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Courage in the Extreme: On Till Schauder’s Latest Film “Warriors of Faith”

Article by Cameron Finch

It is just before noon on a sunny day at an outdoor Dusseldorf shopping center. Pigeons, hungry for crumbs, bob and weave through stroller wheels and fashionable feet. In the mall’s center plaza, two women sit on a bench eating ice cream. A child bends down to pet a dog. A man walks out of the Apple store with a new smartphone. A voice yells out, “Get down. Down!” A man in all black—his face covered, too—walks through the plaza, wielding a sparkling saber in one hand. His other hand is gripped around the neck of a prisoner, pushing the man down into submission. The prisoner wears an orange jumpsuit; his hands are tied behind his back. The man in black yells, “Put your head down,” and demands the prisoner to kneel. A gun is now pointed at the prisoner’s head. The glowing signs of H&M and Esprit pulse red behind the men.

Despite this act of violence, the women continue to eat their ice cream. The child scratches the dog behinds its ears. The man continues to walk, more interested in his newest gadget than the terrorism behind him. A young Arab man stoops in front of the execution site with a tripod camera, presses Record, and steps up to address the small crowd that’s now forming. He speaks to them in German: “What you’re seeing happens a hundred times a day in our countries. If I’d lie here with my head chopped off, would you do something then? We’re against this, against murder, against terror. But we have to see images like this. We have to wake up and do something against it.”

These men are not terrorists. In fact, they are anti-terrorists, working together to curtail the popular trend of radicalism found among Muslim youths in Germany. They call themselves 12thMemoRise and are the subject of award-winning German filmmaker Till Schauder’s latest film, Warriors of Faith, which recently won a German Emmy for Best Documentary in 2017.

While Schauder’s films, including The Iran Job and When God Sleeps, are classified as documentaries, it is the telling of a narrative story that drives all of his films. Rather than present a theme or subject, Schauder takes viewers on a journey full of deep conflict, intimate revelations of emotions, and dynamic transformations of selves within a dangerous and political world.

Warriors of Faith continues this trend as it follows Iraqi-born German citizen Hassan Geuad and his group of young German Muslims (12thMemoRise), who initiates a campaign geared against ISIS on Facebook and in crowded public spaces, such as the shopping mall shown in the scene above. Their main tactic is to utilize the visual shock of performance art to make their bold statements. For example, the group frequently simulates live executions, modeled after real ISIS footage. Their intent is to provoke a more vigorous response from German residents to the terrorism pervading Germany. Throughout the film, we see that their message is often misunderstood as supporting extremism rather than condemning it. However, their bravery and perseverance in the face of danger and defeat is inspiring. “We are Muslims,” the 25-year-old Geuad tells DW. “We are not former Muslims or Islam critics. And that’s our advantage. We speak out against terrorism.”

The film was shot on commission in 2016-2017 after a producer in Germany asked Schauder to participate in a pitch competition on the topic of “Extremism.” His list of potential subjects for the film included high profile terrorists and neo-Nazis. The members of 12thMemoRise were at the bottom of the list. Speaking about why he was compelled to choose them and follow their story, Schauder says he found their story “brave…The imperfection of it all was charming.”

Schauder describes his approach to filming as similar to a fly on the wall. “Always keep the camera rolling,” he says, “then cut out scenes and rearrange them later.” Once he knows the story he wants to tell, he can begin to subtly direct scenes or guide the camera’s eye to show certain elements. Schauder knew he had a story filming when the group had their “crisis” and almost broke up, which was then followed by a resolution and plans to make a come-back.  

Much of the film relies on tension and stress. At any moment, we feel as if something could go horribly wrong. We see human nature at its rawest: full of doubt, fear, anger, determination, and faith. The stress of Hassan’s internal crisis as leader of 12thMemoRise is doubled by the external terror of the world we live in today.

As any seasoned filmmaker knows, when shooting hundreds of hours of people’s personal lives, there is bound to be uncomfortable and delicate scenarios. In one scene of the film, a member of 12thMemoRise, Ahmed, is having a heated argument with his family. We the audience listen along with the camera outside of the closed door. We see shadows moving behind the glass. Navigating this liminal space of both giving respect to his subjects, yet still being privy to their conversation is a thin line. Yet, Schauder states: “I don’t censor myself when I’m shooting.” However, before releasing the film, Schauder shows these potentially revealing scenes to the family for their approval because “their safety and privacy is key.”

