An Arabic expression of thanks translates as 'I show my appreciation by focusing my eyes on you' -suggesting that truths of the heart can be expressed by focusing one's eyes and conversely that eyes are the gateway to the heart. This nexus between sight and sincerity inspires the American Islamic Congress' proposal of a contest to encourage young Middle Easterners to investigate key aspects of moral character via the creation of short films. Compelling character development, after all, lies at the heart of great cinema. 'From the Eyes to the Heart' proposes a two year effort to spur the production of outstanding short films by the Middle East's emerging generation of thinkers. It entails launching an annual online film competition and then featuring winning works at start-up human rights film festivals in cities across the Middle East. The project enables budding filmmakers to express themselves and acquire experience with merit-based competition in a region where both are constained. Short films already make a profound impact on young Middle Easterners' perceptions of character-but these are suicide bombers' 'martyrdom' videos. Islamist propaganda hijacks new technology to bombard youth with graphic viral videos. Our contest by contrast will offer cash incentives and screening venues for films that explore humility, curiosity, entrepreneurialism, future-mindedness, and diligence. Thus reformers themselves will construct positive counterparts to Islamists' messaging. We intend to solicit 300 films and screenplays, award $40,000 in prizes to outstanding filmmakers, organize five human rights film festivals, and attract 140,000 viewers to these works. We aim to inspire films that become cultural reference points and jumpstart the careers of artists whose work can continue to shape popular values. The contest will foster the values it celebrates by inspiring young thinkers to pursue their dreams through hard work, humility, and hope for a brighter future.
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