All American looking Justin Mashouf, a talented 22 year old director, is like most young men in that he is skilled in Bboy* dancing, but interestingly enough, he is also a devout Muslim. He does not eat pork or drink alcohol. Pretty hard for a college student. Imagine no pepperoni on his pizzas or beer drinking. Mashouf even went to the shrine of Imam Reza and is making a doc on Imam Hussein called 'Finding Karbala.' He even interviewed Iranian scholar Reza Aslan. And yes, he says inshallah a lot. Mashouf is currently studying Media Arts at the University of Arizona. I recently spoke to him about his interesting career and religious choices.
Sara Nabavi: What is your parents’ background? Where in Iran is your dad from?
Justin Mashouf: My father is from Tehran and my mother is from Philadelphia of Irish-German descent.
SN: Are you from a religious family?
JM: My family is not religious. Islam was not something that was practiced nor mentioned in our home. I came to religion when I was a teenager through a friend I met who was also half Iranian, half American. His family was practicing and we were socialized to learning and practicing the religion together. I was attracted to the unity of humanity that Islam preached as well as its practical code of behavior.
SN: What led to your interest in Iranian culture?
JM: I have always had an interest in Iranian culture. The customs of Iran were very prevalent in my extended family who have done a good job in preserving their Iranian identity. When I was a kid, Persian music, culture, and language were things that were only available to me at family gatherings because I rarely spoke any Persian at home with my father. When I began to visit more religious gatherings in my teens, Farsi was the most commonly spoken language so my interest began to peak again. It wasn't really until I visited Iran that I began to actually feel like I was Iranian. As an American growing up in the US there is an idea that is built into kids that this is their homeland. But really most people from the US are relatively few generations from being European. Going to Iran was like visiting the thousands of years of heritage that makes Iran so beautiful and historically important to the rest of the world.
SN: How was it like to be in Iran looking so All American?
JM: In Iran I rarely felt like I was being perceived as an American. While I was there I saw some people that had lighter skin than my own and a couple people with red hair and freckles! When people did notice that I was American they were quite nice and excited to see an American in Iran. I actually joked with a couple strangers who wanted to show off their English skills and I acted like I could only speak Persian.
SN: What projects are you working on and what awards/distinctions have you won?
JM: My film 'Morning Submission' about the Muslim morning prayer won distinction at a film festival called Pure Inspiration in 2004. This summer I was recently awarded with a Medici Scholars Grant to intern at WITNESS, a video company that documents human rights abuses, in New York.
Here's the pitch for my upcoming documentary 'Warring Factions,' so you get an idea of what it’s about: 'As forces in American government and media have fueled the feeling of an unavoidable war with Iran Warring Factions is a call to (dis)arms. By combining both documentary and experimental techniques, the film will explore the meaning of Iranian American national, ethnic, and religious identities as a way to humanize the conflict between nations before the event of a devastating war.' There are studio shot sequences in which I have written but the majority is unscripted.
My last film, a short called 'The Runners', is currently on the festival circuit and will be at the prominent Santa Fe Film Festival November 28th to December 2nd.
It also just had a successful run at the prominent Lone Star film festival, which is in its inaugural year. This festival is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and was created by actor Bill Paxton ('Big Love'). It is a narrative short film about an undocumented Mexican man who marries an American woman. It essentially looks at the immigration crisis through the lens of a struggling marriage.
'Finding Karbala' is an ongoing project about the story of Imam Hussein and how people commemorate his story. I interviewed Islamic scholar Reza Aslan for this project and plan to visit the shrine of Imam Hussein.
For more information on Mashouf, please go to www.mashouf.tv and his videos are at www.youtube.com/user/jmashouf. He's also at www.myspace.com/krillan. Interestingly enough, Krillan is Mashouf's bboy name. *Bboying is what most people know as break dancing, which was a dance form that came from the Bronx, NY in the 1970s. The B stands for 'break' which is a section in many funk and soul songs in which the drummer is given a solo or is given time to improvise. That is the portion of the song where breakin can be done most freely.
Photo 1: Justin Mashouf on set of his documentary film 'Warring Factions.' "This is the scene where I am sitting in high school the day of 9/11 and from the way everyone is talking I feel like an afghan terrorist not like an American," says Mashouf. It is a recreation of his experience the day of 911.
'We had this classroom discussion and all of a sudden everyone had become radicalized against Muslims just a few hours after it happened before there was any kind of talk about Bin Laden.'
Photo Credit: Lexi Obara
Photo 2: Mashouf bboying upside down.
Photo Credit: Lexi Obara
Photo 3: Mashouf showing some more bboying moves.
Photo Credit: Res One