, elegant well-spoken Latif - as they develop compassion and understanding for each other serves as a positive influence for the 2,000 Muslim and 5,000 Jewish students at NYU. The students, using their chaplains as models, learn to work together helping others. A poignant illustration of this includes a journey to aid those in post-Katrina New Orleans that includes construction and cleanup work, laughter, sharing of meals, and ultimately sharing of ideas.

“This is a narrative you can find around the world,” Latif said. “It’s a story not compelled by antagonism. Students are bringing change and benefit to the world, and it’s really affirming for us.”

As Many got a star-power boost by having Chelsea Clinton, an assistant vice provost at NYU, as executive producer. Sitting in the audience at the film’s premiere (held the day before Chelsea’s pregnancy was made known) were Bill and Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky.

“I was deeply moved by the work of the rabbi and imam,” said director Linda G. Mills. “When Chelsea joined us, we realized the resonance of this work across the country and the world. We all went on a journey over two years. Slowly but surely the story emerged.”

The film was kept to a half-hour running time so that it could be used as a learning experience in schools and venues around the world.

At an after-party for the premiere, Chelsea Clinton was asked if the film would be shown at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. “I hope so,” she said.

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 04/25/2014

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