I AM GAY AND MUSLIM in November

November will be another month of challenges regarding the film I AM GAY AND MUSLIM. We’ll start the month with the SCENECS International Debut FilmFestival in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. The film will be screened on Thursday 1st and Saturday 3rd November. Director Chris Belloni will attend the latter screening for a q&a session after the film. Tickets are available on http://scenecs.com/bezoekers/tickets/

Parallel to the above mentioned festival, the LesGaiCineMad Filmfestival will take place in Madrid, Spain. I AM GAY AND MUSLIM has been selected for the competitive program of ‘Best Documentary’. The film will be screened on Friday 2nd and Thursday 8th November. A week ago, the first association for Muslim gays established in Spain under the name A.M.HO. Associació de Musulmans Homosexuals LGTB, so this is a rather positive development in the emancipation process of Muslim gays in Spain. Information on the film festival and the film: http://www.lesgaicinemad.com/peliculas/documentales/i-am-gay-and-muslim

During the last week of November the so called ‘ONE WORLD Film festival’ takes place in Berlin, Germany. This international human rights film festival screens films regarding social rights and social issues. I AM GAY AND MUSLIM will be screened on November 25th at Kino Arsenal. Director Chris Belloni will be available in Berlin for a q&a session. http://www.oneworld-berlin.de/programm/timetable/termin/1155/eventdata/i-am-gay-and-muslim/

I AM GAY AND MUSLIM in Barcelona

Director Chris Belloni attended the Barcelona International Gay&Lesbian FilmFestival at the end of October. The film I AM GAY AND MUSLIM was scheduled at the centrally located Filmoteca on October 25. During the Q&A sessions the interviewer mentioned that a new Muslim gay association was to be established at October 26. We would like to congratulate them with this courageous initiative.

This organisation is called Associació de Musulmans HOmosexuals LGTB. More information: www.amho.es / www.facebook.com/amho.es

I AM GAY AND MUSLIM banned from Human Right Filmfestival Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: Rights Activists Condemn Ban on Gay Muslim Documentary
October 1, 2012 – 1:32pm, by David Trilling (EurasiaNet.org)
Kyrgyz authorities have banned “I Am Gay and Muslim,” from the Bir Duino (“One World”) documentary film festival in Bishkek. (Film still courtesy: "I am Gay and Muslim")
Kyrgyz authorities have banned “I Am Gay and Muslim” from the Bir Duino (One World) documentary film festival in Bishkek. The film, by Dutch director Chris Belloni, follows several gay men living in Morocco. (Film still courtesy: “I am Gay and Muslim”)

Democratization activists in Kyrgyzstan are worrying about a roll-back of basic freedoms after a Bishkek court prohibited a film festival from screening a Dutch documentary about homosexual Muslim men.

“I Am Gay and Muslim,” was scheduled to screen on September 28 at the sixth annual Bir Duino (“One World”) human rights documentary film festival in Bishkek. Only hours before the scheduled showing, a court in the capital banned the film from being distributed in Kyrgyzstan. Organizers, attendees, and activists contended that the decision was fueled by officials’ knee-jerk intolerance. Religious experts had assailed the documentary’s content as “blasphemous” and likely to “incite[s] religious intolerance.”

Officials have compared the 59-minute film, which is set in Morocco, to the now-infamous “Innocence of Muslims,” a low-budget production that mocked and insulted Islam and ended up sparking riots across the Muslim world last month. “I Am Gay and Muslim” director Chris Belloni said anyone who has seen his film would understand it is not “anti-Islam” or “extremist.”

“The film shows the perspective of gay people who accept themselves as both gay and Muslim. I think this is why the film is so popular among festivals. It is about the underdog,” said 32-year-old Belloni, who said he made the film to educate. The film is scheduled to screen next week in Beirut.

In a written complaint, the State Committee on Religious Affairs cited an interview in the film where a middle-aged man says, “In Islam, we say everything is planned by God. We don’t choose our destiny. So God has planned this for me. […] God made me gay.” The committee deemed the passage “blasphemous [because] a man accuses God of his sins.”

Later in the film, two men give each other a quick kiss. The committee said the film “humiliates” Muslims. “It is clear that its aim is to provoke the Muslim population and to incite religious intolerance,” the committee’s official complaint said of the film.