Speaking of safety, shooting scenes of simulated ISIS executions and slave markets in public arenas is not exactly a walk in the park. Similar to his previous shooting of “When God Sleeps,” high security was necessary to protect Schauder and his crew in case ISIS was to attack them or the members of 12thMemoRise. But as Schauder points out in the podcast, Art More Than Ever: “[To make films], you have to be flexible and persistent…and probably a bit crazy.”

It’s difficult to boil down all the intricate and provocative details of this film into one phrase, but the heart of Warriors of Faith has to be the “exploration of extreme courage.” Indeed, what these young men and women of 12thMemoRise are doing is dangerous in today’s world, but tremendously necessary. Schauder says: “They are not apostates who say ‘Fuck You.’ They are practicing Muslims, and it takes real courage to challenge a religion and reform it from within.” Yet, how can these stories be told without the courage of a filmmaker willing to risk his own safety in order to bring them to a broader audience? In this way filmmaking, too, works as a kind of activism, and serves as a catalyst for the fight against terrorism.

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Cameron Finch is a second-year MFA in Writing & Publishing candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the managing editor of Hunger Mountain: The VCFA Journal of the Arts and an intern for the VCFA Publications/Marketing Dept. In addition to writing creatively, she also freelances for Michigan Quarterly Review and Buzzworthy Media. Learn more about her at ccfinch.com.

 

 

 

 

Till Schauder is a Brooklyn-based writer, director, and cinematographer. His films have premiered at major film festivals around the world including Tribeca, Berlin, and Tokyo, and are funded through grants, partnerships and co-productions with organizations like the Sundance Documentary Institute, Fork Films, The Catapult Film Fund, The Jerome Foundation, NYSCA, Film und Medienstiftung NRW, FFA/German Federal Film Board, ITVS, ARD, ZDF, ARTE and many others. His films include: SANTA SMOKES,  THE IRAN JOBWHEN GOD SLEEPSWARRIORS OF FAITH (GLAUBENSKRIEGER), and REGGAE BOYZ. In addition to teaching at VCFA, Schauder teaches film at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and is a frequent guest speaker at other film schools.

 

Student Spotlight: Mark Schimmel’s short THE MUSICIAN

Current VCFA MFA in Film student Mark Schimmel is hard at work on his second semester project THE MUSICIAN. Mark is already getting tons of publicity for this film which he wrote and directed, and stars the amazing musician Anne Harris.  We are excited to share the most recent article from Reel Chicago in which he is featured:


View the trailer:

And the music video from the film is just gorgeous:

We can’t wait to see the completed film! Be sure to follow along on THE MUSICIAN’s facebook page to keep up-to-date on the project!

More about Mark:

Mark Schimmel has been directing award winning commercials, television, short and feature films for the past 18 years.  His work is conceptually driven and supported by images that communicate with emotion.  He’s directed notable actors such as Eric Roberts, Claudia Christian, Rene Auberjonois, Bill Ratner, Lance Barber and Academy Award nominee, Woody Harrelson.

Mark Schimmel was born in Chicago.  He studied drawing at The Art Institute of Chicago, photography at Columbia College, and completed his BFA at PRATT Institute, New York City.  Schimmel is scheduled to complete his MFA in the winter of 2019 with VCFA. Early in his career Schimmel designed movie posters for Miramax Films and was an Imagineer for Walt Disney Productions.

Till Schauder’s REGGAE BOYZ, European premiere at Krakow Film Festival, nominated for Best Documentary

REGGAE BOYZ, a film by VCFA MFA in Film faculty member Till Schauder, has it’s European premiere at the Krakow Film Festival (2018) this week. The film is nominated for Best Documentary at the festival. The film screens Wednesday May 30, 1:30 p.m.Pod Baranami Cinema  and Friday June 1, 8:00 p.m.ARS (followed by a Q&A).

“Without a doubt one of the funnest and most entertaining documentaries in years” filmdienst.de

 


Plagued with one of the highest murder rates in the world, Jamaica tries to inspire its populace by qualifying their national soccer team – the “Reggae Boyz” – for the World Cup. When their efforts start to fall short, a colorful German coach enters the scene and forms an unlikely alliance with legendary reggae musicians and a Rastafarian factory worker to unite Jamaica beyond the soccer pitch. 

 “The easy touch of this film never conceals that at its core this is about the struggle of the third world.” 

The film is also currently in theaters in Germany Check out the German trailer below!

