Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Children of Abraham


Children of Abraham is a documentary film-in-progress based on “The Ten Theses”, the central postscript for the best-selling book “Why do you kill?” written by Dr. Jürgen Todenhöfer, also reprinted in March 2008 as a paid editorial in the New York Times, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and in Al Quds al Arabi.

The Theses outline one man’s hopes and plans for a Mideast peace, a work that reflects his fifty years of Middle East travel, his tenure as a member of the German parliament and defense specialist, and his humanitarian work on behalf of children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and the Congo. The core perception of Dr. Todenhöfer is that Western civilization has misunderstood, exploited, and betrayed the Islamic world for over a thousand years. That misguided history still resonates in today’s geopolitical crisis, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Syria and Lebanon to the churches, mosques, and synagogues of New York and Iowa. It is not strictly a religious emergency; Dr. Todenhöfer believes that inter-faith dialogue and wise and fair diplomacy are the only stopgaps for the folly now known as “preventive” war.

Children of Abraham will be made with and for young people of every culture, race, and class –who will have to rectify the mistakes of the past and the present in order to reshape the future, as they must.

The Concept

In the hands of dedicated young artists, scholars, and journalists, the visceral, transformative power of film can help to make change. Film is a window to the soul, a catalyst that brings the light and the darkness together to create a new sense of wholeness, imaginations of common growth. When it combines with the power of true dialogue, propaganda loses its power. Bigotry becomes simplistic. Belief regains its compassion.

Children of Abraham will take shape, first, as a feature-length film made for worldwide theatrical release, and second, as an ongoing website where millions of other young people can share in the project’s message and add their own voices to it.

An international team of college and graduate students will be our central subjects, the nexus through which the universal message of the Ten Theses will be explored and interpreted by way of an unprecedented Internet dialogue, caught on film. One team of young people will set up their own electronic “axis mundi” in New York City. Others, in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine, will act as “stringers,” capturing material relevant to the Theses and sending them –via Skype conversations— as elastic elements of a multi-media conversation. The filmmakers of Axis Mundi Media will capture this multi-media collaboration as it’s unfolding.

Children of Abraham is a generational statement about how the lessons of the past and the present must be reinterpreted and utilized by the people who will create a new future. So in this sense, the New York nexus and its far-off stringers will be both subjects of the film and its co-creators.

When the film has been wrapped and released, the Children of Abraham website will be maintained by that extended film family, with the guidance and input of Dr. Todenhöfer and Axis Mundi.

Cinematic Transposition

Stylistically, the film is expected to break new ground. As an international collaboration among celebrated film veterans and young newcomers, it will be a hybrid running the gamut from time-tested cinema verite to the hands-on expressionism of "the digital generation." Thus, our story will be told by every available means, from Skype calls between embattled cultures caught on the fly, to street interviews; from Socratic rap sessions about this brave new world, to archival and Internet probes of that world's ever-expanding image bank.

Its tone will be searching, restless; a globetrotting quest for truth through the haze of international propaganda, "managed" news, and ideological and religious pomp.

In this sense, we are aspiring to make a film that is "conversational" to the greatest possible degree; an unprecedented 21st century dialogue between young and old, male and female, believer and unbeliever, Easterner and Westerner.

The Goal

The Goal

Film and the Internet are powerful media, whether for good or ill. Many religious and cultural scholars have said that the worldwide web will have the same positive effect on human interaction that the Gutenberg printing press had in the fifteenth century. It has already opened unprecedented channels between once-divided peoples, and reduced and challenged the power of propaganda on all sides.

Children of Abraham will change and improve the quality of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue. It will illuminate the sources of our troubled past; dissolve misperceptions of contemporary East/West relations; and pave the way for a peaceful future, maintained by perpetual dialogue on its website.

Thus, the film will comprise one version of our story, and the website will become a second and ever-changing version, a perpetual gathering place and a kind of guided “YouTube” experience. Young people worldwide will contribute their interpretations of Todenhöfer’s message. Chat-rooms will enable new forms of interaction and collaboration. Mosques, churches, schools, synagogues, and companies from Vancouver to the Hindu Kush can talk with each other here. The dialogue becomes multi-dimensional and continual, a living embodiment of our common hope. Finally, we are all children of Abraham.

