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Oscar-nominated film set in Muncie tells powerful story of love conquering hate

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 15:38:08-05

MUNCIE — The 2023 Oscar awards are quickly approaching and this year an Indiana story is being recognized in Hollywood's biggest night of the year.

The heart wrenching short film "Stranger at the Gate," set in Muncie, Indiana is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film.

WRTV spoke with Bibi Bahrami and Jewish filmmaker, Joshua Seftel about the film.

Bahrami, an Afghan refugee, had just come out of a coma in 2020, when she was asked by Seftel to appear in the documentary about an experience she lived through in 2009.

"I heard about this story in a newspaper article. And at the time I was making a set of short films about American Muslim stories," Seftel told WRTV.

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"Stranger at the Gate" tells the story of Bahrami and the members of her mosque in Muncie, who encounter U.S Marine Mac McKinney, who has a secret plan to bomb their community center.

The 30-minute film tells the story of Bahrami and the members of her mosque in Muncie, who encounter U.S Marine Mac McKinney, who has a secret plan to bomb their community center.

"He goes to the mosque to do some reconnaissance and when he gets there, he comes face to face with the congregants and the people he's planning to kill. And that's when the story takes an unexpected turn I'd say," Seftel said.

The film features testimony from McKinney himself, his wife and his stepdaughter.

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The film briefly takes you back to Mckinney's (pictured) time in Afghanistan and Iraq to his plans to bomb the mosque in 2009 and what ultimately led to his change of heart.

Bahrami now considers McKinney, the man who planned to kill her and other Muslims at the Islamic Center like a brother to her.

"People can learn a lot from this message. And it's a simple act. That every human being can do it... and it's nothing costly, not gonna be difficult task. Just a simple act of kindess," Bahrami said.

The film briefly takes you back to McKinney's time in Afghanistan and Iraq to his plans to bomb the mosque in 2009 and what ultimately led to his change of heart.

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It's a story of compassion, transformation and healing.

"It's an American story. The fact that it unfolded in Muncie, Indiana -- that's the setting of this place and I think it's a perfect setting," Seftel said. "It's in the middle of the country, it's a very American place in many ways and the way this story works out and the way that people come together, I believe, shows us a kind of America that could exist, that could happen in the future... and I hope what happens in this story can happen in other places too and we can come together as a nation."

The story was executive produced by Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner known for her work in education and equality. The activist was shot by the Taliban at age 15 for publicly speaking against the ban on girls' education.

The 2023 Oscar-Nominated short film can be viewed for free, here.

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"It is truly a blessing and humbling. It feels great for me personally, I'm very grateful. But I am very extremely grateful for the message that will be shared in Hollywood," Bahrami said.

Tune into the Oscars on March 12 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Check out the full interview with WRTV's Marc Mullins and film director Joshua Seftel:

Interview with Joshua Seften