Jumping On The Fire

My friend and dance teacher Rouhi invited me to join her community for Norouz, the Persian New Year celebration that has been observed for over 3,000 years. “We jump on the fire!” she explained.
“Don’t you mean over?” I asked hopefully.
“That’s what we do!” She replied with a beautiful smile and a toss of her mane of black hair.

Sometimes the idioms confuse me. “I kill you” in English is an awkward translation of a charming Farsi phrase that means something like, I love you so much I could eat you up. Jigar is said with a deep-throated rrr that is almost a growl, and is a term of endearment that means liver, as in, I think of you like my liver, which is pretty darned important to me.

In her dance classes we joke that Rouhi is the Queen of Iran as she watches us with eyes in the back of her head. She wants each dancer to find her own way of interpreting the steps, so that our differences are honored. She pushes us to move beyond being unsure and uncoordinated, to dancing like water, snakes, the wind, and the essential and eternal feminine. She demands our best and makes us work hard, but we slack off when she disappears to have a cigarette. (She smokes for heaven’s sake. What kind of example is that?!)


When my mind wanders she shoots me a sharp look. “Lydia, Jigar, concentrate or I kill you.” I’m pretty sure she means it in that good way. The night before the Persian New Year the hills of Los Angeles are blooming and the moon is bright. Throughout the city and on the beaches, fires are burning for this ancient Zoroastrian celebration of “new light” and “new day.” Parents take the hands of their children and leap over the fires together. The eyes of the little ones are full of amazement.


The forbidden fire that must not be touched or played with, is now inexplicably turned into a friend on this wonderful night. Teenage boys and girls tease each other and try to flirt and look bored at the same time—as if nothing matters, when it is clear that everything matters as much as it ever will in these precious moments in the firelight. A toddler practices her dance moves with the intensity of a diva. An old man with a walker seems content to watch from his fixed placed. A dapper Iranian man asks me to dance and says I look very happy. None of us are purists about the Persian aspects of the celebration. Santiago shows me a complicated salsa move. Michael holds me close through the tango. The DJ adds hip hop to the cultural remix. Rouhi is someone who welcomes all and celebrates all. She decorates the studio to honor all of the holidays observed by this dancing community of Muslins, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Bahá’í, and Buddhists. If people who say they are “spiritual but not religious” invented a holiday—she would decorate for that too.


We run and jump over the Norouz fires again and again, while the joyful noise of the music blares and the celebratory mood lifts our laughter to the sky with the rising smoke. I’m told that as we leap over the fire we are releasing the yellow energy of the fear and pain we have held within us, and inviting the red energy of courage and vitality embodied by the fire. We are One in this celebration and in our shared desire that this year be better than the last.
The great Persian poet Hafiz wrote, “I have learned so much from God that I can no longer call myself a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, A Buddhist, a Jew. The Truth has shared so much of Itself with me that I can no longer call myself a man, a woman, an angel, or even pure Soul. Love has befriended Hafiz so completely it has turned to ash and freed me of every concept and image my mind has ever known.”


At our next dance class Rouhi is beaming, “Wasn’t that fun!” Oh, yes, Jigar.

Music From London

I met singer-songwriter Lee Harris at the British Film Institute screening of TWO SPIRITS at the arts complex on the banks of the Thames in London. After the film we walked over the bridge in the rain to a little Indian restaurant. Our conversation was not that of new friends getting acquainted, but of old friends newly reunited with a lifetime of catching up to do. We shared our histories and our dreams. We talked about the projects we were each making and what might happen next.

Lee saved the day shortly thereafter when I returned to post-production in the U.S. to revise the film for PBS and needed to quickly replace a piece of music. It’s in a key sequence where Fred describes who he is to his family and asks for their support. It was just the right place for the instrumental version of Lee’s piece Hollow. Here is Lee claiming Wicked Game in a powerful one-take performance that provides a larger sense of his musical work.


