We sit down to do our Interview, Asil Moussa begins,
“Windsor’s Islamic Community is not normal…”
With that, it immediately becomes apparent this interview will also not be normal.
Asil Moussa is the Filmmaker behind Muslims of Windsor.
Hard to believe it’s her First Documentary Film. It looks so professional. I tell Asil, it’s as good as anything done by established Documentary Film companies.
A reflex kicks in as she states, adding hand gestures for emphasis,
I’m Asil, and I’m Type “A”.
Asil ( pronounced Eh-Seel ) as a girl’s name may mean smooth, pure, unique, or origin.
And what of the origins of this Type “A” person ?
Asil is Egyptian born, yet may identify most with Boston. References to Beantown gently permeate our conversation.
Before moving to Boston as a young girl, Asil’s parents enrolled her in an Islamic grade school. An important consequence of that decision would change her and her family’s life soon enough.
Upon later enrolling in a regular Boston Public School, her language skills were very poor for a girl her age and grade school reading level.
“I couldn’t read,” Asil recalls without being bitter.
Perhaps this had a great influence on her Parents’ decision to eventually seek out the best academics-first Islamic school possible?
In time, her family traded the bright lights, big city of Boston for the serenity of Sackets Harbor, a village in Upstate New York. By now, her parents began researching where they wanted Asil and her two younger sisters educated.
Her parents were very mindful of their earlier choice. This time, they carefully evaluated about a half dozen Islamic and Muslim schools from Ottawa to Syracuse to Windsor and elsewhere.
They did not want an Islamic Education alone, with Academics treated as an afterthought.
Their intention was the best Academic school teaching a Public Curriculum yet within an Islamic Environment.
Her Family is Canadian, with extended family in Boston, Waterloo, and Detroit.
Moving to Windsor placed Asil’s family in-between two of those three cities.
At age 11, Asil was now in Windsor attending An-Noor…
Yet upon first arrival in Windsor she found, “No Disney Channel, No Hollywood… it was so boring… but I got over it.”
Asil graduated from An-Noor. Then it was off to The University of Windsor towards studying Medicine.
Both her sisters aged 13 and 15 of course also graduated from An-Noor. Currently it is only grades Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8.
Asil has always loved storytelling.
At age 7, Asil wanted to be a writer, “Just like J.K. Rowling.”
In grade 6, she wanted to be an actress, but then realized the Islamic limitations in being an actress.
Senior year, she was layout editor for the high school newspaper.
Upon getting a Nikon D90, the visual story telling began.
In answer to Why Filmmaker ?
Asil reveals she likes, “Full control over the story.” And Filmmaking she discovered allows that full control.
Full Control ?
She’s Asil and she’s Type “A”, remember?
In Second Year University, the collaboration began.
Her best friend Nuha Elalem had to record something for school. They collaborated on a number of poetry videos together.
The Choice captures Asil’s struggle in deciding between Biology and Digital Journalism.
It foreshadows the production quality eventually seen in Muslims of Windsor.
This, and the other poetry videos caught the eye of the Head of the Windsor Islamic Association.
He saw them, and reached out to Asil via text and email asking her to create what was meant to be 5-10 minute video about the history of the Windsor Mosque and its outreach volunteering.
It’s the evening of March 30, 2013 at 9 p.m.
A cell phone in the Moussa home buzzes. It’s the Windsor Islamic Association President texting or emailing Asil asking if she wants to make a film?
But when first asked to make that film, she volunteered it would be, “Better than a slide show.”
It originally was to be 5-10 minute video about the Windsor Mosque and its outreach volunteering. Period.
She was assigned the film project. Filming would begin immediately with the screening to happen on May 1, 2013 during the Windsor Islamic Council Appreciation dinner.
Oh, and there was this other thing going on….
Exam season at University of Windsor began the next morning, April 1, and continued until April 20.
Nevertheless, by April 1, Asil was story boarding, long-listing interview subject names, Institutions, what to ask about and who. Her best friend Nuha Elalem was volunteered into the project and they both got to work.
From the get-go, Asil wanted to include a lot of people.
To do that, meant everyday was 12 – 16 Hours of filming, editing, and traveling around town. All while stealing moments to study and making it on time to write each of her exams.
