FOCUS ON FAITH -Film to celebrate religious diversity
New York Daily News; New York, N.Y.; Mar 24, 2003;
Copyright Daily News, L.P. Mar 24, 2003

Whether Christian, Jew, Buddhist, animist, Muslim or a practitioner of any other faith, Muriel Stockdale believes we're more alike than different.

Though we may be divided by what we believe, we're united in our devotions to those beliefs, Stockdale said. And that, she believes, can save us. That's why Stockdale, 50, has joined fellow filmmakers Manech Ibar and Casey Meade Rothstein-Fitzpatrick, both 27, to create "New York Spirit," a documentary of how we pray. "The idea is to show the many different ways people in this city practice their communication with God," Stockdale said. "New York is a paradigm for peace. We have people of all faiths living peacefully next to each other. "This can be our great gift to the world, showing them how we not only live together in harmony in this city, but how we also celebrate our differences."

Stockdale said she had the idea for the work long before Sept. 11, 2001. That day, though, and the waves of anxiety that have gripped the city since, provided more motivation to get it done. Stockdale met Ibar after they struck up a conversation in an online chat room devoted to film projects. Ibar in turn recruited Rothstein-Fitzpatrick, who had just finished his documentary "Take Me to the River." The film's subject is the Maha Kumbh Mela, a religious event held in India every three years that is the largest gathering of Hindu worshipers in the world. For "New York Spirit," the filmmakers hope to follow New Yorkers as they practice their devotions. They expect to include everyone from parishioners at St. Patrick's Cathedral to people practicing tai chi in Central Park to Bible readers in the subway. "The film will occur in a hypothetical single day in the life of New York City, starting in the morning and going to dusk," Stockdale said. "It will show people practicing their spirituality on an ordinary day, not a special day like the Sabbath." "We want to capture this beautiful symphony of difference," Ibar said. "There is art in prayer, like the way an artist connects to a particular subject. We want to show that connection being made by people in all walks of life." "We want the audience to share in the experience," Rothstein- Fitzpatrick said. "The more we understand each other's experiences, the more we understand each other."

The three envision camera crews following individual New Yorkers to capture their spiritual life - perhaps Vedic mantras on Queens Blvd., an imam calling followers to prayer in an East Village mosque, a Hasidic man and his son headed to synagogue. It will be filmed in documentary style and have a "real time" feel. The three are not sure how subjects for the high-definition film will be chosen, or for that matter, found. "We're hoping people will contact us on the Web site www.nycspirit.com," Stockdale said.

The process could prove difficult, given that New Yorkers hail from virtually every country in the world and have as many or more religious beliefs. The filmmakers also are hoping the site will become a kind of clearinghouse for people seeking religious connections, Stockdale said. "The way we envision it, if someone came to the city and wanted to find a tai chi class or a Reiki master, they could use the Web site to link to that organization," Stockdale said. The filmmakers plan to use devotional music as the documentary's soundtrack. A full version of the musical snippets on the soundtrack later would be released on compact disk, Stockdale said. The filmmakers still are seeking financial backers and ask those interested to contact them through the Web site. "We want this to be an important historical piece as well," Stockdale said.

Caption: HEIDI SCHUMANN Manech Ibar, Muriel Stockdale and Casey Fitzpatrick (l. to r.) hope to show how spirituality unites us in "New York Spirit."

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