Tabyldy Orozaliev, deputy director of the religious affairs committee, told EurasiaNet.org that his office does not have the authority to ban films, but passed its recommendation onto the Prosecutor General’s office, which filed suit in Bishkek’s Pervomaiskii District court.
Most Kyrgyzstanis identify themselves as Muslims, but many only loosely adhere to the faith. Several activists interviewed for this story expressed the belief that nationalists bent on imposing a strict “Kyrgyz” identity are utilizing Islam as a rallying point.

Prohibited from screening his film, Belloni spoke briefly before an audience of about 500 people on September 28 and then took questions. Though many wanted to discuss freedom of speech, he says a group of men wearing traditional Kyrgyz felt hats tried to boo him off the stage. Organizers cut the talk short and police ushered attendees out, he said.

“People were misinformed. This is why they came. Some came just to protest. There were quite a few people who were really interested, but some guys only came to demonstrate and they had no interest in seeing the film at all,” Belloni told EurasiaNet.org. “Kyrgyzstan loses because people will now see this is an intolerant place. I was told this is one of the most progressive countries in the region.”

Tolekan Ismailova, who helped organize the festival and heads Citizens Against Corruption, a prominent watchdog in Bishkek, said the State Committee on National Security (GKNB, still known colloquially as the KGB) had acted illegally by forcing the theater to hand over a copy of the film two days before the screening. “The KGB stole the film from the cinema house,” she said. Repeated calls to the GKNB went unanswered on October 1.

Referring to a group of people shouting “Kyrgyzstan is an Islamic state” in the theater, she said, “radical Islamic groups dictate how our government should work. In our constitution, Kyrgyzstan is a secular state.” Ismailova added that she has filed an appeal and will seek to screen the film in Bishkek. But Kyrgyzstan’s courts have a reputation for bending to the wishes of powerful forces, especially in the security services, and few expect an appeals court to overturn the original decision.

“With the lack of judicial independence in Kyrgyzstan, there is no way to know if this decision was unduly influenced,” said Stuart Kahn, director of Freedom House’s office in Kyrgyzstan, who attended the cancelled screening and was “dismayed” by the court’s decision. Freedom House already classifies the country’s press as “not free.”

“The ban of the film – along with a proposed law that, if passed, would regulate the Internet to protect children, but contains vague provisions to restrict much broader speech – will undoubtedly adversely impact Kyrgyzstan’s ratings,” Kahn told EurasiaNet.org.

Another attendee bemoaned what she portrayed as a widespread, closed-minded mentality in the country. “A majority of citizens are not ready to accept gays and lesbians,” she said. “Kyrgyzstan is not as open as many people believe.”

Orozaliev at the State Committee on Religious Affairs said he was insulted the film did not interview homosexuals from other religions, “as if there are no Catholic or Orthodox gays.” But he added: “If the film was about Catholics or Orthodox Christians, maybe it would be banned as well. Especially considering that [Russian] Orthodoxy is the second largest confession [in Kyrgyzstan].”

Editor’s note:

David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor.

Download I AM GAY AND MUSLIM on ximon.nl

From now on the film I AM GAY AND MUSLIM can be seen online (pay per view). Dialogues are in English (with some exceptions in Dutch), subtitles in Dutch. This is the link to the website: http://www.ximon.nl/Films/i-am-gay-and-muslim/194267

Eindelijk! De film I AM GAY AND MUSLIM kan vanaf heden (tegen betaling) worden gedownload via Ximon. De film is Engels/Nederlands gesproken en Nederlands ondertiteld. Dit is de link naar de website: http://www.ximon.nl/Films/i-am-gay-and-muslim/194267

I AM GAY AND MUSLIM in the Middle-East!

It’s final now: I AM GAY AND MUSLIM will be screened in the heart of the Middle-East; the film got officially selected for Panorama section at the Beirut International Film Festival, Lebanon in October this year!

http://www.beirutfilmfoundation.org/

I AM GAY AND MUSLIM goes Eastern Europe

Festivalnews. I AM GAY AND MUSLIM even goes to a Muslim country (Kyrgyzstan) and a country with traditional, hostile tendencies towards homosexuality (Serbia):

– Bir Duino Film Festival, Bishkek Kyrgyzstan (Sept 24-28, 2012)
– International Festival of Ethnological Film, Belgrade Serbia (Oct 11-15, 2012)

For more information on festivals and screenings, see tab: Screenings

I AM GAY AND MUSLIM on QUEER FEST KYIV 2012

The film I AM GAY AND MUSLIM has officially been selected for the 1st QueerFilmFest in Kiev, Ukraine. The festival was initially scheduled for June 13-16, 2012 but postponed until further notice, due to the horrible assaults with gay pride in May 2012.

