Let’s celebrate two movies by local filmmakers that are tackling important topics too often ignored elsewhere. Each film spotlights an underappreciated and misunderstood segment of our society:
The Muslims I Know by Mara Ahmed examines the lives and attitudes of the many moderate Muslims who are our neighbors, fellow workers, physicians and classmates.

American Harvest by Angelo Mancuso follows the migrant worker population as it works its way up the East Coast each season, making itself responsible for much of the food on our table.
In The Muslims I Know, Ahmed melds a series of insightful interviews, conducted largely in this area, with a good mix of archival footage. Home movies that reflect a family-next-door existence stand in marked contrast to news and propaganda footage of the Islamic extremists who, unfortunately, get the lion’s share of attention in our media.

Though she has an extensive education in a variety of fields, Ahmed was trained as a filmmaker at Visual Studies Workshop and at Rochester Institute of Technology, and worked two years compiling this important, eye-opening film about the realities of Islamic life and belief. The result is colorful and well-shot by veteran local cinematographer Thom Marini. It also features an appealing background blend of Pakistani, Islamic and Western music.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to see her hourlong film, and hope it achieves broad exposure, for it’s just the antidote we all need to the narrow-minded attitudes of the West in the post-9/11 era.
The Muslims I Know will have its world premiere at 1 p.m. Sunday at the George Eastman House’s Dryden Theatre, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker and some of the interview subjects. Admission is $10.

Mancuso’s American Harvest has had area screenings, including one at the recent Rochester High Falls International Film Festival, but now it’s earned a regular opening slot for at least a week at the Little Theatre. Mancuso, who has long been active locally as a writer, filmmaker and critic, brings considerable passion to his feature-length documentary. The film examines the undeniable importance of migrant labor to farming in America, and it raises important questions about the current hot-button topic of illegal immigration.

American Harvest opens tonight. Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. screening will be followed by a conversation with Mancuso; Jim Allen, head of the New York Apple Association Inc.; and Sister Janet Korn, social justice awareness coordinator for Catholic Charities.