BERLIN German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani shines the spotlight on the difficulties facing young Muslims in the western world in his first feature film "Shahada," set in multicultural Berlin.
The film, which won applause at its screening at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday, is about the intertwining tales of three young German-born Muslims struggling to reconcile their family faith and traditions with a modern, Western lifestyle.
"My motivation was to get the audience to look at the film and connect with this religion that is all around them," said Qurbani, born in Germany of Afghan parents. "I hope the film will get the public to talk, to debate."
Guilt is a central theme. Sammi is torn between his faith and his desire for one of his male co-workers. Ismail, a police officer of Turkish descent, cannot overcome his angst over having shot illegal immigrant Leyla and killed her unborn child.
Meanwhile, Maryam's guilt over having an abortion pushes her toward ultraconservative Islam, despite her moderate upbringing.
"Growing up as a Muslim, living in a Western society, I sometimes made lifestyle decisions ... that made me feel guilty for not being a good Muslim," said Qurbani.
"I eventually managed to deal with this knot of guilt and realized that I could conduct my faith in my own way -- this is also what the film is about."
"Shahada" is part of a recent wave of critically acclaimed German movies challenging cultural stereotypes and exploring the difficulties facing the so-called second generation of immigrant communities.
In 2004, Fatih Akin's "Head-On," the turbulent story of a German woman of Turkish origin who flees her strict Muslim home, was the first German film in 18 years to win the top prize at the Berlin film festival.
Iranian-born actress Maryam Zaree, who plays Maryam in "Shahada," said the film showed that Germany was made up of people with many different backgrounds and faiths.
"We need to get away from seeing these people as different and being afraid of their otherness, toward realizing they are also part of this country," she said.
"All the members of the film's crew have their roots in different countries, but we are all German nonetheless."
(Editing by Steve Addison)