The Immense Power of Community & Film

Universal School and Jami Masjid have a simple but grand goal – to make their neighborhood a better, safer, and more caring environment. When they moved into the East Side of Buffalo, reviving the abandoned Queen of Peace to its former glory as a house of worship, the area was riddled with crime. Drugs were dealt out of the back parking lot, fights broke out every other day on the block and it seemed as if the city had given up on the neighborhood.

Today, however, members of Universal School and Jami’ Masjid are greeted with smiles by their neighbors, who are often spotted walking past the Masjid shouting “I love you guys!” We have been following Jami’ Masjid closely throughout this transformation and witnessed firsthand how it all took place, and believe it or not it begins with a simple Islamic principle.

All Abrahamic religions are rooted in the same beliefs, but one of the key differences between Islam and Christianity is that Muslims do not believe in “original sin.” Instead, they believe that all humans are born in a state of purity known as fitrah, free from sin and corruption. It is only by living in this world and witnessing its hardships and temptations that mankind is driven towards error, but the successful human is the one who strives to maintain their natural state of goodness.

This assertion that all humans are, by nature, good people serves as a motivator to build bridges between people in difficult areas. Rather than cracking down harshly on the crime in the neighborhood, the people of Jami’ Masjid were determined to open their doors and extend bonds of friendship with their neighbors.

They started with barbecues, free for everyone and open to all. They would serve upwards of 300 of their neighbors, opening the doors to their mosque every year and offering free health clinics, free haircuts, bounce houses for the children and basketball tournaments. It seems simple, but sharing a meal with somebody is one of the most basic and fundamental ways to build trust. In ancient Bedouin societies, if someone fed you in their tent it generally meant that they would protect you and ensure your safe passage. The same principle carries over to today.

These barbecues fostered a stronger sense of community throughout the area and also led to discoveries that would fuel the mission of Jami’ Masjid. The difficulties in their area are primarily due to the lack of opportunities and resources available to its residents. In order to help remedy the challenges they face, Jami’ Masjid collected household items and clothing that would be useful to their neighbors, then partnered with the Buffalo Police Department to host a massive free giveaway right in their backyard.

Attendees had the opportunity to take home appliances, furniture, toys, and much more completely free of charge and the video has been viewed by millions, inspiring people across the globe to follow in their footsteps.

By hosting sincere events to improve their community and documenting them consistently, Jami’ Masjid built credibility among their neighbors and across the world which laid the groundwork for their latest successful initiative. Over the years they observed that the children in their neighborhood did not have a real safe place to play, and would treat Jami’ Masjid as a sanctuary. They realized their children deserve better than a parking lot and a neglected park to play in, so they took it upon themselves to plan and develop a state-of-the-art playground unlike anything their neighborhood has seen before, and reached out to the world for funding.

In the matter of a few short weeks, they were able to raise their goal of $65,000 from 372 donors across the world through their online crowdfunding campaign. The video, which we produced, certainly helped garner support for their cause but if it wasn’t for their consistent devotion to improving their community the massive support for this initiative would not have existed. Neighbors Sherman and Janine, who offered powerful statements in support of building the playground, came forward because they observed the sincere efforts of Jami’ Masjid to do good over time. The project also received much support from the Launchgood team who had taken notice of Jami’s efforts after their giveaway video went viral.

While the playground campaign is certainly a testament to the power of film, it is my belief that having a strong film is not enough. Jami’ Masjid demonstrated that sincere efforts combined with consistent documentation through film are a recipe for success. Your videos are only as strong as your passion and commitment towards the cause you care about. True Intent has been honored throughout the years to work with such a devoted group of individuals who sincerely wish to make their world a better place.

Akram Shibly – Founder, True Intent Productions

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What Lies Ahead

2017 is and will continue to be an exciting year for True Intent Productions. We’ve already shed light on Black History Month, produced a powerful documentary on Nina Simone, highlighted the University at Buffalo’s refugee relief efforts, released a short comedy on love from a cat’s perspective, launched a successful campaign to fund an inner city playground, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! By far, however, we are most excited about what still lies ahead. Here’s what you can expect from True Intent in the year to come.

