British Muslim films spark debate

'Britz,' 'Brick' deal with controversial issues

LONDON — A clutch of Brit pix dealing with British Muslims are provoking vigorous debate on what it means to be a Muslim living in Blighty in a post-9/11 and -7/7 world.

“Britz,” a two-part skein on Brit hybrid pubcaster Channel 4, tells the story of two Bradford-born Muslims, Sohail and sister Nasima. While Sohail is recruited by intelligence service MI5 to help foil potential fundamentalist terror plots, Nasima is radicalized and recruited to become a suicide bomber. Skein preemed Oct. 31 on Channel 4.

Sarah Gavron’s “Brick Lane” is the bigscreen adaptation of Monica Ali’s bestselling book about a Bangladeshi woman’s struggles after she arrives in London for an arranged marriage. Pic, which bows Nov. 16 in the U.K., doesn’t deal explicitly with the war on terrorism but does look at the internal clashes in British Muslim communities between moderates and extremists.

On the other hand, “Britz” plunges head-first into the debate about terrorism and draconian anti-terror legislation and has been generating plenty of media ink.

Skein is helmed by Peter Kosminsky, who previously made “The Government Inspector,” about Brit weapons inspector David Kelly who committed suicide after the publication of the U.K. government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

“I was trying to understand how it could be that a group of people born and brought up here and were British could be so angry and alienated that they would strap explosions to themselves and blow themselves up,” says Kosminsky in reference to the July 7, 2005, London bomb attacks when a group of home-grown British Muslims detonated suicide bombs on London’s public transport system. “I didn’t make this film for Muslims. I made it for non-Muslims. Unless we make an attempt to understand, then we have no way of preventing it from happening again.”

Prior to airing, “Britz” was attacked in some circles as “sowing hate and division in our communities, and reinforcing negative stereotypes,” according to a statement issued by local lobby group the British Muslim Forum.

The irony is that many of the claims against the serious-minded skein were made before anyone actually saw it.

“Brick Lane” has suffered a similar fate.

Last year, residents of London’s Brick Lane, which boasts a large Bangladeshi community, succeeded in preventing the pic from lensing on location in protest at what they felt to be a derogatory portrayal of them.   

The vocal protests were also rumored to be the reason behind the decision to pull the film as the Royal Film Performance, which Prince Charles was due to attend. Pic eventually preemed at the London Film Festival.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the creative teams behind both “Britz” and “Brick Lane” aren’t letting the early miscommunication get in the way of their efforts to encourage dialogue. “Britz,” for example, is being rush-released on DVD Monday to give auds a second chance to see what all the fuss was about.

“In both cases, there’s an ambition to celebrate a culture and get to the heart of something,” says Film4 topper and “Brick Lane” exec producer Tessa Ross. “You keep doing it even in the face of any battles if you believe the question is worth asking. ‘Brick Lane’ is such a beautiful film that aims for an emotional truth and discusses the meaning of love. How can that be controversial?”

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