Koran by Heart: A Documentary

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather, TMO

movie_11594_posterIsn’t it amazing when you see s small child reciting the Koran (Qur’an)? Isn’t it even more amazing when young children memorize the entire Koran? What if there was a competition with the best young reciters from around the world? What if someone made a film out of it? Done.

Koran by Heart is an HBO documentary directed by Greg Barker that premiered August 1st, 2011. Koran by Heart is a film about the journey of a few participants chosen for the world youth Koran competition in Cairo, Egypt. Simply put, it is the Olympics of Koran recitation.  There are from everywhere; the main characters in the documentary are from Tajikistan, Maldives, and Senegal. The international Koran competition takes place in Ramadan, so this is the perfect holiday-film to watch. 

In a documentary film, in a sense God is the director. It is natural. It is real. That is why it is beautiful. Koran by Heart is a family friendly film, ideal to view during Ramadan. The film is laced with beautiful recitations of the Koran mixed with top-notch cinematography and covered in a deep and moving storyline.  

It is a story about the competitors just as much as it is about the competition. Questions are raised regarding the political and religious states surrounding the competition and the competitors. Who decides what Islam is the ideal Islam. In every nation people breathe in Islam, and breathe out culture.  Different countries have different ways of conducting similar Islamic practices. Analogous to the cultural medley, there are also mixed views as to the degree of traditionalism practiced with varying Muslim countries, and subdivisions within those countries.

Factors such as economic situation, culture, and history all affect the story of these young individuals. You may laugh, cry, or just happen to fall off the edge of your seat in anticipation during the final scene.  Characters like Nabiollah, Rifdah, and Djemal are lively, determined, and in the end, just kids. Each character has his/her own story, and challenges.

The one story that I feel was the most powerful was that of Rifdah, a girl and also one of the younger participants in the competition. She is a bright child, excelling in all subjects, with loads of energy and sparks of genuine curiosity that you can’t help but smile at. However, she is growing up in a household with mixed views regarding women working. Nabiollah, another young competitor, has different challenges; his father wasn’t able to finish his education because of political turmoil that erupted in the region, and the area they live in at the moment does not have a certified school that teaches secular studies.  Nabiollah and his father both want him to have an education.

Koran By Heart is the film to watch this Ramadan. It is an amazing film that may even inspire you to pick up the Koran and read a few chapters. 

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Community News (V13-I31)

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New Mosque in Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND,NY–The Muslim American Society is opening a new location on Staten Island.

The mosque and community center will be housed at the site of a former Hindu temple on Burgher Avenue in Dongan Hills.

Renovations are underway, and the center is not open to the public as of yet reports NY1.

St. Louis’s Imam Ansari Passes Away

ST.LOUIS,MO–Samuel Ansari, a much beloved leader of the St.Louis Muslim community, passed away on July 24, after suffering a heart attack. He was 62. He owned a bakery and served as a volunteer imam at the Al Muminun Mosque.

Mr. Ansari was born Samuel Hicks on Nov. 20, 1948, in Huntingdon, Tenn., and moved to St. Louis as a child. He graduated from Vashon High School and did a stint in the Army in the 1960s that took him to Alaska. When he came home, he was disillusioned with the United States. Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, a social movement of black Muslims, appealed to him.

“When I heard him say the white man is the devil, it hit home,” Mr. Ansari told the Post-Dispatch in 2006. “We wanted white Americans to feel what we felt.”

But after Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, Mr. Ansari followed the leadership of Muhammad’s son, W. Deen Mohammed, who focused on the universal teachings of Islam, not separatism.

Imam Ansari had worked hard to build bridges between the immigrant and the African-American Muslim community of the city. He was also active in interfaith efforts.

DOJ Asked to Probe Michigan Bias

DETROIT,MI–The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether local planning officials in that state are violating the religious rights of Muslims by denying a permit to build a school on property they own.

On June 16, the Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA) went before the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission for land usage approval on a newly-purchased property to be used for educational and religious purposes. The planning commission voted on a preliminary procedural motion to deny MIA’s request after concerns of disruption of neighborhood harmony were raised and derogatory comments were made about the religious practices of Muslims. (A final vote will be taken at a commission meeting on August 4.)

