UCLA Grad Lena Khan to Make Directorial Debut with The Tiger Hunter

Immigrant stories, apartment squatters, disco dwellers, tiger attacks and stool robberies - yes people stealing stool samples - these are the funny tales that make up The Tiger Hunter, a weaving story Lena Khan is bringing to the silver screen.

Khan is the creative mind behind the feature film, having carved out a niche in the American Muslim community. The UCLA graduate is pursuing her dream with the directorial debut of The Tiger Hunter.

Khan has produced music videos for Kareem Salama (A Land Called Paradise) and Mehr Zain (The Chosen), and in 2008, a series on Voting Smarter.

"It's hard to describe how exciting it is to have the chance to make a real movie. You know, with recognizable actors. Theaters. Laughs," says Khan.

While Khan has honed her skills working at big-name Hollywood studios and production companies, making a movie is not an easy task.

Movies like Disney's Enchanted was written in 1997, but took ten years to finish. While the 1976 film Rocky, directed by John G. Avildsen, was shot over the course of twenty-eight days.

Inspirations for The Tiger Hunter are rooted in Khan's childhood stories told by her father. Khan spent a year writing the story and then collaborated with the talented Sameer Gardezi, a well-known writer from ABC's Modern Family.

The result is a story about Sami Malik, the protagonist, who is an ambitious young man with an engineering degree. He travels to 1970s Chicago to impress his childhood crush and live up to the legacy of his father, a local legend and tiger hunter.

Being an immigrant, Sami soon finds himself in a series of adventures involving outlandish schemes, an arch-nemesis in an absurd office environment and a variety of misfits.

What is unique about the movie is that it's a story told by an American Muslim about a Muslim immigrant experience.

Hollywood is often criticized for getting Muslims wrong. Khan says that this is an opportunity to portray the "right image, our image as we see it ourselves."

Jamaal Diwan, resident scholar at the Islamic Center of Irvine, Calif., believes that as a fairly young community, Muslims in American are still in the process of negotiating their identities, and as artists, deriving meaning from their artistic output.

As the community matures, works like Khan's are critical in charting the future of American Muslims.

Diwan believes that the arts have to play a bigger role in community life.

"If we were to look at the artistic products of Muslims in America in the past, we would see mostly imported expressions" says Diwan. "However, as we move forward as a community and develop a unique sense of identity in this time and place, our artistic contributions will develop as well."

But artists struggle not only to make a space for their unique Muslim expression, but also in garnering support from the community they wish to raise awareness about.

Zahra Noorbaskh, an Iranian comedian, put together a one-woman show called All Atheists Are Muslim.

Speaking to SFGate.com about her performance, Noorbaksh says that comedy is a way for her to filter her world. "I think (it) is a fresh lens when so much of anything Muslim-related is overwhelmingly nothing to do with anything funny."

Noorbakhsh's work brings to the fore the importance of portraying her characters as real people rather than caricatures. Something that is readily available on many Hollywood shows and movies.

Noorbaksh, like Khan, used Kickstarter to raise $4,000 in two weeks for her show from a diverse group of backers in order to bring her artistic vision to life with audiences across the country.

Khan's project has attracted a number of investors but she was still short on achieving the necessary funding to start production. She has turned to the community that had supported her previous works, including family and friends, to raise the remaining $55,000 necessary to make the film.

Khan's Kickstarter campaign has raised close to $12,000 and has garnered widespread social media buzz.

"It's a way to get people involved in the film, make it happen, and directly be part of the process" Khan said. "My entire blog has been devoted to making people understand what goes on in the process, so it was natural for us to open it up through Kickstarter as well."

Khan explains that by crowd financing, she will have more control over the movie.

"We are also limited in that we now have a debt of gratitude and a responsibility to our backers. This project has to be made. It has to be quality. But the thing is, I think it is a limitation in a good way: it makes up aspire even higher."

Support Lena Khan's The Tiger Hunter here.



                                                                Affad Shaikh
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Affad is a reporter for Illume Magazine. He worked as a civil rights advocate six years and was actively involved in social justices causes in California.