“In Western culture, when they say a girl, there’s automatically an assumption that girl is female. And the same with a boy. If they say boy, oh, that’s a boy. We never pause to think that, could that boy be a female?” –Dr. Wesley Thomas

“Our gender expression is a way of expressing an eternal truth of how we reflect God or Goddess or, you know, the Great Mystery or the Great Spirit, or however you want to say who that power is. We say Klumuah. It means the energy that holds everything together.” –Richard Lafortune



What if a drug tested by a pharmaceutical company as medically “legitimate” also affected the body, mind, and spirit in a combination of ways not everyone is comfortable with—making sex more intense and pleasurable, stimulating libido, increasing empathy and feelings of love, and alleviating fear? Would the FDA sanction it? Would the DEA stay away from it? Would society approve of it? And would it make life better, worse, or just more maddeningly complicated?

RISE is set in the fictional town of Rise, Arizona, and mines the richly connected relationships of its ensemble cast of characters to explore the complexities, curses, and blessings of sexuality, as well as the universal desire to find real fulfillment and feel good. Like people everywhere, the characters in RISE are willing to take risks as they seek satisfying and meaningful lives, risks that often have downsides, whether they acknowledge them or not.

In Rise, people either know, or think they know, everyone else’s business. Despite massive layoffs at the nearby open-pit copper mine, there are enough new people in Rise to support businesses like the Wine Bar Café and the updated coffee shop that try so hard to be hip. A small new-age enclave and a clothing-optional hot-springs resort are dramatic new additions to a rural culture in which conservative congregations swell on Sundays, and where businesses post Bible verses on their marquees.


Every year, untold tens of thousands of women around the world are killed every year for wanting to work, refusing to live in polygamy, asking for a divorce, not wearing traditional clothing, wanting to have a say about who they marry, or for pursuing an education.

They can also be killed for reasons that have nothing to do with their own actions. Rape victims are sometimes killed by the men in their families to restore family honor. An older husband strangled his virgin bride in bed because he was embarrassed by his inability to have sex with her. A young woman had her throat cut when her name was mentioned in a love poem on the radio.

■ Honor killings are most often committed by the men in the family—by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and cousins of the victims, sometimes with help from the women of the family.

 Honor killings are sometimes disguised as suicides by offering a girl the terrible choice of death by her own hand swallowing pills or jumping out of a window, or being killed in a more painful and slow way.

 Many women who are killed for honor simply disappear and are never even reported missing, because it is the families who have caused the disappearance.


IN HER HONOR focuses on three stories intertwined over three acts—a Christian story, a Hindu story, and a Muslim story. The Christian story is important to include in order to inoculate the film against being commandeered by anti-Islamic groups. The film will reflect the range of cultures where honor killings are commonly found, but rather than focusing on places like Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, or India, the film focuses instead on crimes committed in the United States, Canada, Germany, and the UK.

The three stories will not be similar events in different cultural contexts, but rather stories chosen to illuminate very different aspects of honor killings and the consequences in the short- and long-term. The film will explore the psychological and historical roots of honor killings but won’t rely on talking heads or experts to do so; this information will come through the voices of the men who have committed these acts. These characters will speak not only about their lives, their families and their communities, but the details of their crimes and the aftermath.

IN HER HONOR explores beliefs rooted in thousands of years of history. It shows how these beliefs cause a cycle of suffering and damage to everyone involved—for generations.

IN HER HONOR challenges the tribal, religious, and family beliefs that justified these killings over the millennia, at their very root. The film covers some difficult emotional territory, but in the redemptive third act will tell a story that shows a powerful transformation.

A man who killed for honor—and who we meet in the first act and see again seeming to defend his actions in the second act—will describe his deep remorse, his journey to understanding, and his work to stop honor killings. He now risks his life to challenge a traditional view of women that he believes must be changed throughout the world. It’s a story audiences have not seen before and it shows that we can change ideas that are deeply destructive. The power of seeing someone who has become a global bogeyman transformed into a figure for whom we have compassion provides the emotional power of the film.


T H E    D I R E C T O R ’ S    V I S I O N

IN HER HONOR will be faithful to the facts of every story told and will also use the best tools of fictional storytelling to serve the artistic goals of the film. Documentary interviews with family members and those associated closely with each story will be included, but as a relatively small part of the film. The audience will be immersed in the reality of what happened as it happened in a cinematic style that was used successfully in theatrical documentary films such as Touching The Void and Man On Wire. It also pulls the audience into the intimate psychological experience of others in the way Waltz With Bashir was able to mine the depths of the memoir form on the screen.

