Filmmaker Q&A with Linda G. Mills
Directed by Linda G. Mills and executive produced by Chelsea Clinton, OF MANY examines the remarkable friendship between a rabbi and an imam who seek to create more unity among young people of different religious backgrounds. Their relationship is an inspiring example of the transformative power of understanding.
1. Introduce yourself.
Linda G. Mills is an accidental filmmaker. At first, we felt compelled to tell the story we discovered in Vienna Austria, in 2005, which we happened to catch on film. (Our first film was called AUF WIEDERSEHEN, TIL WE MEET AGAIN, 2010.) Once that happened, I saw the power of a visual medium, the value of a story fixed in time that could provide the backdrop for an important conversation and become a catalyst for change. In addition to filmmaking, I am a professor with interests in violence, trauma and recovery. I study domestic violence with support from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Justice. Filmmaking and research create a perfect synergy and one informs the other. Either way, my approach challenges core beliefs and asks new questions of a social problem.
2. What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?
I have lived in downtown New York City since just before 9/11. Our neighborhood, as well as our own lives, is overshadowed by this complicated and tragic history – we ran for our lives as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Inspired by the potential these two religious leaders offered a generation of young people seeking a peaceful path, I could see that their reach and their message could be magnified through a film about their friendship.
As a professor and administrator at NYU, I first encountered Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna during a crisis when they were able to lead by example. So inspired by their efforts, we wanted to tell their story both to galvanize others and to collect similar success stories. I thought that they could encourage thousands to embrace a similar approach – I know they had that effect on me.
3. What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?
Our biggest surprise was that we turned the camera on and they could wax on about nearly anything! But what surprised us most was how much fun we had learning about their life stories and about what brought them to a point where they could provide this remarkable leadership. The biggest challenge was capturing the essence of their friendship in a short film (34 minutes – distilled from nearly 50 hours of footage!). We wanted the film to be short and compelling and also to jumpstart a conversation.
4. What is your proudest professional moment?
I have two: starting a not-for-profit for people with disabilities when I was 24 – 30 years later, it still exists. And creating a new model for treatment of domestic violence called Circles of Peace – we are currently testing their effectiveness in a randomized controlled trial in Utah.
5. Why did you become a filmmaker?
My mother was 14 when she left Nazi Austria by herself, leaving her family behind. When we returned 70 years later, we wanted to capture the experience on film as a record for future family generations. And then we stumbled upon an archive and a secret – and the rest is history.
6. What was the first film you saw in a movie theater?
101 DALMATIANS— I was 4 years old! I remember feeling terrified of Cruella de Vil. My parents got me a Dalmatian a few months later.
7. Who is the most memorable documentary character?
Sugar Man, from SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012).
8. Which documentary do you consider the most cinematic?
JESUS CAMP (2006)
9. What documentary do you find the most original and imaginative in its construction?
THE STORIES WE TELL (2012)
10. Which documentary has had the most profound impact on society?
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2003) continues to challenge us to think in complicated and nuanced ways about child sexual abuse – and the case is still being debated and appealed.
11. If there were one documentary moment in history that you could experience as a filmmaker, what would it be?
9/11 – the experience changed us and our community forever – and yet I have only my memory to recall our relationship to this personal and national tragedy.
12. What has been the most unexpected thing to happen since taking the film on the festival circuit?
How moved people are by the film and its potential to catalyze communities to think differently about each other.
13. What song do you love this summer?
“Both Sides Now,” Joni Mitchell – a perfect song for OF MANY!
SCREENINGS (preceding THE AGREEMENT):