Ali Mushtaq Wins Piano Competition

WASHINGTON D.C.–Ali Mushtaq, a statistical contractor and an amateur pianist, came first at the ninth annual Washington International Piano Artists Competition.  The competition is open to amateur pianists 31 years of age or older. The event had competitors from around the world and was hosted by the French Embassy.

Arts Midwest Launches International Program to Bridge American and Muslim Cultures

Arts Midwest, the non-profit Regional Arts Organization (RAO) serving America’s upper Midwest, announces the launch of Caravanserai: A place where cultures meeT, a groundbreaking artistic and cultural exchange program supported by the nation’s RAOs. Caravanserai is funded by a one million dollar grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) Building Bridges program.

“The name Caravanserai was carefully selected for this program,” says David Fraher, Executive Director of Arts Midwest. “Historically, in the east and middle-east, stopping places for caravans were called caravanserais. Safe places to come together and exchange stories. The name evokes that imagery of travelers in a safe haven, a place where cultures meet.”

Betsy Fader of DDFIA says Caravanserai is a natural fit for their Building Bridges grants program. “Caravanserai beautifully illustrates our mission to promote the use of art and culture to improve Americans’ understanding and appreciation of Muslim Societies. We believe this pilot program of music and film will start many conversations and open many doors to understanding.”

Nearly two years in the making, Caravanserai begins with a pilot program in five US communities comprising performing arts and film programs featuring art and artists from Muslim cultures. The pilot program focuses on Pakistan. Future programming will feature other geographic regions and artistic disciplines and will travel to more US cities.

After receiving applications from across the country, Arts Midwest selected the following communities to present Caravanserai:

•    The Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire; Littleton, NH
•    Artswego SUNY Oswego; Oswego, NY
•    FirstWorks; Providence, RI
•    Monmouth University; West Long Branch, NJ
•    The Myrna Loy Center; Helena, MT

Each organization will host three arts experiences in their community, including music residency tours featuring traditional and contemporary Pakistani musicians and a film residency, featuring a Pakistani filmmaker. Residency activities will include educational workshops, public performances, film screenings, and localized community outreach.
Curated by artistic director Zeyba Rahman, Caravanserai features a roster of outstanding contemporary Pakistani artists.

•    Arif Lohar – Folk singer
•    Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin – Qawali singers
•    Sanam Marvi – Folk and Sufi singer
•    Ustad Tari Khan – US-based tabla master
•    Ayesha Khan – Filmmaker, “Made in Pakistan”

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American Admirers & Friends of BB have made a Documentary on her Legacy

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Large Number Of Persons Attending The Pre-Screening of PBS Documentary BHUTTOThe Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBS) Houston Channel 8 will be airing a documentary called “BHUTTO” on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 at 10:00pm under their “Independent Lens Series”. This documentary is directed and produced by Duane Baughman, while majority of the statements in the documentary are from Mark Siegel of USA, a close friend and advisor of Benazir Bhutto.

The preview of this Former Late Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto’s (BB’s) documentary was shown at Rice University Cinema last week, which was attended by Consul General of Pakistan in Houston Honorable Aqil Nadeem, many Americans of Pakistani origin and several indigenous Americans. Program was jointly sponsored by the Houston-Karachi Sister City Association (HKSCA) and Pakistan Chamber of Commerce – USA (PCC-USA).

Julie Coan of PBS Houston moderated the session before the screening of the movie, with brief statements given by the representatives of the two partnering organizations, namely Saeed Sheikh of HKSCA and P. J. Khan Swati of PCC-USA.

People had mixed feelings about the documentary, as they commented and asked questions during the panel discussion after the filming of the documentary. The panel discussion was moderated by award-winning journalist Patricia Gras (Patty), featured internationally acclaimed author Bapsi Sidhwa (now lives in Houston and originally from Lahore, Pakistan); and University of St. Thomas Professor of Economics Dr. Javed Ashraf.

The documentary has several stereotypical images, like while talking about terrorism and extremism; people are shown establishing congressional prayers in mosques. Another image was of jovial faced Indian leaders after the independence, while enrage faced Pakistani leaders.

Most of the people agreed with Ms. Sidhwa that the heroin of the documentary is BB and the whole film revolves around that theme and angle. The film portrayed BB as a brave lady, who originally had to wear Burqa, but then her charismatic dad Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto allowed her to come out of it, being one of the first ladies in the Bhutto family to do that. Some people felt that mistakes made by BB in terms of not fully supporting political culture in Pakistan by having it within her party, was not much highlighted in the documentary, while others said that BB fought & died for democracy.

