A new documentary follows survivors or relatives of those killed in last year’s Christchurch mosque attacks. Director Virginia Wright talks to Fiona Rae.
The documentary follows six families over the year as they try to make a path through their trauma and grief. They include Mustafa Boztas, who was injured escaping from Al Noor Mosque; Aya Al-Umari, whose brother, Hussein, was killed; Noraini Abbas, whose 14-year-old son, Sayyad, lost his life; and Farid Ahmed, who lost his wife, Husna, when she went back into the mosque to rescue him.
Producer-director Virginia Wright says the documentary has been a matter of “doing my best to let them tell their stories and listening. Like any other family who has lost a loved one, they have had to work out how to go forward without that person.”
In some cases, family members agreed to go on camera to honour their loved one. Farid Ahmed, who has given a number of interviews, is “channelling his grief into putting a calm message out to the world”.
The documentary also follows as the group joins with 200 New Zealand pilgrims on a trip to perform Hajj in Mecca, a journey that was funded by the Saudi King.
“It took me a while to work out just how fundamentally important that spiritual pilgrimage is for them and how potentially healing,” says Wright. The group, and Wright, were helped by New Zealand’s most senior Muslim police officer, Superintendent Naila Hassan.
“The Hajj is very, very different to anything any of us in New Zealand has ever seen or experienced. It’s absolutely amazing, and Naila Hassan was brilliant because she was able, with a foot in both worlds, to translate that for us.”
The experience did provide some healing, says Wright. “For Aya in particular, it gave respite from her grief for long enough that she was then able to think about how to find new things to do without her brother, because they were very close.”
Wright discovered while speaking to Abbas that “Muslims don’t mark anniversaries”, but she has found over the course of the past year that the community “truly felt the support shown by New Zealand in the aftermath and it has truly helped them, and they feel that the perception of Muslims has changed in New Zealand.”
This article was first published in the March 7, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.