Clinton, 34, is the executive producer of the documentary short “Of Many,” about the friendship between a New York rabbi and an imam, which premieres April 17 at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film will receive an awards-season push by Brigade Marketing, the agency handling its sale. Clinton has spent the past two years helping to interview its two central figures, Yehuda Sarna (the rabbi) and Khalid Latif (the imam), leaders of their religious communities at NYU.
“I learned (that filmmaking) was a much longer process than what I originally imagined,” Clinton told Variety in her first sit-down interview about the documentary, alongside its director, Linda G. Mills, and its two stars. “I’m not sure what I had originally imagined, but I would not have put my money on it being a two-year process.”
NYU professor Mills pitched the idea to Clinton, who arrived at the university several years ago as an assistant vice-provost. The two, along with the documentary’s principals, had co-founded the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership on campus in January 2012. “When Chelsea came to NYU, there were many things we worked on together,” Mills says. “But one of our clear efforts was this incredible multifaith work that was happening.”
Clinton and Mills set about collecting 50 hours of footage, which they whittled down to 30 minutes. They wanted to keep the film short so that it could more easily play in schools around the world as a learning tool.
“I’ve always known that documentaries are an important vehicle for education,” says Clinton. She added that movie were “a huge part of my childhood.”
“I was not allowed to watch more than half an hour of television a day,” Clinton explains. “My parents did a wonderful job of socializing my media consumption like they did most other things in my life. But we watched lots of movies, both feature films and documentaries.” (Her parents have yet to see her film.)
Even though the filmmakers were at first concerned about a lack of onscreen tension between its leads, they soon realized there was enough outside conflict from real events in the Middle East. “Often, antagonism is the prism through which stories like this are told,” Clinton says, adding to her stars, “It was very sweet that the two of you didn’t disagree on anything.”
For his part, Latif says he couldn’t understand why anybody would want to watch a movie about him, although he soon became convinced that his friendship with a rabbi had larger symbolic implications. “This was something that much bigger than an individual narrative,” he says. “It essentially compelled others who viewed it to find themselves within the story.
Despite their different religious beliefs, the clergymen have much common ground. “The reality behind the film is very natural,” Sarna says. “Khalid and I live in the same building, we co-teach a class together. Our kids are friends. We even share a nanny.”
The filmmakers and their subjects grew even closer during the shoot, and still remember a spirited dinner conversation, which appears in the film, with both men and their wives. “That was the only time I think we had to refilm things,” Clinton recalls. “Linda and I were laughing so uproariously, we couldn’t edit it out of the background.”