All three of the Abrahamic traditions are seeking freedom of belief, social justice through empathy with “the other,” and a code of personal responsibility. It is when one monotheistic tradition tries to impose itself upon another, when it becomes “supremacist,” that we degrade each other’s beliefs and put them in service to mere political ends.

Children of Abraham seeks to harmonize those three voices, once and for all. It is designed to transcend borders, to encourage young people to think for themselves, to talk to each other in new and exciting ways, and to remake the world in their image.

The Ten Theses

The Ten Theses

Dr. Todenhöfer’s rendering of history has been vetted by three of the world’s best newspapers. It is designed to debunk a millennium of disinformation and mindless violence. Surprising as they may be for some, the facts are the facts, and the Theses seek only to help us accept the past, understand the present, in order to create a just future. Facts are meaningless unless the heart and soul join with them, and each of our artists will bring their own feelings and imaginations to these truths.

The Ten Theses comprise an extensively documented and nuanced essay, but these are the ten broad subjects that they explore:

  1. The West is much more violent than the Muslim world.
  2. In view of the warmongering of the West, Muslim extremism is not really surprising.
  3. Terrorists in Islamic disguise are murderers. But the same holds true for the ringleaders of illegal wars of aggression in Christian disguise.
  4. Muslims are at least as tolerant as Jews or Christians. They have made a great contribution to Western civilization.
  5. Love of God and love of one’s neighbor are the central commandments not only in the Bible but in the Qur’an.
  6. Western policies towards the Muslim world suffer from a shocking ignorance of even the simplest facts.
  7. The West must treat the Muslim world just as fairly and as generously as it treats Israel.
  8. The Muslims must champion a progressive and tolerant Islam, as did their prophet Muhammad.
  9. Nothing fosters terrorism more than the West’s “war on terror.”
  10. What is needed now is the art of statesmanship, not the art of war

The Team

The Team

Dr. Jürgen Todenhöfer –Executive Producer, Producer, Co-writer

Sixty-eight-year-old former judge, author, business executive, former German national legislator, Dr. Jürgen Todenhöfer, began his life-long quest for the truth as a 20-year-old student in 1960, when he traveled in Algeria during its final stages as a French colony. There he lodged with an Arab family and saw firsthand the fear of the people every evening after nightfall -- fear of the war, and of attacks by the French underground organization OAS, a militant group that used terrorist methods to prevent Algeria’s liberation from France.

Dr. Todenhöfer’s cultural awakening continued in Afghanistan in 1980. Wanting to form his own impressions of the plight of the people and the Afghan resistance, he marched together with Afghan freedom fighters on foot from Pakistan, over the mountains of the Hindu Kush to Afghanistan,

(invaded by Soviet troops six months earlier), this time as a member of the German “Bundestag”. He returned to the oppressed country in 1984 and 1989, and his reports on the suffering of the Afghan people helped him to collect, together with the “Union Aid for Afghanistan Development”, some 10 million Euros for Afghan refugees, primarily refugee children.

In 1989, he succeeded in initiating a meeting of Afghanistan’s government in exile in Urgun, a small village up the mountains on the Afghan side of the Hindu Kush. Delegates had to reach the tiny village in jeeps, by donkey and on foot, traveling through craggy ravines and raging mountain creeks.

Todenhöfer has written three bestsellers about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and with the proceeds he established a children's home in Afghanistan and a children's clinic in the Congo. With the royalties from his latest, Why Do You Kill? The untold story of the Iraqi resistance, Todenhöfer finances medical aid for injured Iraqi children through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and an Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation project in the Middle East (Middle East Education through Technology, or MEET).

Dr. Todenhöfer’s extensive historical research and travels has yielded the Ten Theses that will serve as the philosophical underpinning for Children of Abraham.

Nigel Noble – Producer, Director

Nigel is an Academy Award-winning producer/director of films and television, whose work is characterized by a sense of compassion and a keen eye for the telling moment.

Educated in England at Clifton College, Nigel began his career as Stage Manager at the ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE, 1962 to 1964, working with directors, Peter Hall, Peter Brook, and Clifford Williams, among others. Noble spent the years from 1965 to 1979 as a recording engineer in both film and music, recording such musicians as THE GRATEFUL DEAD, SANTANA, HOT TUNA, JOE COCKER, REUBEN BLADES, LIONEL HAMPTON, and BOB DYLAN.

