A compelling and charming film comes to Scottsdale on Sunday, Feb. 23.

A compelling and charming film comes to Scottsdale on Sunday, Feb. 23.

This Sunday in Scottsdale, the film Road to Eden will be shown at the Harkins Camelview. If your Sunday afternoon is still free, I urge you to see it. If it’s not, then break your other appointments and go.

When I sat down to write about it, I was just going to view the eight-minute preview available on the film’s website. But I was so taken by that clip, I decided to stay up way too late last night to view the entire film (which writer/director Doug Passon had provided to me in advance).

So I may be sleepy this morning, but that is entirely overborne by the pleasure and excitement I took away from the film.

Not knowing what to expect in a film made by someone whose day job is attorney (Doug works in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix), I was surprised but intrigued to see the movie is an exploration of the Jewish holiday called Sukkot. Here is part of the film’s description:

“Road to Eden is a feature-length documentary film that captures the essence of Judaism’s most profound teachings about our connection to the earth, the fragility of existence, and our dream of a world perfected.”
“The spine of the film is the inspirational journey of Dan Nichols, a tour de force of modern Jewish music, who took his show on the road for the Jewish festival of Sukkot in October 2011. Dan and his incredible band Eighteen loaded into an RV and wandered through the Deep South. Each day of Sukkot brought a new town, a unique celebration, and uplifting, sometimes heartbreaking Sukkot stories.”

Before you make assumptions, this is not a movie made just for a Jewish audience. The messages it explores—about community, and ardor for a life fully lived, and about ever becoming a fuller self—are compelling ones for any viewer.

In addition, Doug told me, “Although the movie is rooted in Jewish thought, the themes of the film are universal and particularly relevant to the legal community, with a heavy emphasis on immigrant rights and social justice.”

"Road to eden" includes beautiful visual markers throughout that should be printed, framed and displayed.

“Road to Eden” includes beautiful visual markers throughout that should be printed, framed and displayed. (Here’s just one.)

Those last two elements come through strongly, especially as Dan Nichols and his bandmates travel through Alabama, which at the time had just enacted a harsh anti-immigration law (“the Arizona law on steroids,” as a Diane Sawyer describes it in a news clip). And the journey about Sukkot is masterfully capped by an extended discussion about Martin Luther King, Jr. As we hear from a fellow civil rights advocate, Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, who stood next to King as he was shot in Memphis, viewers may be moved to explore their own choices and the public policies that guide us all. It is a deeply moving interview.

If you only view the movie to learn more about Sukkot, a below-the-radar holiday, it would be worth it. (The holiday requires construction of a temporary structure, largely open to the elements, recalling those who had been freed from slavery in Egypt but who had to wander before ever finding a permanent home.) Seeing the variety of creative ways people celebrate is marvelous. But it wasn’t until about 40 minutes in that I could see that all of us humans may be encapsulated in Sukkot—at least, all of us humans who are still questing and aiming to improve.

Here is Dan Nichols praising the Jewish kids camps that dot the country and that mean so much to those who attend:

“Who’s there? These living, breathing Sukkot, these children, who are in transition, who are not strong structures yet. They are still trying to figure out who they’re gonna be, what’s important to them, what they stand for.”

Open-eyed viewers may see a little of themselves in those summer camps.

The generational imperative is strong in the film, and it is emphasized finally in the civil rights advocate interview. Dan asks Reverend Kyles how he continues on, even in the face of heartbreak like the assassination of Dr. King. The answer: We still have a long way to go. But “these young people will find ways that we cannot imagine.”

Before I sign off, I must point out two additional strong elements of the film: The music (yes, it’s a band-on-the-road film) is fantastic, heartfelt, beautifully composed and sung. And the interstitial illustrations that pepper the film are remarkable, wisely chosen and perfectly evoke the path on a road to a better world. Animation was done by ZAZ Animation Studio, Israel.

The film is playing one time, as part of the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. Tickets are available for purchase on the Festival website, or you can buy tickets at the theatre right before the screening. Students are 1/2 price.

The film screens Sunday, Feb. 23, at 3:00 pm, at Harkins Camelview Theatre, 7001 E. Highland Ave., Scottsdale 85251. I hope to see you there.

