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Director uses art to educate about his culture
by Nada Alfaily, The Arab American News. July 23, 2011.
There is no doubt that the majority of the world is unaware of who the Assyrian people are or where they come from. But Detroit director Andre Anton has dedicated his career to educating the world about his culture and the fact that Assyrians are still very much alive and active. He created Lamassu Productions to help enlighten the world about the indigenous Assyrian people of northern Mesopotamia.
Anton, a proud Assyrian-American, emulates his culture through every aspect of his company, beginning with the name, Lamassu. Anton found the name fitting because it refers to an ancient Assyrian figure who was the protector of Assyrian civilization, something Anton is trying to do with his production company.
Anton began Lamassu Productions six years ago and his success has grown. The Michigan native studied Film and Theatre at Wayne State University before getting his graduate degree from the oldest film trade school in Michigan, Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. Anton notes that his most influential professor at the film school was Katherine McAermick, who was the Vice President of Columbia Pictures and worked on such films as Spiderman and Charlie's Angels. After completing his education, Anton began to work for other production companies and as a creative advisor for other people in the industry, all while still developing the production company he started during his undergraduate years.
Lamassu's first big project that gave the production company positive publicity was an interview for a California-based company with the half Iranian, half Assyrian 2005 Ms. World Canada, Ramona Amiri. Lamassu got this job after they were recognized as a finalist in a Geico commercial contest. Anton notes this is the project that really put Lamassu on the map.
But Anton is most passionate about his new film "Defying Deletion." The film shines light on the unseen horrors of persecution and genocide of the Assyrian people. Assyrians are the direct heirs of the ancient Assyrian Empire, which was located in the northern part of Mesopotamia. After the fall of the empire at the hands of Muslim conquerors, the Assyrian people were massacred and forced out of their land. Slowly these powerful people began to fade and the only remaining references to the ancient Assyrians are in the Torah and Greek mythology. Modern Assyrians are scattered all over the world, however a majority of them are currently living in northern Iraq. Anton himself was born in Michigan but lived in Iraq for a year in the late 80s when he was 5 years old. "I was going to understand my culture for myself," Anton said, about growing up with this confusing misunderstanding.
Anton says he made "Defying Deletion" after many requests to shed light on a subject that is not discussed often or accurately portrayed. Anton believes if the issue of persecution of the Assyrian people were to be shown in the mainstream media, then the U.S. would have to feel at fault for their distress following the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent divisions, violence and suffering it caused among the country's population. The film features three widows out of hundreds and it shows how these widows are left with nothing and cannot support their families and the hardships they have to deal with after their husbands are unjustly murdered. The film also deals with the refugees from Iraq to America and the difficulties and turmoil that is worse because now they must assimilate into a new culture, not to mention become financially secure.
Anton states that this film has been a three year project and it was very difficult to make. To create the film, Anton used footage from his friend, Alda Benjamin, who went to Iraq for two weeks to work on her Master's thesis on Civil Societies. Through Benjamin, Anton was able to get 20 hours of footage from interviews with widows, women's rights groups and political groups. He contacted people in Iraq to get footage. He also shot interviews with international political figures here in the U.S. Anton brought all of these pieces to put together a picture that lasts only about 25 minutes to educate the public about his people. "This subject has not been put out into the populace until this film," Anton said.
"Defying Deletion" was released at the Detroit Independent Film Festival. At the festival the film won its first Michigan Film Award for "Best Documentary." It also won the award at the Uptown Film Festival in Birmingham this year. It won "Best of the Fest" at the 53rd Rochester International Film Festival and "Best Documentary" at the Tupelo Film Festival. Anton has been asked to submit his film to the Chicago Film Festival, and he plans on doing so. Through all of his success with this film, Anton notes, "Once I show the UN and the U.S. this message, I've done my job." While the success is great, Anton primarily wants the world to understand the movie and the message he is attempting to portray with the film. The film has not been shown overseas yet, but Lamassu Productions is hopeful.
Anton will also be going to the U.S. Congress in July to discuss his film. The event is being put together by a bipartisan group of Senators and House Representatives who have been involved in helping relieve the suffering and persecution of the indigenous Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq. After having viewed the film, these congressional offices saw the need to help coordinate a screening on Capitol Hill in order to bring awareness to the subject, which has been almost completely ignored by mainstream media. Anton hopes to not only accomplish awareness with this screening but to convince our government to act on relieving this genocide that has been on-going since World War 1. Anton says "In this case, our government's invasion, though it ironically brought democracy and freedoms unforeseen to Iraq, had a hand in increasing the rate of the on-going Assyrian genocide.
"What I plan to do is make all movies about cultures truthful," Anton said on future films that he will be producing. He said "All of the projects I will be doing are for humanity, which is what the Lamassu symbolizes."
For more information on "Defying Deletion" please visit http://www.DefyingDeletion.com.