His work in documentaries, television specials and series, music videos, industrial films and television commercials has earned him numerous nominations and many awards as both a director and a producer, including an Oscar, a second Oscar nomination, a Christopher award, two Emmy awards, two ACE awards, five CINE Golden Eagles, two NATPE Iris Awards and in 2008 both a jury and an audience award for the same film, two Telly’s and a 2007 George Foster Peabody Award.

Nigel’s most recent production, “THEY KILLED SISTER DOROTHY” (March 2008) won both Jury and Audience Best Documentary Awards at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The film is a feature documentary about an American nun who was murdered in Brazil as she stood her ground against the illegal grabbing of land in the Amazon rain forest. He has also just completed producing and directing his third production for The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (2008 Telly Award), and has just completed the 90th anniversary film for the AFSC, the American Friends Service Committee (also a 2008 Telly Award).

In 2005 Noble produced, “THE BEAUTY ACADEMY OF KABUL” for the BBC and the Discovery Channel. Released theatrically by Shadow Releasing in the spring of 2006, the film was invited to numerous film festivals worldwide including The 2004 Tribeca Film Festival. For Rio de Janeiro’s Zazen Productions, he directed a feature documentary film, “OS CARVOEIROS - THE CHARCOAL PEOPLE OF BRAZIL,” which represented Brazil at the Sundance Film Festival. It won Best Documentary at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, and the People’s Award, It’s The Truth Film Festival. 2001. In 2002, he completed two one–hour specials for television: “PORTRAITS OF GRIEF” based on The New York Times award-winning column of the same name. The documentary pays tribute to 22 individuals who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Nigel’s other film credits include “Gangs, Escaping the Life,” “PORGY & BESS:

AN AMERICAN VOICE” (nominated for directing by the Directors Guild of America). The film won Best Educational Film at the Montreal Film Festival and the Silver at the US International Film and Television Festival. His film “VOICES OF SARAFINA!” produced in association with Lincoln Center Theater was invited to The Cannes Film Festival, “Un Certain Regard,” and won the Prix Amnesty Award, Amnesty International, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Award, and Best Arts Documentary at Banff TV Festival in 1989. The feature length film was released by New Yorker Films and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Broadcasting.

Stephen Molton – Producer, Co-Writer

Stephen has worked for three decades as an author, screenwriter, film executive, professor, and painter. His themes are wide-ranging but in recent years he has devoted himself to the ancient questions of power, violence, and what Andrew Samuels has called “the politics of the self.” Schooled at Oberlin College and the Kansas City Art Institute, Molton graduated with a BFA in painting and printmaking in 1973. He studied briefly at the Boston Architectural Center, worked on documentaries for David Parry Productions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then moved to New York where he went to work in the photo department at Time Magazine, and then as the short film programmer for HBO and Cinemax networks.

Harper/Collins published his first novel, Brave Talk in 1987, a book based on the Thresher submarine disaster of 1963. Since then, he has written screenplays and mini-series for New Line Cinema, Paramount Television, and Showtime Networks, Inc., among others. His first documentary co-production, L.A. Homefront: The Fires Within, was a citywide collaboration chronicling the effects of the Los Angeles rebellion of 1992, post-Rodney King, and it served as the centerpiece for Viacom’s multi-network ‘Voices Against Violence’ campaign in 1995. As a film executive, he rose from acquisitions at HBO and MTV Networks to the creative development and production of some twenty movies and mini-series for Showtime, including Hiroshima, Elvis Meets Nixon, Charms for the Easy Life, In the Company of Spies, and Harlan County War.

Molton was the creator of a 10-film documentary co-production enterprise between New York Times Television and Viacom Productions. He adapted Gus Russo’s Pulitzer-nominated book about the Kennedy administration, Live by the Sword, as a mini-series for television, and has adapted other works by such best-selling authors as Clive Barker. His first narrative non-fiction book, co-authored with Russo, is titled Brothers

In Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder, published in 2008 by Bloomsbury USA, which submitted the book for the Pulitzer Prize. It was awarded the New York Book Festival award for history in 2009. He is a member of the Dreamago Foundation, an international symposium of screenwriters based in Sierre, Switzerland, and a creative consultant to the The Interplay Sessions, a company devoted to workplace diversity and respect. Molton has taught the craft of writing at Columbia University, the Southampton Screenwriting Conference at Stony Brook/New York, SUNY/Stony Brook Manhattan, and the Minneapolis Technical Institute under the auspices of the Independent Feature Project. He has served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of screenwriting at Columbia since 2007.