Several people were bemused by the comments in the documentary of famous professor Dr. Akbar Ahmed, who somehow termed BB as mystic and Sufi.

Many people talked about the role of army in Pakistan and its corruption. Some said doubting comments if Pakistan and Pakistanis will ever embrace democracy.

On this our media representative at the event reminded that somehow people worldwide keep forgetting that the birth of Pakistan in fact came through a constitutional, political, and democratic struggle: So existence of Pakistan has very deep roots in democracy and political activism.

In a write-up, Duane Baughman, Director and Producer of the documentary “BHUTTO”, has said that he watched CNN in horror on Dec. 27, 2007, when Benazir Bhutto, the first woman in history to lead a Muslim nation, was blown away by a suicide bomber. Millions felt Benazir was the best hope for democracy and progress in that strategically critical nuclear-armed country. He has written that before Benazir’s death a close colleague of his reconnected him with Benazir’s advisor and close friend Mark Siegel, who had been pulling together American consultants on her behalf in anticipation of her 3rd rise to power in Pakistan. Three days after her death, Mr. Baughman watched Mark Siegel desperately trying – almost singlehandedly – to keep Benazir’s legacy alive by making the rounds on every conceivable news show. Before long, he spoke about telling the world Benazir’s story via a documentary film; and that is when they started to work on this documentary in Dubai, talking to her widower Asif Ali Zardari and three of her heartbroken children.

Duane Baughman has brought this angle in the story of BB that the Bhutto’s are called the “Kennedy’s of Pakistan.” Ironically, at Harvard, BB’s roommate was Bobby Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen Kennedy.

Again the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBS) Houston Channel 8 will be airing this documentary called “BHUTTO” on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 at 10:00pm. under their “Independent Lens Series”.

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Celluloid

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

adil-tufail

English photographer John Carbutt founded the Keystone Dry Plate Works in 1879 with the intention of producing gelatin dry plates. The Celluloid Manufacturing Company was contracted for this work by means of thinly slicing layers out of celluloid blocks and then removing the slice marks with heated pressure plates. After this, the celluloid strips were coated with a photosensitive gelatin emulsion. It is not certain exactly how long it took for Carbutt to standardize his process, but it occurred no later than 1888. A 15 inch-wide sheet of Carbutt’s film was used by William Dickson for the early Edison motion picture experiments on a cylinder drum Kinetograph. However, the celluloid film base produced by this means was still considered too stiff for the needs of motion picture photography.

By 1889, more flexible celluloids for photographic film were developed, and both Hannibal Goodwin and the Eastman Kodak Company obtained patents for a film product (Ansco, which purchased Goodwin’s patent when he died, was eventually successful in an infringement suit against Kodak). This ability to produce photographic images on a flexible material (as opposed to a glass or metal plate) was a crucial step toward the advent of motion pictures.

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Mumbai Terrorist Attacks Awaken Bollywood

December 31, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

The India film stars dictate fashion and customs, but they usually aren’t politically active. The recent killings seem to have changed that.

Courtesy Anupama Chopra, LA Times

Reporting from Mumbai — Amitabh Bachchan slept with a gun. On Nov. 26, as 10 terrorists orchestrated mayhem at Mumbai’s landmark hotels and train station, Bollywood’s most enduring superstar pulled out his revolver.

The following day, he wrote on his blog: “As an Indian, I need to live in my own land, on my own soil with dignity and without fear. And I need an assurance on that. I am ashamed to say this and not afraid to share this now with the rest of the cyber world, that last night as the events of the terror attack unfolded in front of me, I did something for the first time and one that I had hoped never ever to be in a situation to do. Before retiring for the night, I pulled out my licensed .32 revolver and put it under my pillow. For a very disturbed sleep.”

As the bloody face-off between the terrorists and Indian commandos continued for three days, Aamir Khan, another major star and avid blogger, wrote: “Terrorists are not Hindu or Muslim or Christian. They are not people of religion or God . . . an incident such as this really exposes how ill equipped we are as a society as far as proper leaders go. We desperately need young, dynamic, honest, intelligent and upright leaders who actually care for the country.”

