Filmmakers Turn Lens On Ozone Park Halal Shop

Filmmakers Turn Lens On Ozone Park Halal Shop
by Joseph Wendelken

(Independent Television Service) “A
Son’s Sacrifice” tells the story of Imran Uddin and his experiences
taking over his father’s halal slaughterhouse in Ozone Park.

   Inheritors of traditions over a millenia in-the-making, the preparers and consumers of halal meat can be guarded men.

   More than three years ago, many at Madani Halal on 94th Avenue
in Ozone Park warned owner Imran Uddin about trouble that could arise
from the proposal made by two ambitious filmmakers.

   But Uddin, who had recently taken over the shop from his
father, allowed himself to be the subject of a documentary the two
spent countless hours over two years filming, editing and producing.
   The finished product, “A Son’s Sacrifice,” which runs for 30 minutes, will air on WNET (Channel 13) on Jan. 25.
what’s going on in the world, there are so many misperceptions about
who we (Muslims) are,” Uddin said. “The first thing a lot of people
think when they hear Muslim is ‘terrorist.’ I felt that it was critical
for people to learn.”
   Allowing people to learn meant allowing
the film’s director and producer — Yoni Brook and Musa Syeed — to
become a part of his life. They spent nights in the basement of his
Ozone Park home and turned their boom microphone and video camera on
his family’s breakfast table. They ate more meals than they could count
with the Uddin family.
   “At a certain point, we started to fade
into the background. We became part of the furniture,” Syeed said.
“Spending time with them (Imran and his family), even with the camera
off, helped build trust between all of us, which is so important.”
Son’s Sacrifice” recounts Uddin’s takeover of the shop, which his
father, Riaz Uddin, opened in 1997. Along the way, Imran Uddin, now 30,
faced doubts from his father’s loyal customers about the authenticity
of his Muslim faith, particularly because his mother is a Catholic from
Puerto Rico.
   Before inheriting his father’s shop, Imran Uddin
worked in television advertising. “Initially, it was a lot of fun. You
schmooze, hang out with celebrities, you go on free vacations. You feel
like a superstar,” he said in a telephone interview. “But it fades
away. After four years it got old.”
   As the film displays,
shortly after assuming control of Madani Halal, Imran Uddin found
himself having to serve customers on Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holy day.
Commemorating Abraham’s willingness to kill his son Ishmael at Allah’s
command, hundreds of Muslims flock to the shop for lambs and goats to
sacrifice and then share with their families and the poor. The film
climaxes when illness prevents one of the shop’s butchers from
slaughtering animals for the waiting throng, forcing Imran Uddin to
take up a blade.
   “A Son’s Sacrifice” was one of the most
acclaimed documentaries of 2007. It won Best Documentary Short at the
Tribeca Film Festival and the Audience Award at SILVERDOCS, an
international film festival.
   But the project began with Brook’s
and Syeed’s simple desire to portray what Syeed describes as the
“juxtaposition of imagery” present when farm animals mill around in
urban slaughterhouses. Working from Yellow Pages listings, they visited
more than 40 slaughterhouses in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. But
they eventually settled on Madani Halal.
   “Imran’s family’s
story was just so interesting,” Syeed said. “To see a father-son story
like that underlined themes we were looking to explore about
modernization and tradition.”
   Over the course of filming, some
friction did arise between the filmmakers and their subjects, such as
when they wanted to film Riaz Uddin praying at his Mosque in Brooklyn.
At other times, some of Imran Uddin’s customers appeared unsettled by
Brook’s and Syeed’s presences. But Syeed said that Imran Uddin often
put those being filmed at ease.
   “He was so committed to this project,” Syeed said. “He always went out of his way to explain why we were there.”
and Syeed are currently co-directing two more films: “The Calling,”
about clergy students of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths; and
“Bronx Princess,” about an urban teenager confronting her royal African