Filmmaker Jennifer M. Taylor started off her career with no formal training and a lot of “common sense.” Now a pro, the director has won an award at the 2009 Aljazeera International Documentary Film Festival for her most recent work “New Muslim Cool,” which was screened at the Sackler Museum on October 10. In the film, she follows the life of Hamza Pérez, a Puerto Rican-American rapper and former drug dealer who found his faith in Islam. FM had a chance to hear her dish about music, the FBI raiding mosques after 9/11, and her love for sauerkraut.
FM: Did you always know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
JMT: No, I did not. I thought I wanted to be a modern dancer. Then I got injured, and I had to find another career path and, ultimately it led me to filmmaking.
FM: You’re not trained to be a filmmaker. Do you think that this made work harder?
JMT: I have very little formal training. Not necessarily. I don’t think...I was lucky. My first film project was with someone that went to film school, so I figured she could cover for the both of us. And I figured I could augment my co-producer’s formal training with my common sense.
FM: You spent some time in Brazil and Argentina recovering from the dance injury. Any funny experiences while you were there? Do you speak Spanish?
JMT: Yes, and Portuguese. One time I was in Brazil, and my visa was expiring, and there was a soap opera I was really into, and I didn’t have enough money to stay...I just asked them if I could stay until the end of the soap opera. They thought it was so ridiculous so they said yes.
FM: What inspired “New Muslim Cool”?
JMT: I knew very little about Muslims, so I thought the whole “clash of civilizations” paradigm needed some integration post-9/11 when we were suddenly being told that there was this entire religion out to get us, and that seemed a little odd to me...and I’m just naturally a very curious person. In the course of my original research I discovered that a lot of American Muslims are interested in pop culture...I decided to investigate hip-hop culture, which ultimately led me to meeting Hamza and Suliman [Hamza’s brother].
FM: Are you still in contact with Pérez?