Aatif Baskanderi shared a post to Facebook on June 10 detailing some of his experiences growing up as a Muslim in Newfoundland.
“When I first made this post, I only made it only available to for my friends to see. It was just me writing out my story to share with my friends,” explained Baskanderi.
He says his Facebook friends encouraged him to make it a public post so they could share it with their friends. So, he did – and things took off from there.
The original post has been shared over a hundred times.
“I didn’t expect that to happen— I had no idea,” says Baskanderi.
Shortly thereafter, Baskanderi began to formulate the idea of a speaking tour, and Salaam By’-The Story of a Muslim Newfoundlander was born.
The name pays tribute to Baskanderi’s dual heritage – “salaam” is Arabic for “peace” and is commonly used as a greeting.
But the idea continued to grow from there, and after conversations with his friend, filmmaker Amar Wala, Baskanderi took the next step for Salaam B'y – a short, 15-to 30-minute documentary filmed on location in Newfoundland during the speaking tour.
“This is a story that we didn’t want to have isolated in the speaking tour, but wanted to share more widely,” said Baskanderi.
The documentary is set to cover issues of social inclusion and community, economy, and innovation.
He says he hopes to film most of the documentary in Clarenville, St. John's, and Bell Island.
For Baskanderi and his wife, Nazia, the project is not a commercial enterprise, but a means of spreading their message.
“There's no commercial aspect to this – we're trying to make this as accessible as possible,” said Baskanderi of the project.
“We've already had different groups across Canada, across the US, express interest in this film, and doing screenings in this community. We want to make it in such a way that people really just use it to start a conversation.”
The couple has set up an online fundraiser to help with the costs of the project.
“We're just fundraising for it all, and my wife and I are self-financing a lot of it just to share the story out there,” explained Baskanderi.
A team of three people, the director and two camera operators, will be working with the couple to complete the film.
His parents, who live in Ontario where much of the extended family lives, will also be travelling the province with them.
“They love Newfoundland, so they're really excited that they're going to be joining us as well,” said Baskanderi.
Baskanderi says the support, from Newfoundlanders especially, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I've been getting so much love and support from Newfoundlanders about the speaking tour, and a ton of help from a different group of people who are really keen on this [the documentary],” said Baskanderi.
“That support from people, particularly people across Newfoundland, is really my Gatorade, that’s keeping me going.”
He says there have been some negative reactions, but that “they are dwarfed by the thousands of positive engagements.”
“I try not to focus on the small minorities who are trying to be negative or racist or discriminate, but the thousands of people who are trying to show love and support. That’s the fuel that’s been keeping it going.”
Baskanderi moved to Clarenville in 1989 from Sarnia, Ontario, when he was five years old.
He left Clarenville in 1994 for Vancouver, and moved back to Clarenville in 1999, where he attended Clarenville High School. After high school, he attended MUN, where he graduated in 2008.
He currently works for the not-for-profit Innovate Calgary, where he helps coach and guide both entrepreneurs and large companies as they try to create sustainable futures with a focus on job security.
He still calls Clarenville his hometown.
The dates for the speaking tour are as follows: Grand Bank (Sept. 18), Gander (Sept. 19), Bishop’s Falls (Sept. 20), Corner Brook (Sept. 21), Clarenville (Sept. 26), St. John’s (Sept. 27) and Bell Island (Sept. 28).
To see the original Facebook post, click here.
To visit the Lauchgood fundraising page, visit here.
To visit the page of the speaking tour, visit here.