The Christchurch Mosque shootings last year have changed lives forever. Virginia Wright took on the challenging task to create a documentary about six families and their journey through trauma and grief.
Six families, six stories: Mustafa Boztas, who was injured escaping from Al Noor Mosque; Aya Al-Umari, whose brother, Hussein, was killed; Noraini Abbas, whose 14-year-old son, Sayyad, lost his life; Farid Ahmed, who lost his wife, Husna, when she went back into the mosque to rescue him; Ahmede Yesuf shot in Al Noor; and Angela Armstrong who lost her mother Linda Armstrong in the Linwood Mosque. Christchurch producer-director Virginia Wright accompanied these families throughout the year and created a compassionate portrait.
"Everything started with an email", Virginia explains, "a British crew who was in the progress of producing a 3-part series "Living in the Shadow of Terror" for BBC 2 approached me straight after the shootings. The team was looking for a local documentary maker who had experience in dealing with vulnerable people." That's how Virginia got involved in having first-hand experience with many of the survivors. "It felt good to be part of something useful. That's when I felt that this story has to be told in New Zealand for New Zealanders."
One of the challenges at the beginning was to find participants for the documentary, especially female ones. Lucky for Virginia and her crew, Norraini Abbas, her son Shuyab and his friend Aamir Khan agreed to take part just before they embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Aya followed their lead shortly afterwards.
This trip to Mecca plays a key part in the documentary. The pilgrimage to perform Hajj was funded by the Saudi King for 200 of the survivors. Virginia realised quickly how important this trip was: "the pilgrimage played a crucial part in helping the survivors to deal with their situation and to start a healing process."
Even though the families still have a long way to go, the documentary doesn't paint a dark picture of the situations the families are in. The participant's positive attitude and pragmatism in dealing with their grief as best as they could, impressed Virginia very much: "I also feel that they are very mindful of the support of fellow New Zealanders which helps them to deal with the situation a little better."
Virginia Wright gave the families the opportunity to tell their story in their own words - the result is a successful documentary which focuses on the present and the future and allows the families to move on with their lives.
Looking ahead is also Virginia herself. The Christchurch documentary maker has a new and exciting project in the pipeline which is connected to the work on "We Are One". While making the documentary she met Bariz Shah and his wife Saba Afrasyabi who started a project to honour the 51 Christchurch mosque attack victims. The young couple travelled to their former homeland Afghanistan to micro-finance 51 projects and businesses based in the streets of Kabul. Support came from different New Zealand organisations including the University of Canterbury and $20,000 in donations to a fundraising page. Bariz and Saba documented their time in Afghanistan and Virginia (producer) and Vanessa Wells (director) are planning to make a documentary about this project as soon as the funding is secured.
The documentary "We Are One: The Mosque Attacks One Year On" is available to watch on TVNZ on Demand.