South African film shows faith in action

August 19, 2007

Video: The film "Baha'i Faith: A Way Forward" is being aired on television in South Africa and neighboring countries.

CAPETOWN, South Africa — Two professional filmmakers have finished an hourlong documentary about three Baha'is and how they practice their faith, and the film is being aired on television in South Africa and neighboring countries.

"Baha'i Faith: A Way Forward" was produced by Ryan and Leyla Haidarian at the request of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which has licensed rights to the documentary for two years.

"We created this film to show what the Baha'i Faith has to offer on a practical level for the world," Mrs. Haidarian said.

The film gives an introduction to the Baha'i Faith and focuses on three individuals in South Africa and how their faith is reflected in service to others:

Leyla and Ryan Haidarian made the documentary for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. Slideshow
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Leyla and Ryan Haidarian made the documentary for the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

-- Eunice Mabaso turned her home into an orphanage after her brother and his wife died and she took in their four children. Over the years, hundreds of other orphans - many of them living in poverty in the streets - came to her home for shelter, love, and protection. "We can change the poverty and crime of this earth," she says. "The future of South Africa will become brighter."

-- Iraj Abedian, an economist and policy adviser to the government, tries to address problems resulting from extremes of wealth and poverty. One of his projects is a collective home-financing program that helps low-income working people save money and invest, but he is careful to emphasize that his work is based on principles from what he believes is a divine plan. He says you can look at the world as a construction site, "full of dust and mud and rubbish, and yet see in it the (new) edifice that is rising. ... To be at work on the construction site - it's exciting."

-- Tahirih Matthee helps provide training programs for people with no experience using computers and the Internet. Her course includes education about gender equality - she points out that equality of women and men is an explicit teaching of the Baha'i Faith - and also information about HIV/AIDS prevention. "For something to be successful, you need vision," she says. "Every person can be happy when things are ideal, but our true nobility lies in the journey of being happy precisely when things are not ideal."

The new film includes historical photos of the Baha'i community of South Africa, including its founding during the time of apartheid.

"In those days, the Baha'is stuck to the letter of the law, but they didn't really stick to the spirit of the law," says the film. A fundamental principle of the Baha'i Faith is the unity of the races and the elimination of prejudice.

Great precaution was taken for the first election of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of South Africa. It was held in a farmhouse, and whites entered through the front door, black Africans through the back door.

"If the security police approached, the African Baha'is began cleaning and cooking. The white Baha'is played cards and socialized," the narrator relates.

The Haidarians produced and financed the documentary through their company, Race Productions, in South Africa. The film can be seen on the Web at The Web site also gives information for ordering a DVD.

Ryan Haidarian heads up development and production at the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, the organization that produced the Academy Award-winning film "Tsotsi." A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin in the United States, Mr. Haidarian won several awards for a documentary about famed American football coach Darrell Royal.

Leyla Haidarian has worked as a journalist, actress, and filmmaker in Europe, North America and Africa, and can currently be seen playing a supporting role in a South African drama series.