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Prof's potentially controversial documentary to screen at film festival

If the role of a documentary filmmaker is to focus the lens on provocative and potentially incendiary subject matter, then Kim Nelson perfectly fits the part.

However, rather than imposing her own personal opinions on the controversial topics of immigration and multicultural assimilation in Germany, she takes a back seat in her film Berliner, allowing instead for the characters’ own personal stories to define the fundamental conflict there.

“I don’t really take a point of view in it,” the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences professor says of her film, which will be shown in her adopted hometown for the first time at the Capitol Theatre on Friday, November 11, at 6:30 p.m.

The 90-minute film is being screened as part of the Windsor International Film Festival and Nelson fully expects it might raise the ire of some of those who view it. It explores issues of inclusion, class history, intolerance, immigration, religion, education, and how nationality is defined, told largely through the stories of second generation Islamic Turkish women whose parents moved to Germany after the Second World War to seek employment.

A significant part of the film is devoted to the issue of Islamic women who wear headscarves, but rather than documenting extremist views on the issue, it focuses on “normal” everyday people who are regularly confronted with prejudiced attitudes.

“When you deal with those kinds of sensitive issues there’s always the risk that people aren’t going to like the perspectives that are being expressed,” said Nelson, who is originally from Vancouver.

The film has already enjoyed success elsewhere. It was screened last summer at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, which is an Academy Award qualifier, and it was voted by the jurists as one of the top 10 documentaries out of the 70 that were shown there. But much in the same way many musicians say it’s easier to play to a room full of strangers than family and friends, Nelson says she’s feeling the jitters of a hometown screening.

“It’s more important to me that people here like it than when it screens elsewhere,” she said of the screening, which is being sponsored by Associate VP of Academic Affairs Bruce Tucker and History professor Christina Simmons. “A lot of my students have expressed an interest and now a lot of my colleagues will have the chance to see it too.”

The film was shot in 25 days by Nelson’s UWindsor colleague Min Bae, with help from sessional instructors Justin Langlois and Tony Lau, and a group of students who travelled to Germany in the summer of 2008. Some of the film's score was composed by musician and fellow FASS professor Brent Lee. Four months of researching and planning went into the film before the crew travelled there and it took 18 months of editing, between teaching duties, after they returned home.

Watch a trailer for the film.