Documentary Film Director
Thursday, September 17 – Discussion with film director, Nina Davenport
Stern Center, Great Room, 7:00 p.m.
Do-gooder intentions go disastrously wrong when Hollywood gives a young Iraqi film student the chance of a lifetime. Operation Filmmaker tells the fascinating and riveting story of this student’s odyssey in the West, which has uncanny parallels to America’s recent misadventures abroad.
Many Americans expected Operation Iraqi Freedom to be a quick intervention welcomed by the Iraqi people. Yet, over six years later, an American occupation continues. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 5,000 Americans have perished in the conflict since 2003. Millions have become refugees and sectarian violence persists. Our initial expectations were upset; our ignorance of Middle Eastern culture exposed.
Inspired by the 2003 MTV profile of Iraqi film student Muthana Mohmed, American actor Liev Schreiber invited the young man to intern on a Hollywood movie set. Documentary maker Nina Davenport immediately saw an opportunity: she would tape Muthana’s Hollywood internship. “I thought the film would be called The Kindness of Liev Schreiber,” she later said. However, cultural differences between the young Iraqi and his co-workers proved greater than expected. A project that was only supposed to take a few months turned into a yearlong endeavor, as Operation Filmmaker began to resemble another instance of good American intentions gone awry.
Adjusting to a new and different culture is difficult for everyone, but young people from the Middle East have an especially difficult time adapting to American culture. According to Mona Faragallah, Walter Schumm, and Farell Webb, Arabs are more likely than any other immigrant group to say that, “In the U.S., there is no place I really belong.” The situation is such that many Arabs report disillusionment with the United States and a strong desire to return home.*
* Faragallah, Mona H.; Schumm, Walter R.; Webb, Farrell J. “Acculturation of Arab-American immigrants: an exploratory study.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies (1997).
Biography (provided by the speaker)
After studying photography and filmmaking at Harvard College, Nina Davenport completed her first film Hello Photo, a poetic travel documentary about India, which premiered at Rotterdam and won “Best Documentary” at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Her second film Always a Bridesmaid – described by the Hollywood Reporter as “dripping with artistic merit” – was autobiographical, and aired on Cinemax/HBO and Channel Four in the U.K.
Davenport’s third feature, Parallel Lines, a lyrical road movie about the private stories and personal grief of Americans in the aftermath of September 11th, premiered at IDFA (The International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam) in the Joris Ivens competition, and subsequently aired on the BBC’s “Storyville.”
Operation Filmmaker, her most recent film, first screened as a work-in-progress at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2007, where it won the prestigious KNF Dutch Film Critics Award, and later premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Davenports unique and personal style of documentary has earned her numerous filmmaking awards and grants. She grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and lives in New York City.