Film faculty Till Schauder’s film, WHEN GOD SLEEPS, premieres on PBS April 2nd, 2018, plus an interview on the “Art More Than Ever” podcast

Award-winning filmmaker, and VCFA MFA in Film faculty member, Till Schauder has been traversing the globe with his film WHEN GOD SLEEPS. In addition to its bustling festival showing, we are excited to announce WHEN GOD SLEEPS will have its US broadcast television premiere on this season of Independent Lens on PBS on April 2, 2018, at 10:00 PM EST.

Additionally, be sure to have a listen to Schauder’s conversation with Art More Than Ever podcast host Erica Heilman where Schauder discusses the process of creating documentary films and how he handles working with challenging subjects.

“I’m very greedy as a filmmaker…I’m a hunter-gatherer. I know from experience that with this massive amounts of footage you get nuggets…that people think are too good to be true almost.”

About the film:

“ ‘My songs didn’t make me famous. The fatwa did.’ WHEN GOD SLEEPS unfolds against the backdrop of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks in the Bataclan concert venue and European right-wing backlash against Middle-Eastern refugees. It deftly weaves the journey of exiled Iranian musician Shahin Najafi with historical context and intimate biographical detail, rooting the narrative in Najafi’s immediate and unavoidable reality, living under a fatwa issued against him by hardline Shiite clerics. As Najafi juggles a personal life and budding romance in Cologne, far from loved ones, with a professional career whose high profile may cost him his life, he spars with bandmates who are ambivalent about the peril his status places on their lives, and battles German police who refuse to see the death threat on his head as a legitimate danger. With camerawork that underlines the intimate aspect of this film, we bear witness to the life of an outspoken artist defying powerful men intent on silencing him.”

—Cara Cusumano, Tribeca Film Festival

 

More about the filmmakers:

TILL SCHAUDER
Writer, Director
TILL SCHAUDER’s feature debut SANTA SMOKES which he wrote, co-directed and starred in, won several awards, among them Best Director at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Studio Hamburg Newcomer Award. In 2012, Till completed his critically acclaimed first documentary THE IRAN JOB, which was released worldwide, mentioned as an Oscar contender and shortlisted for a German Academy Award in 2014. His latest documentary WHEN GOD SLEEPS premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2017 and is currently playing at film festivals around the world. WHEN GOD SLEEPS won the “Cinema for Peace Award” for Most Valuable Documentary of the Year during this year’s Berlinale, and the “Golden Heynal Award” in the International DocFilmMusic Competition at this year’s Krakow Film Festival. WHEN GOD SLEEPS opened theatrically in Germany and Japan in October. The U.S. theatrical release is scheduled for early 2018, followed by a nationwide broadcast on PBS/Independent Lens and a North American online release on Amazon. Till also recently completed WARRIORS OF FAITH, a feature documentary about Iraqi refugees in Germany combating ISIS through performance arts for which he just won a German Emmy. The film also won the “ARD Top of the Docs” Award and was a nominee for the Prix Europa. Till has a side career in acting. He appeared with Kate Winslet in the HBO Series “Mildred Pierce” and in Martin Scorsese’s HBO Series “Vinyl”. His production company, which he runs with his producing partner and wife Sara Nodjoumi, is based in Brooklyn.


SARA NODJOUMI

Producer
SARA NODJOUMI is an independent film producer and film festival programmer. She and Till Schauder most recently collaborated on WHEN GOD SLEEPS, which is co-produced by ITVS, executive produced by Motto Pictures, Catapult Film Fund, and Fork Films, and supported by numerous foundations including the Sundance Institute, Jerome Foundation, and NYSCA. The film premiered in competition at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. It later went on to win the Golden Heynal award for Best Music Documentary at the Krakow Film Festival, as well as the Most Valuable Film of the Year award at Cinema for Peace in Berlin. Nodjoumi and Schauder are currently working on the feature documentary REGGAE BOYZ, which is in post-production. From 2004-2009, Nodjoumi worked at the Tribeca Film Festival as an Associate Programmer and is currently the Artistic Director of the New York Sephardic Film Festival. She also produced the feature documentary THE IRAN JOB, which was released theatrically and on Netflix worldwide. In Germany, the film was shortlisted for a German Academy Award. For THE IRAN JOB, Nodjoumi managed two of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time. In 2016, she was invited to attend the Sundance Creative Producer’s Summit and in 2017 she was an IFP Cannes Producer’s Network Fellow.