More about the film is here.

Project Civil Discourse logoWhat does civic engagement mean to you? Share your ideas. Create a video.

That’s the pitch from Project Civil Discourse, which announced its Student Voices Video Contest.

The contest is open to students and some categories of adults. So if you know of or work with someone who may be interested in creating a video that speaks to the issue of civil discourse, point them here. The deadline is Jan. 31, 2013.

Project Civil Discourse is “a special initiative of the Arizona Humanities Council.” The Council builds a just and civil society by creating opportunities to explore our shared human experiences through discussion, learning and reflection.”

arizona humanities council logoAlso note: The Project is holding a panel discussion on February 19 on the topic of politics and religion. It will be held at the Phoenix Burton Barr Public Library, and among the panelists will be lawyer Bob McWhirter. We’ve featured Bob’s work and career a number of times in Arizona Attorney Magazine, and he’ll be in there again in our February issue, on the topic of lawyer writing.

Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat

A late follow-on to a terrific event:

On April 11, a group of lawyers put on the second in their series called a “Civil Discourse Event.” The notion behind the series hosted by the St. Thomas More Society is to select topics that may get some people hot under the collar but then to provide commentary and facts—actual facts!—that may help reduce the temperature.

The April event was titled “Islamic American Relations: Getting Along in the 21st Century.”

Moderated by former Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Irvine, the evening at ASU Law School nudged attendees toward a greater understanding of the issue. (And to be clear, there is no hyphen between the terms, which would suggest that Muslims are on one side and Americans are on the other. The title referred to those who are Islamic and American.)

The speakers were Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat (as described by event organizer Christopher Pattock) “one of the so-called ‘Flying Imams’ who made the national news by being kicked off a U.S. Airways in Minnesota about a year ago simply for praying.” The other speaker was best-selling author Chris Lowney, an expert on Islam.

Lawyer Alan Tavassoli opened the evening with a history presentation delineating our ebb and flow in regard to the separation of church and state. As he and the record made clear, “America is a nation of disagreements.”

The rest of the evening was committed to the conclusion that we need not be disagreeable. In that endeavor, the speakers were successful.

The Tempe imam provided a useful discussion of important tenets of Islam. Among the significant insights he shared was an analysis of what “secularism” often means to American Muslims who emigrated here from another country.

“Many Muslims were raised in Jordan or Turkey, where secularism is militant, and where people may be arrested or beaten for any religious showing.” Given that experience, Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat said, it’s no wonder that some Muslims may dislike the term. That does not mean, however, that they misunderstand or disagree with an American approach that separates church and state.

Chris Lowney

Misunderstanding of all kinds, Sheqeirat said, is best met head-on through face-to-face meetings. He concluded, “We are all in this together in the face of injustice and racism.”

Chris Lowney followed. The author of “A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment” explored the chasm that lies between people in regard to their understanding of other faiths. He discussed elements of world history that illustrate his view that “We have many shared theological values and shared culture to draw on.”

“When we admit we are all here together,” Lowney continued, “something powerful can happen.”

Lowney did not reside in truisms, though. He ended with “5 things we can do in Arizona right now” to improve the dialogue among people.

  1. Read a book together.

He suggested “What Everyone Needs To Know About Islam,” but anything—even “To Kill a Mockingbird”—would help in mutual understanding.

  1. Discuss a movie together.

How about “Allah Made Me Funny,” Lowney asked. Or perhaps “Cities of Light,” regarding the rise and fall of Islamic Spain. (Both are available from the Unity Productions Foundation.)

  1. Visit each others’ worship spaces.
  1. Work together—across faiths—to improve your local community.

Habitat for Humanity, anyone?

  1. Invite our community’s youth to work together.

    Maria Salapska, 1952-2012

Congratulations for a great evening to the lawyers and others who comprise the St. Thomas More Society.

A final somber note: Very soon after this event, the legal community was saddened to learn of the sudden death of Maria Salapska. An accomplished lawyer, Maria was a past President of the St. Thomas More Society. Rest in peace.

More photos from the event are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.