Life, Stories: "Me, the 'Other'" makes its world premiere at the Michigan Theater
Me, the "Other" is a documentary that explores the ways race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender have impacted 12 Washtenaw County college students. The film makes its world premiere on Monday, Jan. 15, at the Michigan Theater.
"'Otherness' is never one thing" is the doc's guiding light as the filmmakers allow the students to tell their disparate tales in full so viewers can understand and appreciate their humanity. “I’ve come to see our differences in beauty like different flowers in one garden," said Shahrzad Mirafzali, co-producer of Me, the "Other" and University of Michigan School of Dentistry faculty member.
The genesis of Me, the "Other" happened in the spring of last year. Mirafzali was thinking about a project that could celebrate both the University of Michigan’s bicentennial and the University of Michigan’s Baha’i Club bicentennial. She called her friend, film and theater director Shidan Majidi, since she knew she could trust him to think about the project the way she was. Time wasn’t on their side with the original project, but about a month later, the two talked about another idea: a documentary that explores the ways diversity impacts the lived experiences of people -- students, in particular -- in Washtenaw County.
Mirafzali left Michigan 20 years ago, lived all over the world, but ended up moving back in order to be close to her family. She was nervous that she’d be dissatisfied with returning to Michigan, but for the most part, she liked what she saw: new ethnic restaurants and a greater variety of people, and she enjoyed this new cosmopolitan element. But as she spent more time in the area, she noticed there were differences in how students and faculty who were associated with the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and Washtenaw Community College were perceived and treated. This bothered her. She didn't see differences between people attending these colleges; she saw them all as individuals on a common journey of pursuing an education.
After consulting with Majidi, who lives in New York, Mirafzali and he kicked off their long-distance collaboration. The production of the film unfolded in whirlwind fashion. Majidi got the word out through posted audition notices on the campuses involved, talking to faculty, word of mouth, and personal connections. Over 40 students responded to the call. The casting took place over a single weekend, and ultimately 200 people were involved in the making of the movie, with 95 percent being volunteers.
That speed and co-operative spirit suited the co-producers' styles: They believe that they work together well because neither of them likes to waste time, and once committed to something they are both driven and impassioned. Here, they saw Me, the "Other" as a means to contribute healing to the world. “We are all one," Majidi said. "As a human race, we are made of one substance and we are all the same. This film affirmed my belief in that."
Majidi knew going into the project that he did not want it to be a scripted process. He wanted to create a piece where these students’ stories shone through by creating a “place of safety” for them to open up and talk. "Just us sitting together opening hearts," Majidi said. "These were soul-to-soul conversations.”
Allowing the participants in Me, the "Other" to tell their truths was the ultimate goal.
“Storytelling is everything," Majidi said. "I believe in the power of storytelling as much as everything. Storytelling is the one piece in our global culture … that links hope, faith and powers mystical and magical. Storytelling allows us to dream. It is an essential fabric of the human experience.”
Sherlonya Turner is the manager of the Youth & Adult: Services & Collections Department at the Ann Arbor District Library. She can be found diving headfirst into all sorts of projects over at sherlonya.net.