Hopefully the festival coordinator will find an opportunity in the near future to organize the festival.

Check: http://www.queerfilmfest.org/

Omar

Omar After arriving in Morocco, the first thing I do is phone Omar. I’ve been concerned about him for weeks. He hasn’t responded to any text-messages and his profile on Facebook has been removed. It seems impossible to get in touch with him. In the taxicab headed for Rabat, I make one final attempt. Finally Omar answers his phone. He sounds exhilarated and announces a ‘life changing event’ that he wants to share with me. The first thought that crosses my mind is: ‘he’s had his coming-out’, but because I don’t want to steal his thunder, I keep my mouth shut. We arrange to meet at Café Venezia Ice that evening.

Six months ago, when we first met, the situation was completely different. Omar was a troubled adolescent, wrestling with his true identity, questioning his sexual orientation and trying to figure out how everything matched with his religious convictions.

Furthermore, his pursuit of personal happiness hardly could compensate the suffering he would put his parents through, were he to openly practice his homosexuality. For these reasons he had declined a study abroad at a university in Paris, because he was worried he wouldn’t be able to resist the sexual liberalism of the Western world. However, as time went by, Omar seemed to go through a transition. He spoke less and less of religious matters and appeared to give the development of his sexual identity more priority. He was beaming when he told me about his impressive first boyfriend, Ouassim and while walking together in a political march during Naqba-day Omar mentioned how proud he felt to be part of this movement. This was the first time he had actually stood up for a cause with like-minded people which led me to believe strongly that he was following his own path.

That evening Omar and I greet each other with a warm hug. He is beaming and appears quite self-confident. I am happy to see him. The boy struggling with his identity six months ago is a shadow of the man standing here in front of me today. I tell him how worried I was because his Facebook profile has disappeared. The reason why would be explained shortly, revealing my clouded judgement of the situation.

Apparently, Omar spent his summer soul searching for religious truth. An Imam he confided in about his homosexuality, introduced him to a discussion group composed of boys in the same situation. These boys talked about their faith and the willpower to resist the temptations of the flesh. Soon Omar began to change and draw strength from the discussion group. ‘The group was quite pleasant,’ Says Omar. ‘I met a lot of people that are the same as I am. It is extremely important to learn to accept oneself and not feel guilty.’ A number of sessions with psychiatrists and his group have changed Omar’s point of view. He doesn’t deny he still has feelings for men, but he says: ‘I am able to control myself now. The other day I was here in Café Venezia when a cute boy beckoned me. I followed him to the car and he opened the door. I could have gotten in and driven away, no question about it, but believe me, I managed to resist. There were times that I would have gotten in without a second thought, but now I can resist. I feel that I have overcome a huge obstacle. I’ve decided to leave everything behind me. If I could, I would have my memory erased. I just want to be normal. I realise I have really changed and I’m proud of it.’ Slowly it dawns on me that the pressure of the discussion group, propagating self-acceptance but also acting from a religious point of view; has diminished Omar’s appreciation of individualism. This conversation has a completely different outcome then I expected but Omar seems reassuringly content with his decision.

We agree to meet again in three days when he will elaborate on the Koran and the truth in his religion. However when the day arrives I receive a disconcerting message from Omar: his father has been involved in a car accident which will turn out to be fatal. When I phone him to express my condolences, his voice sounds remarkably composed. ‘At this moment there is no room to grieve, because I have to make a lot of arrangements. My time will come, now I have to be strong for my family.’

Anouar

The first time I meet Anouar is at the tram stop on Hassan II Avenue. He has a slim build and looks around him with a careless glance that cannot conceal his curiosity. Our search for an appropriate place to talk is somewhat complicated; we pass three cafes before Anouar feels enough at ease to talk. Barely have we taken our seat when Anouars phone rings: he has to deliver a report at work and needs to take off immediately. I grab a crumpled 20-dirham note and slide it underneath a saucer. In the meantime Anouar has hailed a cab and is yelling at me to hurry up: “Yallah! Yallah!”

I decide to join him and ride with him to the human rights organization where Anouar is doing an internship. Anouar announces that some day he will become a gay rights activist in this country, but at this moment Morocco isn’t ready; perhaps some years from now. As we climb the stairs to his office, Anouar quietly asks me not to reveal the real nature of my presence if any of his colleagues would happen to ask.

