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Filmmaker raises eyebrows in Ridge’s Muslim community

Meeting of minds: Saeed Alabsi, at left, a Yemeni women’s health educator, talks with filmmaker Cristhian Andrews about a new film project on the plight of child brides in Yemen and around the world.
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A filmmaker is in Bay Ridge casting Arabic-speaking families for a human rights film, but some area Muslims fear the production will be a smear job against Islam.

The as-yet-untitled film intends to promote awareness of the plight of children forced into marriage, and centers on a fictional account of a Yemeni child bride’s rape, the director said.

“It’s the day after the wedding when the groom comes at night with some of his brothers and begins to essentially attack the girl,” said filmmaker, Cristhian Andrews.

The short film being shot with the Brooklyn cast will not be the final product — instead, it will serve as a teaser trailer which Andrews hopes will help him secure funding to shoot a longer version on location in Yemen.

“We’re very close to getting funding from the United Nations, and we want to present to them a smaller version of the short film so we can actually shoot it in Yemen,” he said.

To find his local cast, Andrews distributed flyers and approached people on the street in Bay Ridge — which raised some eyebrows in the Muslim community.

“There [are] some Christians trying to trick Muslims into making a movie in Bay Ridge — it not a good movie,” tweeted Aadil Ahmed, a Muslim living in Bay Ridge. Ahmed said he feared the product would resemble 2012’s “Innocence of Muslims,” a film that depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a child abuser.

But Andrews said he has no religious agenda, and that the movie is about the rights of children, not Islam.

“Child marriage happens worldwide,” he said. “Human rights are my only priority as a filmmaker.”

Previously, Andrews worked as a producer on a documentary about the Bahamas’ first prime minister, Lynden Pindling, called “The Black Moses,” a documentary called “The Veil of Silence” about anti-gay laws in Nigeria, and the fictional film “Gulabee,” about young girls in Indian brothels.

One Yemeni national — who is seeking political asylum in the U.S. after receiving threats for teaching women’s reproductive health in his home country — said he jumped at the chance to be in the film.

“When you are talking to me, you are talking to someone who knows about this,” said Saeed Alabsi, who lives in Gravesend. “These girls are too young. They do not know if this man is their husband, their father, or their grandfather.”

After Alabsi and Andrews met on a public street, a Muslim man approached Alabsi and warned that the filmmakers were trying to change his religion — but Alabsi said his faith is stronger than that.

“Where I am from, we’re mixed religions — Muslim, Christian, Jewish — for a thousand years,” he said. “Nothing will change my religion.”

Updated 11:34 am, July 17, 2014
Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
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