Asil is averse to driving. But she overcame that aversion to gather research and film much of the material from all over town. She had never drove so much in her life.
“It’s hard to take a tripod all over town on your own,”
Filming was at all hours and at times while juggling Final Exams and Studying.
Her mind if not on school work exam preparations, was only on the film.
“It was stressful to include a lot of people,” she now says. But she is happy with the Final Product.
At first, she didn’t have equipment nor editing software. Despite it being Exam time, with many regular parts of The University closed, a contact allowed them to use the Tech Lab at U of W.
Film equipment and the editing studio became available.
Throughout April, she was on the phone with but one question, “Can I Interview you?”
To help meet the rigorous shooting schedule, the Windsor Islamic Association President made phone calls and opened doors to 3 of the 24 to be interviewed. Those were three less headaches Asil didn’t have to deal with. Nuha and Asil contacted the remaining 21 directly.
All that, was done on very short notice, sometimes only giving the interview subject a day or two warning of the scheduling.
Advice to young Muslim Female Filmmakers?
“Don’t Let anyone’s negative comments bring you down”
“Just go” –and do it
To any discouragement, just say to yourself, “Well, I’m just gonna try it anyways”
I spend most of my free time watching interviews (Oprah, Anderson Cooper, Ellen, David Letterman, Piers Morgan, The View, Kelly & Michael, and many, many more).
I love to hear people’s story and their thoughts.
I also like to watch the interviewer to see how he/she asks questions and tells a story.
I used a lot of what I learned from that in making this documentary and interviewing people (even just as a journalist and at school).
I realize that what you do in your free time, becomes who you are.
I used to watch and admire interviews since I was a kid. But only this year (I’m 20) did I realize I really wanted to become a talk show host (amongst other things, of course).
What did you learn by making this Film ?
“This film counts our blessings, you don’t know what you have until you see it altogether.”
“Muslims in Windsor are passionate: they Volunteer Full Time AND They Raise a Family.”
“It’s not geography, it’s people. They are what make Windsor Special.”
It’s not the place that people will remember when other people are gone and no longer with us, it’s the memories of those people. –It’s the people. This is my take-away from Asil’s take-away from making the film.
Many interview subjects saw no difference between themselves as citizens and residents of their city and members of a faith community.
Muslims Reach out, They reach back in. They being the wider Windsor social service community. Civic engagement projects often call upon Muslims knowing they make passionate and committed volunteers.
One of the most important things Asil learned:
My parents will stand by me through thick and through thin. I was amazed at how supportive they were.
They always listened to me when I had a problem or something on my mind and they offered their advice.
I was even more appreciative when they let me go out ALL day and come home really late (because I was working on this). I think when parents see you working so hard, they really respect you and support you, and that’s what my parents did.
(And that’s saying something because my parents were NOT happy about me deciding not to be a doctor, but when they saw how serious and driven I was, they really started to support me and encourage me. It’s a wonderful feeling, to have your parent’s support alhamdulillah.)
My dad even sponsored the film, which was huge for us.
How was The Film received ?
It was shown during The Annual Windsor Islamic Council Appreciation Dinner 2013.
But it was shown during dinner, and many people did not necessarily pay attention to it while eating and talking.
However, Asil did get a lot of support from those that did pay attention.
Perhaps The WIC did not realize the quality and importance of what they had, and should have shown it as a dedicated item in the evening’s program? Next time.
Non-Muslims who attended the Dinner expressed how much they appreciate and support her film and work in making it.
Asil uploaded the film for its Ramadan 2013 month-long online screening. She was surprised and happy that so many NON-Muslims are viewing Muslims of Windsor and sharing the link.
Non-Muslims seeing and sharing the film?
“This is the Reward”
On Filmmaking and storytelling, Asil knows that, “It’s really me, what I love.”
Love is one thing.
Making Documentary Films means raising and spending money, which is altogether a different thing.
I ponder a quick calculation: 200 Work hours, at minimum wage x 2 people = $4,000 at minimum.
That number speaks for itself.
There are no B-Movies in Asil Moussa’s demo real.
That’s because, she will say,
I’m Asil, and I’m Type “A”.