A few days after the attack, Shah Rukh Khan, who is known to Hindi film viewers as King Khan and routinely described as more famous than Tom Cruise, told a leading television channel, “I have read the Holy Koran. It states that if you heal one man, you heal the whole of mankind and if you hurt one man, you hurt the whole of mankind. . . . There is an Islam from Allah and very unfortunately, there is an Islam from the mullahs.”

This impassioned, unflinching outburst is rare for Bollywood. Mumbai’s Hindi film industry produces 200-odd films each year for an estimated annual audience of 3.6 billion. Bollywood and its stars dictate fashions, language, rituals and aspirations for millions of Indians and non-Indians around the globe. In Britain and the U.S., Bollywood box office is largely driven by Indian immigrants, but in countries such as Malaysia, Poland and Germany, even locals are avid consumers. Hindi films vary from fantastical entertainers to realistic, low-budget urbane dramas that usually appeal to more educated audiences. Bollywood is one of the few film industries globally that has withstood the Hollywood goliath. In fact, Hollywood is pushing for a piece of the booming Bollywood pie; studios such as Sony and Warner are producing Hindi films.

But despite its cultural clout, Bollywood has largely been an insular, apolitical space — columnist and author Shobhaa De, more acerbically, described it as “apathetic.” Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, stars here have rarely aligned themselves with causes. Even those who join political parties usually serve an ornamental function.

Like much of India’s elite and middle class, the film industry has preferred to disengage from politics and the invariably messy functioning of the world’s largest democracy. “Most Bollywood actors claim their job is to entertain the masses — nothing more, nothing less,” De said. “It is the Republic of Bollywood movie stars owe any allegiance to.”

But the terrorist attacks, which claimed 164 lives (plus those of nine gunmen), have forced the film industry to abandon its customary neutral stance. In blogs, media, petitions and peace marches, Bollywood has come forward to denounce the attacks and demand better governance. Most significantly, many leading Muslim stars who until now rarely delved into the controversies of religion have condemned the attacks as “un-Islamic.” They have, as Gyan Prakash, professor of history at Princeton University put it, “reclaimed their religion.” In an interview, actor Anil Kapoor, now appearing in “ Slumdog Millionaire,” called the attacks “a tipping point,” adding: “I think things will be different now.”

The film industry can play a prominent role in India’s post 26/11 citizens’ movement, not only because of its cultural cachet but also because Bollywood is and always has been inherently secular. India is home to about 151 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The majority Hindus and minority Muslims share a long and tragic history, and politicians of every hue have exploited this divide. Hindu-Muslim relations are usually in a state of simmer, and the decades-old distrust routinely boils over in riots, murder and more recently terrorism.

Intriguingly, Bollywood has largely managed to resist this communal caldron. Through the decades, Hindus and Muslims have worked together without any palpable friction. In fact the biggest stars in contemporary Bollywood are Muslim (this includes the reigning superstar trinity of Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan). In “Maximum City,” his bestselling book on Mumbai, Suketu Mehta described the Hindi film industry as having “the secularism of a brothel.” “All are welcome,” he wrote, “as long as they carry or make money.”

Among Bollywood’s earliest stars were Australian-born Mary Ann Evans, known to her fans as Fearless Nadia — a whip-wielding, iconic action heroine in the 1930s; the Jewish Florence Ezekiel, known to her fans as Nadira, a legendary vamp who seduced with her smoldering looks in the 1950s; and the Anglo-Indian-Burmese Helen, who from the 1950s to the 1970s was Bollywood’s most famous dancer.
Box office is king

Writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar, president of an organization called Muslims for Secular Democracy, disapproves of Mehta’s brothel comparison but agreed that in the 40-odd years that he had been working in Bollywood, he had never encountered bias. “There is a method in the madness,” he said. “People in films — from the biggest stars to the smallest — know that their survival is in the success of the film. When you go to the racecourse, you cannot not bet on the winning horse because the jockey is of some other religion. You want to win the race so you cannot afford to be communal.”

Bollywood’s reigning deity is the box office. Consequently, Akhtar pointed out, even actors and technicians who are high-profile members of the right-wing Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party will behave “in a totally separate manner within the industry.”

