More than 100 people attended an early-morning screening of a biographical film about a Muslim Newfoundlander on May 24 at Fredericton’s Cultural Centre.
Lisa Bamford de Gante, director of the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, welcomed the audience. She said: “it seems really appropriate that we’re launching the film” at the Multicultural Centre, and affirmed that it was “the perfect community” for such a film.
The short documentary Salaam B’y: A Story of a Muslim Newfoundlander is a first person narrative by Aatif Baskanderi.
Currently living in Calgary, Baskanderi grew up in a small town called Clarenville, a two- hour drive from St. John’s. His parents immigrated from Pakistan to Canada when Baskanderi’s father, an engineer, found work at the Come By Chance refinery.
Baskanderi affirmed that he had never felt discrimination as a young person growing up in Newfoundland in the eighties. He credits the supportive community for making him a better Muslim, since his parents and family kept up the traditional rituals of their faith. Later, Baskanderi realized the privilege that he had had, growing up in Newfoundland: “I was in a bit of a bubble.”
For Baskanderi, who “can feel that there’s a lot of hate and fear in the world,” contemporary ideas about Muslims demand a progressive response. The film also exposes the socio-economic problems facing the people of the province, including the outward migration of youth, an experience that Baskanderi has lived. Baskanderi left “The Rock” after his engineering degree at Memorial University.
A few years after he abandoned his Newfoundland “home,” Baskanderi realized that there was no information on Muslim Newfoundlanders and, encouraged by his non-Newfoundlander wife, decided to tell his story.
In his Fredericton presentation, Baskanderi told the crowd that his life in Newfoundland gave him an “unwavering sense of belonging.” He discovered that the “Newfoundland character” he had inherited was kindness. With time, he has determined that this is also one of the island’s greatest “natural resources.”
The goal of Baskanderi’s film tour is to create “communities of kindness” because, for him, “culture is critical to making innovation happen” in Canada. The country, according to Baskanderi, is one where difference is “the beating heart of the country.” With each stop, Baskanderi wants to “highlight the amazing things happening in each community.”
The documentary film was directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Amar Wala, best known for the 2014 film The Secret Trial 5. Andrew Sheppard and Ryan Mariotti’s exquisite cinematography does the scenic province justice. Along with many other nominations at prestigious film festivals, the movie won Best Documentary at the Canadian Diversity Film Festival in 2018.
Sophie M. Lavoie, a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board, writes on arts and culture for the Co-op.