Chispa Productions has just wrapped The Animated Activist, an hour-long documentary about Firdaus Kharas’s No Excuses animation campaign against rape and sexual violence. For producers Randy Kelly and Micheline Shoebridge the project was always a labour of love because of their belief in Kharas’ all-volunteer efforts to change harmful behaviour around the world.
The film uses footage from Kharas’ globetrotting schedule. This ranges from the shocking, an interview with five women in South Africa where one young lady admits that 95% of her friends between ages 15 and 25 have been victims of rape and abuse, to a compassionate view of an institute in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for children of abusive parents, and finally to the headquarters of the United Nations in New York where the No Excuses campaign gets its official launch.
Much of the documentary’s narrative focusses on the process of creating the series’ 11 episodes. Kharas cajoles, confronts and, occasionally, capitulates to his all-female co-production trio of Jasmine El Mulki, Caitlin Delaney and Jesse Cressman-Dickinson. It’s fascinating to watch the players wonder how to defeat, with humour, the cultural justifications of abuse and not get into a confrontation with the militants of religious texts.
Chispa’s cameras go into the recording studio as No Excuses gets its character voices; time and again the volunteer actors voice intense hope that the project can effect real change in the world’s darkest places.
The Animated Activist has a second storyline that tracks Kharas’ career from 1995 when he left his government job to start Chocolate Moose Media. There’s background, especially the early affect on his life of Mother Theresa in his native Calcutta, and a strong focus on his Peabody Award-winning anti-AIDS series The Three Amigos as well as Buzz and Bite, which targets malaria transmission.
And for the first time in public, Kharas is revealed as the producer behind Hind and Hamza, a unique animated series for children in Arabic that deals with equality, tolerance and issues like child labour. The series ran for two years on Al Jazeera’s Children’s Channel, reaching 150 million people in the Middle East and Asia before disappearing without even a trace online.
Chispa is selecting between film festivals for the Animated Activist’s premier showing.