Interview with Shaba Rahavi
After graduating from Portland State University with a film degree, Shaba Rahavi decided to take a break from the job hunt and got involved in the community-building activities of the Baha’i community. Finding her own sense of purpose and inspired by the spirit of service in the youth around her, she started thinking about how to capture all this on film. She and a friend brainstormed ideas about documenting youth who are being of service to their communities. They connected with a producer in Washington, D.C., who was looking for someone to do the same thing and offered to fund the project. Here’s Shaba to tell her story…
OPW: What was it like to film the youth?
It was amazing! A few months after graduation, I got an offer to produce and direct my own documentary series. The idea was to inspire youth around the world and empower them to be of service. We filmed junior youth groups doing service projects, youth inspired by the Baha’i Writings and applying it to their work and youth inspired by service in general.
The youth were very excited. Some of them were a bit camera-shy and concerned about being interviewed, but they also understood the purpose of the project. And because it was for service and for inspiration, they were more than willing to do it.
The producer needed the videos for her production company, Persian Media Productions. She also needed them translated into Farsi. So I transcribed the videos, sent them in for translation and added in the subtitles and voice overs. In return, she gave me the freedom to use the English versions. I put them on YouTube and got some great feedback.
Through that, I got another collaboration offer for a video project with some junior youth in NE Portland. They wanted to do an art project around racism and they thought a music video would be cool.
OPW: What draws you to this work?
When my sense of motivation is materialistic, it doesn’t last very long. But when my motivation is service oriented—to truly tell a story that’s inspirational and that people will benefit from—that’s what keeps me going. It’s not just about pointing out all the negative aspects of society, it’s about showing there is a solution and there are people working towards that solution.
OPW: What is your unique approach?
I’d like to think that what’s unique is the concept of remaining detached and thinking about it in terms of service. Being detached from what the ultimate project will look like allows me to be in the moment and really enjoy the process and the journey of it. It helps me let the people tell the story. My best work usually comes when I just let it happen. There’s organization, definitely, and there’s structure. There’s making sure everyone’s there and confirmed on time… But being detached allows the story to tell itself. Having a bit of that surprise and spontaneity, letting the universe decide… it’s fun.
Another thing that’s different is that I’ve been working on projects with friends, so it’s been very joyful. We’re all collectively working on a project for the benefit of the community. No matter how many disagreements and personality clashes there are, you know that the project is for the transformation of society.
One thing I’ve noticed that works is being inclusive and actually involving the people you are interviewing as part of the project. The planning, scheduling, location managing and food preparation (even for the crew), was all done by the individuals we were interviewing. Even deciding where to shoot: ‘Are you more comfortable here?’ This is stuff that filmmakers don’t usually let the subjects decide. But including them in the project brings more excitement to it. And people were definitely more comfortable. When you have a bond with the interviewee, they’re more at ease and they answer the questions in a very down-to-earth way. They understand the impact of your project and they really, truly want to help.
OPW: What unexpected things happened in making these films?
The spirit of the light of service that’s in all of these youth was so comforting to watch. They have this amazing energy of joy and care for mankind and it motivated me to keep going with it. I kept thinking, “Whoa, this is really cool! There are people who do this.” They are actually working on solutions and not sitting around complaining about it. And seeing that these are youth doing this and the potential they have… it was amazing.
OPW: What is in store for you now?
I really want to integrate service with my job: I want it to be something that’s by the community, for the community, and at the same time sustainable. The options are starting my own production company or opening a joint studio space with another friend. The more I think about it, the more I realize I will probably need to start my own thing. That’s kind of scary and difficult, but I’m also looking forward to where that adventure takes me.
OPW: What is your greatest hope?
My hope is for people to be awakened to the idea of unity and to the oneness of mankind. You see signs of it slowly emerging in different places. There’s a lot happening towards policy change and political aspirations, but there isn’t much happening at the grassroots community level towards unity. I’m hoping my work will encourage people to work on projects together that actually create lasting change.
Grassroots Documentary Series
Here’s the first episode in the Grassroots documentary series. Below are the links to the rest of the videos.
S1E2: Saba and Sina Part 2
S1E3: Teaching Children Part 1
S1E4: Teaching Children Part 2
S1E5: Jowelle vs. Chile
S1E8: Fighting Homelessness