East meets West in interfaith Movies with Spirit series

Lola (Laura Ramsey) finds Ismahan (Carmen Lebbos), a legendary but disgraced Egyptian dancer, and asks her for lessons.

As I write this, the world is waiting on tenterhooks for the inevitable fallout from a massacre of Afghani civilians – mostly women and children – perpetrated singlehandedly by an as-yet-unidentified American Army sergeant. It’s just the latest in a seemingly never-ending stream of appallingly violent incidents triggered by two very different cultures’ cartoonishly one-dimensional conceptions of one another. If we ever needed a whole lot more effort toward interfaith understanding, that time is now.

Here in the mid-Hudson, there is a coalition of religious organizations that has been working toward furthering that type of understanding on the home front through a community film screening series called Movies with Spirit. The Ulster County Religious Council, the Dutchess County Interfaith Council, the Kingston Area Council of Churches, the Ministers’ Alliance of Ulster County and the Mid-Hudson Islamic Association got together a while back to create a non-threatening, user-friendly forum where regular people can learn more about people who have different belief systems – in the process, hopefully learning to communicate with them in a more peaceful, positive and constructive way. Organized by Gerry Harrington of Kingston, the monthly series “seeks to stimulate people’s sense of joy and wonder, inspire love and compassion, evoke a deepened sense of connection with the universe around us and support individual faith paths and beliefs while simultaneously transcending them.”

The latest Movies with Spirit feature, Paris-based Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch’s sweet-natured romantic comedy drama Whatever Lola Wants (2007), will be screened this Saturday, March 17 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in New Paltz. Lola (Laura Ramsey) is a naïve blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 25-year-old Midwestern girl working for the US Postal Service in New York City who dreams of being a professional dancer. She becomes obsessed with a celebrated Egyptian belly dancer named Ismahan (Lebanese film star Carmen Lebbos) and aspires to learn the art from a master. Meanwhile, she gets romantically involved with an Egyptian student, Zack (Assaad Bouab), and pursues him when he flies back to Cairo.

The relationship falls apart when transplanted into an Islamic culture, but Lola becomes enchanted with the city and decides to track down Ismahan and ask for lessons. She finds Ismahan living as a recluse, her career ended after an extramarital affair. Somehow, the two women from disparate cultural backgrounds learn to trust one another and Lola helps Ismahan rebuild her career.

In English with some Arabic dialogue, “Whatever Lola Wants” runs 110 minutes and is not rated by the Motional Picture Association of America. Its rating in France is equivalent to PG-13. The movie had its premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival and was screened only once in New York, at the TriBeCa Film Festival. You can see a trailer for Whatever Lola Wants at www.youtube.com/watch?v=njRgfXVkFUA.

The screening starts at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a discussion. Refreshments will be served. Attendees over age 12 are asked to contribute a suggested $5 a person to offset series expenses. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church is located at 163 Main Street in New Paltz. For more information about Whatever Lola Wants or the series, contact Harrington at (845) 389-9201 or at [email protected] Details are also available on Movies with Spirit’s Facebook page.


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