Back in 2015 we crowdfunded and began producing a chilling post-apocalyptic film, Nomadic, through this teaser trailer. The story centers around nine nomads struggling to survive a world where nearly all life was exterminated by biological warfare. Hope is restored when they discover an outpost filled with life saving antibiotics, but that hope quickly diminishes when choices are made that cause the group to fall part.

A glimpse of the outpost from the opening scene of Nomadic.

The production process was unlike anything we’ve ever endeavored to produce, but we managed to successfully wrap early last year. Post-production has been a long process due to the collaborative nature of this film, but good news is we anticipate wrapping this summer and bringing this production to your screen by the end of the year!

The group hears a sudden noise in the distance – Still from Nomadic
Anna fires an arrow at the threat – Still from Nomadic

In addition to completing this long-anticipated short film, we are also in the midst of producing a sequel to our award winning documentary Waiting at the Door, titled Behind the Door.

Waiting at the Door provided an honest glimpse into the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan, espousing their resilience in the face of unthinkable challenges. Behind the Door dives once again into the heartbreaking stories of the world’s most devastated population, except this time from a completely unique perspective. Both films were produced entirely by Syrian-Americans, myself included, which is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself. For Syrian diaspora, the war isn’t just something we hear about on the news. It has devastating impact, as no Syrian has lived through this war without losing a relative, or constantly worrying about the security of their family.

“There’s nothing here.” – Still from Behind the Door
Syrian schoolchildren line up for their morning drill. – Still from Behind the Door

In the West we often detach ourselves from conflicts abroad thanks to the security we enjoy at home. However, the truth is that in our multi-cultural, globalized world there is no conflict abroad that doesn’t profoundly impact citizens within our borders. To call attention to that, this documentary will tell the stories of the Syrian refugees, as well as the story of the Syrian-Americans documenting them, with the hopes of revealing how close this conflict really is to home. You can check out a teaser for Behind the Door here!

A Syrian child grabs the hand of our creative producer, Thawab Shibly, who is also Syrian. – Still from Behind the Door

We look forward to bringing these films to your screen in the months ahead. To stay updated on our work, subscribe to our mailing list, follow us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube channel and check back regularly for more enlightening entertainment!

Akram Shibly – Founder, True Intent Productions

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A Window to our Vision

Welcome to the True Intent Blog! In addition to keeping you updated with our productions, we hope this blog will become a hub for intellectually stimulating conversation. Our ultimate goal at True Intent is to revive the spirit of the arts, which were traditionally an exploration into the depths of human nature in order to uncover the purpose of our lives.

In this day and age, “purpose” is often lost as we continue to discover the grandeur of the universe – making humanity seem microscopic, even insignificant. However, the truth is everything has a purpose, regardless how small or large, and whether or not that purpose is apparent to us. We have the choice to acknowledge the inherent value and meaning of our lives, or to give up and say “life is meaningless,” submitting to a futile existence of routine.

By acknowledging that life has purpose, and meaning, even if that meaning isn’t immediately clear to you, you will set yourself on a journey of discovery. Causes and effects will become more clear as you refute the idea that randomness is the driving force behind existence. It is important, however, not to haphazardly ascribe meaning to everything without deep reflection and study. This is where art comes into play. Genuine art offers us insight into the discoveries that bring us closer to understanding our purpose.

In this day and age, unfortunately, much of that focus in art is lost as the driving force behind most of what we consume is not substance, but profit. Artists and their patrons alike forsake the potential for their art to offer introspection in order to increase their bottom line. The effects on our society have been disastrous.

Through film, we seek to undo some of those disastrous effects by promoting introspection and encouraging others to seek out the meaning and purpose of their lives. We hope you’ll join us on your journey of discovery.

Akram Shibly – Founder, True Intent Productions

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