Ameer Shan Fazal Takes the Lead

Shan answers questions from the PeaPod students.

Shan answers questions from the PeaPod students.

Recently I had an incredible opportunity to screen our first documentary, bethlehem to brooklyn: breaking the surface (b2b), to aspiring filmmakers at the PeaPod Academy in NYC. Peapod is a program for high school kids who want to become young filmmaker activists. This was my first time I did this Teaching-Artist/facilitator work on my own. I felt excited and nervous. My mind was scrambling to find a way to start when I all of sudden I approached a PeaPod filmmaker and said, Hi.” Everything else about myself flowed out from that one simple word.

I should have known by now what the results would be from a simple word because my involvement with b2b and its sequel brooklyn bridges, and our outreach initiative breaking walls have all been about the power of words.

In 2008 when I first joined the cast of bethlehem to brooklyn: breaking the surface, if you told me all the things that would happen to me through the experience I would’ve smirked and kept it moving. Since those first afternoons of writing, rehearsing, bonding with my Brooklyn and Bethlehem cast members, and doing our original performance for a live audience I have come a long way. I used to speak very low and fast so my words were misunderstood. I never realized this until I saw b2b for the first time, and saw that our editor had to add subtitles to all my scenes to compensate for my bad speaking habit. This motivated me to enhance my speech because it’s a skill more valuable than any other that I can see.

And working on my communications skills have led me to see how valuable good speech and good listening in uncovering who I am below the surface.

        brooklyn bridges- to bethlehem & back, our second documentary was a big step forward for me as far as my speaking went – I was proud to see no subtitles streaming across my scenes. I was even prouder to hear my cast mate and friend, Sofia Ramadan from Bethlehem say that making our documentaries together had led all of us involved to dream to “continue using words to build this bridge between kids of all races, religions and nationalities all over the world. The power of words again, and the role they play in sharing and listening. Fran, our director and producer, was listening to us and set out to establish breaking walls in 2010 as a 501C3.

Our first breaking walls initiative in Berlin in 2012 was the realization of this dream. breaking walls helped me grow up a lot. In the first two documentaries I was a student learning to speak for myself and about myself more comfortably while growing in confidence. I always believed everyone has their own unique voice and that they’re capable of doing great things when they push themselves, breaking walls reinforced that feeling.

In Berlin I became a facilitator. Along side my Brooklyn partners in crime Ryan and Fabie, and my Bethlehem partners Mohammad, Mahmoud and Rowa . . . This meant a lot to me and it pushed me to do my best because we had all been cast mates in our documentaries. I was given a huge responsibility to keep our dream alive and build this bridge and break these walls that society has created.

Ever since our first documentary my friends and family have taken me more seriously. I took charge of my life when I joined breaking Walls and they saw that.

I am now really eager to take on more Teaching-Artist work; and even more excited (if that’s possible) to facilitate our next breaking walls initiative in Cape Town in 2014.

My next step is to create more videos for people to enjoy and learn about breaking walls. If you want something in life you have to push yourself and believe it will happen. In the words of the great Bruce Lee “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”


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