Combatting Misconceptions about each other through the Arts: Reflections on the Mosquers Film Festival 2022


Suzanne Gross,  NEM Interim Worker


In the trailer to “I am a Mennonite,” Winnipeg documentary filmmaker Paul Plett states that he is exploring “how we fit in.” When the question “who are your people?” was posed to me recently, I answered, “Well, the only people I have the knowledge to explain, and sometimes defend are the Mennonites.  And the only people I have the right to sometimes apologize for are – Mennonites!”  With this answer, I guess I am happily not always fitting in!

Interfaith work brings different peoples together – peoples who have a group identity made up of individuals!  Group identity lends itself to artistic exploration through complex and thorny social issues and humour, which often speaks to cultural values. And when we dig deep enough, may in turn reflect our faith and theology.

On Saturday, March 12, 2022, I was gifted two tickets by Al Rashid Mosque to attend the Mosquers Film Festival.  This Festival began in 2006 in Edmonton, Alberta, with a mission to “combat misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, demonstrate our diversity, and provide a channel for talented individuals to express themselves.”   Of festivals such as the Oscars, one person commented in “The Road to the Mosquers” introduction video, “[Muslims] are peering into a world we don’t really belong in.”  Thus, (drum roll) -- The Mosquers was born!!

I have been reflecting on our own Mennonite journey with respect to diverse representation in the worldly world of the arts.  Mennonites, after all, also suffer from stereotyping.  How delighted we are when a play with substance makes it into our fringe festival repertoire – “Gadfly:  Sam Steiner Dodges for the Draft,” for instance, performed by Theatre of the Beat in 2012.    We shyly feel a bit proud.  And just last year, “Girl Named Tom” – a sibling band shaped by their Mennonite upbringing including our Mennonite institutions – won the 2021 Voice Award, showing off the beautiful harmonies Mennonites have become known for.   Does this mean Mennonites have “made it”?  Or is our intrigue with all of this perhaps linked to a hope that our small contributions are – just perhaps -- shaping the art world, and not the other way around?!  

These seem to be some of the questions Muslim artists are wrestling with as well.  Muslim artists struggle with sharing their authentic selves in a world that all too often reduces people -- “them” -- to stereotypes.   This festival is all about naming and celebrating the diversity within a large multi-ethnic, multi-cultural tent identity.

And that is why the Mosquers Film Festival was such a refreshing experience.  It was a festival organized by and for Muslims, with an open invitation to all to attend.  I brought along a Mennonite friend, and sat with three of my Muslim friends.  The festival, which draws on Muslim talent from across North America, the UK and Australia, stretched and challenged all of us in different ways.

The event opened with a Quranic recitation (Surah Ash Sharh 94:5) that translates “so surely, with hardship comes ease.”  This was the guiding light for an evening that celebrated spoken word, song, comedy and film.    It was an acknowledgement of the undercurrent of islamophobia that makes this sort of festival all the more urgent for Muslims, but also the hardships brought on by the pandemic that has affected each participant – artist and audience alike – in so many ways.  The land acknowledgement recognized the hardship of history, and the commitment and hope to help make our co-existence as treaty people one of ease through deep respect and honour.

The rest of the program included an entertaining spectrum of styles and issues.  One rock band, “Kayem”, included an acoustic oud (the Middle Eastern instrument that inspired the Lute) that was featured prominently as the soloist.   Issues of same-sex relationships, wrestling with the faith parameters of remembering and honouring a life taken by suicide, fear and apathy toward refugees, the politics of the hijab, and Muslim-Jewish relationships are all themes that were explored through the art of film.  

I was blessed by an evening that explored tough issues that challenge all of our faith traditions and boundaries.  I was gratified to see a safe and celebratory space for the multiple cultures, immigration journeys and faith expressions that make up the Muslim community in North America, each with their own story to tell, collectively, including me, to celebrate us!