When we enter the boardroom, nine of the ten people present turn their heads. I feel ill at ease and foolishly hope that no one will wonder who Anouars guest is. Naturally, Anouars boss immediately inquires who I am and what my business is in Morocco. I feel flushed and stammer something in flawed French about researching reformations and social change. Finally Anouar rushes to my rescue and tosses his report on the table. After a short briefing he thanks everyone for their time and summons me to rise. I mumble “Beslama.” And we get the hell out of there. Outside again I feel king of the world.

Anouar and I continue our conversation on the roof terrace of my apartment. It is relatively secluded and Anouar feels secure enough to speak freely. It turns out that he is quite religious and has spent years believing that his attraction to men made him a sinful Muslim. After several years in his personal hell, searching for his true identity, he has learned to accept his homosexuality and no longer thinks of it as an impediment. He has found a way to express his religious views as well as his sexuality. The result however is that Anouar has stopped praying to Allah because it makes him feel uncomfortable. Yet he feels that he professes his religion sincerely, by respecting the values of the Islam and fulfilling his duties as best as possible. Nobody can tell him if it will suffice, but Anouar feels confident he will be judged fairly in the afterlife.

Before we wrap up the conversation Anouar asks about the situation of gay people in The Netherlands. I talk about the possibilities of gay cohabitation, marriage, adoption, but also about the bullying, verbal and sometimes even physical abuse. Anouar considers this for a moment and responds: “I think it’s better to be gay in Morocco than in the Netherlands. You know, people respect each other here, even if you’re different. You might have organizations standing up for gay rights, but that brings its disadvantages along. The moment they label you ‘gay’ you’re branded for life, even if you want to lose that mark. We avoid the subject and never speak of it, so we have less ‘problems’ “ His phone rings. It’s Ali, a boy he met on the Internet and is meeting for the first time today. Cheerfully Anouar announces: “That’s enough religious talk for today now. It’s time for some fun.”

Karim

I’m in a train heading for Casablanca. Today is the second attempt to meet Karim because he didn’t show up for our appointment yesterday. This morning he texted me to apologize and explain that a meeting would have been too upfront for him. He is prepared to tell his story, but without appearing on film. A sound recording won’t be a problem for him and I agree to these terms.
We arrange to meet between the harbour and the medina, in front of the Ibis Hotel. The hotel chain has a business-like feel to it which offers some anonymity and is right across from the train station Casa-Port. Karim is late and I am waiting for him in the hotel garden. Like nearly all communal parks and gardens in Morocco, this garden is very well maintained.

The lawn is neatly clipped, the paths are raked. A few palm trees grow in the shade. Meanwhile there is no trace of Karim. I hope he hasn’t stood me up again? The trouble is, I’ve never met Karim or even seen a photo of him. I don’t have a clue how to recognize him and as far as I’m concerned he could be any passer-by. All I know of him is the data included in his internet profile. I open his profile on my cell phone and take another look: Karim, 23 years old, 5 ft 8 and black, shorn hair, slender. His closing remark is: I speak English well. It’s not a big help, so I’ll have to trust him to approach me.
My phone rings once. In the shade, behind some rocks, I spot a slender boy. He is wearing shiny track pants, hanging loosely from the hips and a black t-shirt. I can tell he is holding something in his left hand but can’t get a clear view of it. At that moment my phone rings for the second time. When I answer, the call gets disconnected. He approaches me with a light, but confident step, shoulders bent slightly. It takes one glance to recognize each other without ever having met. Karim’s handshake is quite feeble but his stern ‘Viens!’ takes me by surprise. Silently we walk down the driveway, followed by the glance of the doormen of the Ibis. I don’t know where we are headed, but Karim leads the way. Every step leads us into narrower bystreets en closer to the clamour of the salesmen in the medina. While the harbour disappears from sight and we enter the medina, I start to feel anxious. What the hell am I doing here? Why did I start this project, in an unfamiliar country, with unfamiliar people and a calendar filled with unreliable appointments?

Within seconds I remember what I am doing this for: with this project I want to attack the oppression of homosexuality in Islam. I wantto create platform for those who are sentenced to a marginal life due to their sexual orientation in a country where Islam is the main religion. I want to offer a voice to the people that suffer without words, because they cannot show their true colours. This project is for those who wish to break the silence and tell their story. To get in touch with Islamic homosexual boys and men I have placed an announcement on an gay dating site. Karim is one of the young men that responded.

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