Attempts to divide the industry on religious lines have found little support. In July, a little-known terror outfit called the Indian Mujahideen issued death threats via e-mail to leading Muslim actors, urging them to stop acting in movies or face the consequences. The industry collectively denounced the mail and Saif Ali, one of the actors threatened, responded in a newspaper saying that he would “rather be shot than not do a shot.”

Eight years ago, a Hindu actor named Hrithik Roshan became an overnight sensation with his debut film, “Kaho Na Pyar Hai” (Say You Love Me). As the film ran to packed houses, a right-wing Hindu magazine, Panchjanya, ran a cover story insisting that Roshan was the Hindu answer to the Muslim Khan supremacy in Bollywood. The claim was resoundingly ignored. These contrived divisions also have little meaning in Bollywood because many of the leading stars have had interfaith marriages.

Even at historic turning points such as the 1947 partition, when Hindu-Muslim relations were violently fraught, the film industry has remained impervious to religious bias. In the 1940s and 1950s, the industry was also less self-focused and inward-looking. Cultural groups such as the Progressive Writers’ Assn. and the India Peoples’ Theatre Assn. exerted a great influence on the leading writers, actors and directors of the time. The filmmakers and their films reflected an awareness and engagement with social causes.

But by the 1970s, a disconnect had set in. Prakash pinned it on “the Amitabh Bachchan phenomenon.” After the actor had a string of successive hits, the media labeled him “a one-man industry.” According to Prakash: “The Bollywood space changed then and became about celebrity.”

Star-driven culture

This celebrity has only amplified in recent years. The post-liberalization media explosion and consumerist culture have converted actors into brands and they are constantly “on,” whether in cinema halls, television shows or newspapers and magazines. Hindi cinema and especially its stars dominate India’s cultural landscape, enjoying a super-size visibility. Media doggedly report on the minutiae of their lives, from love affairs to diet to favored hair stylist. Political parties have often attempted to turn this visibility into votes by using stars to campaign for them, but Bollywood stars in politics have largely been, in De’s words, “a monumental joke.”

Prakash agreed. “Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood has became a space only for stardom,” he said. “Politics is problematic, and it’s not conducive to stardom. It only gets in the way.”
Aamir Khan discovered this the hard way in 2006, when he joined activists demanding the rehabilitation of farmers displaced by the construction of a dam in the western state of Gujarat. The government demanded an apology. When he refused, multiplex owners in Gujarat refused to screen the actor’s film “Fanaa” (Destroyed). Though the film eventually became a blockbuster, losses from the Gujarat ban — deemed unconstitutional by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — ran into the millions. Not surprisingly then, silence and insularity are the preferred mode here.
Actress Preity Zinta, one of the industry’s more outspoken stars, said the prevailing silence also had to do with the quality of leadership. “Where are our icons?” she asked. “Give me one inspiring leader and I will not even think twice before offering support. Look at the political class abroad. I jumped as high as anyone in America when Obama won.”
Terrorism has provided the impetus that politicians could not. Zinta was among the thousands of people who gathered Dec. 3 at the Gateway of India (opposite the Taj Mahal hotel) to protest the attacks and demand better security. The gathering, organized spontaneously through e-mail, text messages and Facebook, was described in leading newspapers as unprecedented.
Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar’s son and a filmmaker-actor, was also at the Gateway. When the firing started Nov. 26, Farhan was shooting the first episode of a “Saturday Night Live”-style television show called “Oye It’s Friday.” Farhan, who hosts the show, and his producers stopped work because, he said, “we were too depressed to continue.” But a few days later, they regrouped to rewrite a part of the show. The first episode now included several biting comic lines about politicians and their legendary incompetence. “There has been no event of this magnitude, nothing this drastic to get people polarized,” Farhan said. “But now people have had enough. We’re not going to take it lying down anymore.”
The big question is: How long will the anger last? Skeptics like De don’t envision a more politically sensitized Bollywood, but many such as Zinta and Farhan believe and hope that a sustained involvement will follow. But even if the current activism dilutes with time, the Hindi film industry, an inclusive, successful global brand, will remain a symbol of unity in a deeply fractured country.
Chopra writes frequently about Indian cinema. Her books include “King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema.”

Movie of "Human" Ataturk Stirs Emotions in Turkey

November 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ibon Villelabeitia

Ottoman turkey2
Ottoman Empire Turkey today

ANKARA (Reuters Life!) – A new film that portrays Turkey’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as a lonely, hard-drinking man beset by doubts has whipped up emotions in a country still grappling with his legacy 70 years after his death.

