A Global Search for God
The filmmaking brothers follow up their groundbreaking 9/11 documentary with In God's Name
BH: And the Vatican was very supportive?
JN: They were absolutely fantastic. I think they went above and beyond what they usually do. I think they understood that for once there was a project of hope, of positive, that was not about bad things but just trying to find answers and trying to do something that could make a difference.
They really liked the project and wanted to help; they went above and beyond. They went through all of their archives on what the Pope had said and found the answers to the questions we posed to other leaders. That gave us an amazing array of answers for all these questions. They were also about to film a lot of personal images of the pope. They had decided that they would send us that footage and we also sent them a list of things that we would love to have of the pope and they filmed it for us. These great moments, whether walking alone in the forest or playing the piano or watching television, or he’s taking a stroll or he’s just having lunch with friends.
Again, I think that for me what works the most, and that was the challenge, is that after watching the documentary, you don’t see the Pope, you don’t see the Dalai Lama, you don’t see the Great Imam of Al-Azhar, you don’t see the President of the Southern Baptist Convention. I think you see ‘Benedict,’ you see ‘Tenzin,’ you see ‘Yona,’ you see ‘Muhammad,’ you see ‘Frank’—and I think that’s what will probably touch people is that they might not be of the same faith but they say, ‘I can feel that individual power of their faith, and of this I can relate.’
BH: Unfortunately, most people aren’t going to have the opportunity to meet great leaders of these great faiths around the world so in a certain way you’re a bit of the go-between.
JN: In a way, yes. Our journey, we took it and shared it with the world, in a way. My greatest hope for that is that maybe on the 24th people kind of look at each other a little bit differently, look at this faith and saying, ‘it might not be mine but there is—I’ve never thought about them like this, I’ve never thought of the commonality of the similarities in that search for that link with the divine.’ I think that my biggest lesson is that it’s what links everyone in the world.
BH: How was your brother, Gedeon, affected by 9/11 and your recent film?
JN: For him, I think he had a really tough time. He—like a lot of people—having witnessed such horrible acts, he came away with it with a big sense of cynicism and a little bit of dread about the world and the future, just like I did but probably, I think, he was touched a little bit more. I think for him, after that journey, that cynicism and that fear of the future have completely disappeared. And I think for both of us that was replaced by a sense of hope because it’s not easy at first to try to find hope in this world, but here that was a really great thing.
BH: Did you or your brother’s personal faith experience change, and what are you teaching your children now?
JN: Well, my children are very young. So right now I’m talking to them about my trips and how they should be open to listen to people, to see people of different faiths, of different cultures, and treat everyone the same. As for my own faith, I don’t think I can, at the end of that trip, say I found God, but for me I found hope, and at least for now it’s definitely a fantastic thing. As for ‘did I find the meaning of life after that?’ —I think I have twelve great answers to the meaning of life and I think it forced me to confront the fact that we all have to find our own meaning of life, but it’s a fantastic basis to start and it’s actually quite important to try to find that.
BH: Did you get a sense from the other religious leaders of their tolerance or appreciation of other faith traditions?
JN: I think what we’ve seen actually after 9/11 then, and especially all of these people we’ve portrayed, is there is a big renewal of the interfaith movement and all of them are very active, some much more than others, but there is a real sense of ‘we have to have a dialogue’ and especially in this world where a lot of problems have a political aspect but there is a religious aspect that can be the answer for them. I think it’s the Chief Rabbi of Israel who’s dream is to kind of create a United Nations of religions, in a way, where religious leaders have a place and a responsibility to try to help in any way they can to bridge the differences between people, between cultures, and between conflicts.
BH: Any experience in particular that stood out for you?
JN: I think all of them were very amazing. I remember one moment which was a little bit surreal: at four o’clock in the morning I was in the mountains of India where I’m in the same room where the Dalai Lama is meditating and when he takes a second to look around he said ‘what am I doing here?’ So here it is, four o’clock in the morning– I had the same kind of very strange feeling two days ago when we were in Rome and here I am and I see this man coming towards me and shaking my hand and I’m talking to him and then I kind of had a little out-of-body experience, you look around—I said, ‘I’m talking to His Holiness’ and that was very powerful.
BH: What do you hope viewers will take away from your film this Christmas?
JN: I think people are ready for these kind of programs, but also I think just the fact in the timing; I think people will have traveled, will have arrived, and will be with their families, will be with their friends, and I think it’s a great program to watch together and to maybe start a dialogue right after you see it, to talk about it. You have to be in the right mood and not too stressed by the life around you and maybe during the holidays you have a little bit of time to say ‘Okay, now I am ready to watch two hours about these important questions’ with a bit more respect.
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