The Children of Ibdaa:
To Create Something Out of Nothing
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San Francisco Chronicle Review

Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer Thursday, October 3, 2002

In its 25th year, the Mill Valley Film Festival has turned into an international event that spotlights the work of major actors and directors, but it's also been a longtime showcase for Bay Area filmmakers whose works are compelling and original.

In 1989, for example, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's "Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt" screened there and went on to win an Academy Award, and "Wild Wheels," Harrod Blank's comic 1992 documentary about art cars, was picked up by PBS and started Blank's filmmaking career after showing in Mill Valley.

"It's always been important for us to include Bay Area voices as a part of what we do," says Zoe Elton, director of programming for the festival. "The majority of them are documentaries -- the Bay Area is 'documentary central' -- but at the same time, there are people who work in narrative film."

Almost 40 movies by Bay Area filmmakers are in this year's festival, which begins tonight and continues for 10 days. It's almost a festival-within-a- festival, though the programming never segregates the Bay Area-made films from the others. That means that a movie like "What Do You Believe?" -- Sarah Feinbloom's first-time directorial effort about teens' religious beliefs -- gets as many screenings on as many days as Michael Moore's already-acclaimed "Bowling for Columbine."

Feinbloom focused her lens on a cross section of teenagers, including a Muslim girl from San Francisco who wears the hijab scarf that signifies religious devotion, a pagan who attends Tamalpais High School and an Indian boy in South Dakota who plans to be a lawyer. The teens in "What Do You Believe?" invited Feinbloom to their homes (and houses of worship), giving her a personal, in-depth look at their beliefs. A resident of the Mission District,

Feinbloom, 37, was inspired to make "What Do You Believe?" to fill what she says is the large information gap about teens' spiritual and religious lives.

"I'm Jewish, and I understand what religious hatred can lead to," says Feinbloom, whose film screens the next two Sundays at the Rafael Film Center. "It's important to learn from other religions -- if not, it can lead to misunderstandings, stereotypes and violence."

S. Smith Patrick also incorporated this "humanize the other" approach in "The Children of Ibdaa," her documentary look at a dance troupe from the Dheisheh refugee camp, a Palestinian camp adjacent to Bethlehem in the heart of the West Bank. (The film screens next Thursday at CineArts at Sequoia, and on Oct. 12 at the Rafael Film Center, on a bill with the documentary "Afghan Stories.")

Patrick made "The Children of Ibdaa" as her thesis project at San Francisco State University, and it has far exceeded her expectations, screening already at the Seattle International Film Festival and other festivals, and at universities and community centers around the United States. Among the children in the film is Sanabel Al-Fararja, the teenage Palestinian girl who was in "Promises," the documentary about Israeli and Palestinian children that was broadcast on PBS and won an Emmy Award.

Patrick, 34, took out student loans to buy the digital filmmaking equipment that allowed her to shoot "The Children of Ibdaa" in the fall of 1999. She flew to the West Bank on a grant from the Middle East Children's Alliance and received other help that made it possible to finish her film, for which she is planning to do a follow-up documentary. In Arabic, Ibdaa translates as "to
create something out of nothing."

"I found it remarkable that, despite their very difficult circumstances, they can put their energy into this dance troupe and creatively and nonviolently address their issues," says Patrick, who lives in San Francisco.