Ataturk, a former soldier, founded modern Turkey as a secularist republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

Portraits of a stern-looking Ataturk adorn the walls of government offices, schools, shops and living rooms across the sprawling nation, testament to a man who has achieved the status of a demi-god among most Turks.

"Mustafa," a documentary that chronicles Ataturk’s life from childhood to his death on November 10, 1938, presents an intimate and flawed Ataturk rarely seen before, angering hardline secularists who have called for a boycott and say the film is an enemy plot to humiliate "Turkishness."

The film, which has drawn large crowds, has fed into a climate of soul searching in Turkey, where democratic reforms, social changes and an impassioned debate over secularism is shaking the pillars of the autocratic state left by Ataturk.

"This documentary is the product of an effort to humiliate Ataturk in the eyes of Turkish people," wrote columnist Yigit Bulut in the secularist Vatan newspaper.

"Do not watch it, prevent people from watching it and most importantly keep your children away from it to avoid planting seeds of Ataturk humiliation in their subconscious," he said.

On Monday, at 9.05 a.m., factory sirens wailed, traffic halted and school children stood to attention, a ritual Turks have followed for 70 years to mark the moment of his death.

"I wanted to show a more human Ataturk than the Ataturk they teach us about at school and in the military service," respected director Can Dundar said in an interview.

"Ataturk has been turned into a dogma or a statue by some of his supporters, but I wanted to show a more real Ataturk — a man who fought difficulties, loved women, who made mistakes, who was sometimes scared and achieved things," Dundar said.

Although the film contains no revelations about his life — thousands of books are published every year on Ataturk — "Mustafa" is the first film that emphasizes the private side of the deified leader over his military and nation-building feats.

Dundar shows him writing love letters during the battle of Gallipoli, where Turkish troops fought foreign occupiers.

Blending archive pictures, black and white footage and re-enactments, he is also seen dancing, drinking raki, wandering his palaces in lonely despair and becoming more withdrawn as he is overtaken by age and illness.

He died of cirrhosis of the liver in Istanbul, aged 58.

DOWN FROM A PEDESTAL

"Mustafa" has spawned extensive commentary in newspapers and on television since it opened two weeks ago. Nearly half a million movie-goers saw it in its first five days.

One Turkish newspaper said the film, with a 1-million-euro budget, had "brought Ataturk down from his pedestal."

"I found it interesting to learn more about who Ataturk was as a human being," said Gorkem Dagci, a 22-year-old engineering student. "He was not flawless, he was like the rest of us."

"Kemalists," who see themselves as true guardians of Ataturk’s legacy and have built a personality cult around him, say the film is an insult to Turkey’s national hero.

Nationalists are furious that the boy who plays Ataturk as a child is Greek. Ataturk was born in Thessaloniki (in today’s Greece) and Dundar used local children while shooting on location.

Turkcell, Turkey’s main mobile phone provider, pulled out of a sponsorship deal for fear of irritating subscribers.

After wresting Turkey’s independence from foreign armies after World War One, Ataturk set about building a country based on Western secular values. When surnames were introduced in Turkey, Mustafa Kemal was given the name Ataturk, meaning "Father of the Turks."

He introduced the Latin alphabet, gave women the right to vote, modernized the education system and removed religion from public life. But he also created an authoritarian state and left the army as guardian of order. Under the military constitution drafted in 1982, it is a crime to insult Ataturk.

Today, democratic reforms aimed at European Union membership are straining notions such as secularism, nationalism and a centralized state. The secularist old guard of generals, judges and bureaucrats is losing its grip on society as a rising and more religious-minded middle class moves into positions of power.

Battles between the ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party and the secularist establishment over the use of the headscarf have revived the debate over Islam and secularism in modern Turkey.

Critics say Kemalists have turned Ataturk’s legacy into a dogma to defend the status quo. Many of his diaries and letters believed to touch on the issue of Islam and Kurdish nationalism are kept out of public view in military archives.

"The foundations of the republic are being discussed and the secularist establishment feels uneasy," author Hugh Pope said. "The debate around this film is a reflection of that but also of a maturing society that can discuss these things openly."

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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