Gus Russo – Producer, Co-writer/researcher

Gus is a veteran investigative reporter, musician, and author. With a degree in Political Science from the University of Maryland, Gus was very active in presidential political campaigns long before pursuing a career in investigative reporting. His first book, Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999, and has been scripted for a mini-series by Showtime Networks. Russo next authored The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America , which was also nominated for the Pulitzer.

Russo’s next book, Gangsters and GoodFellas, was a collaboration with former NY gangster Henry Hill, a sequel to his 1985 biography Wiseguy, which was the basis for the hit 1990 movie GoodFellas, starring Robert DeNiro.

Russo followed with Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America’s Hidden Power Brokers; Supermob film rights were sold before publication to CBS-Paramount as a three-hour “event” movie or feature.

In January 2006, Russo, as co-producer and co-writer with Wilfried Huismann, delivered a breakthrough 90-minute documentary for the German public television network WDR. The film, “Rendezvous with Death,” clarifies the relationship between Cuba’s intelligence service and JFK’s killer. At this writing, the film has aired in fifteen countries. “Rendezvous” inspired his fifth book, Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder, co-written with Stephen Molton.

Previously, Gus Russo has worked as an investigative reporter for PBS’ Frontline series, as well as ABC News Special Reports with Peter Jennings, Dan Rather’s CBS Reports, and Jack Anderson Specials; he has been a consultant for programs such as Sixty Minutes, Sixty Minutes II, and Eye To Eye with Connie Chung; as well as documentary productions based in England, France, Germany, Japan, and Mexico. Russo served as Senior Editorial Producer for Peter Jennings’ November 2003 two-hour documentary on the assassination of President Kennedy. Russo has appeared on countless radio and TV programs, including NPR’s Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, The History Channel (numerous shows), A&E’s Biography (Jack Ruby), Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC’s Nachman, and Dan Rather’s 1993 special Who Killed JFK? Russo has researched for numerous writers including Seymour Hersh, Gerald Posner, Anthony Summers, and Laurence Leamer, has written for The Baltimore Sun, The Nation, The Washington Post, Book Forum, and for two years was a regular contributor to the health-related website In addition, Russo is also an occasional consultant to Academy Award winning screenwriter Ron Bass, and is developing a book-of-a-film project with actor Vin Diesel based on the life of NY City cop Frankie Perrone.

In another life, Russo was a professional musician, composer, bandleader, and private instructor. In that incarnation, he played with many well-known acts including John Phillips, The New Mamas and Papas, Phoebe Snow, Michael Murphy, The Byrds, Livingston Taylor, Poco, Mary Travers (Peter, Paul and Mary), Commander Cody, and Firefall (w/ Rick Roberts).

Yvonne Jarchow – Producer

Children of Abraham has also Yvonne Jarchow at the helm. Born and raised in Germany, Yvonne has had an eclectic life and career, to say the least. After attending boarding school in Malvern, England, where she majored in ancient Greek, ancient history, and Latin, Yvonne then traveled to the US, where she studied journalism and media criticism and analysis at New York University. Next, Yvonne worked in Buenos Aires for Argentina’s number one advertising agency, Agulla & Bacetti. In that post she helped develop the internet-interactive part of the company. In June 2000, she was back in Germany, working for Hubert Burda Media as the assistant to one of the managing directors. Moving to Burda’s marketing & communications department, Yvonne worked for more than 20 titles.

In 2004, Yvonne transferred to Munich and developed the image trailer for Hubert Burda Media worldwide. She became the head of communications for all Hubert Burda Media. Yvonne then became managing director of Marketing & Communications for German ELLE and freundin Magazine. All this by the age of 28!

In 2007, Yvonne left Hubert Burda Media after eight years in order to follow her dream of opening her own company, Jarchow Communications, a media consulting and marketing company. One of her major clients is a software developing company, based in Munich. Her new company became involved in the projects of Dr. Jürgen Todenhöfer, and was responsible for all the communication, marketing, international ad campaigns, websites, etc. for Dr. Todenhöfer’s book, Why Do You Kill, Zaid?

Her travels to some of the Mideast war zones galvanized her own commitment to the cause of East-West understanding. Her talent and passion for the project has been instrumental in bringing together the multi-national professionals who will bring Children of Abraham to life.