The scenes of family life in IN HER HONOR will emphasize the kind of rich detail that brings an unfamiliar world close to the audience—as was so beautifully accomplished in the Academy Award-winning Born Into Brothels. Even interviews and b-roll will be shot with the same attention to rich filmic detail, so that all of the elements of IN HER HONOR will be equally polished. The stories of the film will be dramatically illustrated using the highest-quality production values, including professional actors and wardrobe, full crews, locations, and a cinematic score. We’ll take the audience into the lives of people who have strongly-held traditional views that may be very different from ours, but who are human beings living inside the kinds of emotional dynamics of family life that are familiar to all of us.

The film opens with an extended family gathered around a table eating in tense silence. After dinner, behind closed doors, a daughter who is not present is being discussed. It is she who has caused the family’s honor to be questioned by refusing the marriage chosen for her. She is dearly loved, but because she will not change her mind there is no other option.


The voiceover explaining these events comes from an interview with her father. He made the decision to kill her, have the family hide her body, and make sure her disappearance was unreported.

For the first time, IN HER HONOR turns the tables by focusing on the untold stories of the men who commit honor killings. It enters domains where men are the final authority, women have power only to the extent of their support of male authority, and murder is defended with the logic: “A man is like gold; when he is dirtied he can be washed clean. But a woman is like silk; she cannot be cleaned and must be destroyed.




A Film by Lydia Nibley

Produced by Say Yes Quickly, Riding The Tiger, Just Media

More information at www.twospirits.org

TWO SPIRITS interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at the largely unknown history of a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders.

Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at sixteen by a young man who bragged to friends that he had “bug-smashed a fag.” TWO SPIRITS explores the life and death of a boy who was also a girl and the essentially spiritual nature of gender and sexuality. The film makes the case that in the twenty-first century we need to return to traditional values.


Rock music icon and political activist Patti Smith contributed music to the production, as did a number of Native artists who record with Canyon Records.

Producer and co-writer Russell Martin’s bestselling books have been translated into numerous languages and the television and film projects to which he has contributed have won numerous awards. The international television documentary, Beethoven’s Hair, based on his book of the same name, has been screened at film festivals and broadcast throughout the world. It has received three Gemini Awards, and the Festival Director’s Prize at the International Television Film Festival.

Henry Ansbacher is an Executive Producer of TWO SPIRITS and the Executive Director of Just Media. His film Iron Ladies of Liberia has been broadcast around the world and his film They Killed Sister Dorothy aired on HBO and won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival and was short-listed for an Academy Award nomination in 2008. His film The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009.

Editor Darrin Navarro edited Bug for famed director William Friedkin, and the film received the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. He produced and edited the documentary film The Painter’s Voice, also directed by William Friedkin, as well as the feature films Grace; Momma’s Man, an official selection at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival; Hate Crime, an official selection at the 2005 Palm Spring International Film Festival, and numerous other shorts, documentaries, and features.

David A. Armstrong, Two Spirits’ director of photography, began his career in documentary film and has since served as the principal cinematographer for more than a dozen feature films, including the films in the Saw horror series. He has also shot numerous television productions including Crime & Punishment and Lyric Cafe.

Supervising Sound Editor and Sound Designer Ron Eng’s credits include Coraline, Lakeview Terrace, Darfur Now, Bug, Vanilla Sky, Mulholland Drive, Independence Day, and Return to Neverland, among many other films.


More information at www.twospirits.org


A radio piece by Lydia Nibley broadcast internationally by the BBC

The story begins in front of Picasso’s great painting Guernica on September 11, 2001, and continues on a journey to the town of Gernika in Basque country in northern Spain, a town destroyed during the Spanish Civil War by a new kind of warfare, a strike from the sky against a symbolic target, with many innocent people dead as a means of terrorizing the civilian population.

When I asked the young Basque woman acting as my interpreter about current ETA terrorism, she offered comments sympathetic to their cause, repeating the phrase, “It’s complicated,” as if to assure me that if I understood more, I would see their violent acts as entirely justified. Masses for the dead in the U.S. were being said throughout Europe in the days after September 11th, and the piece uses ambient sound collected in public places and in churches to approach the subject of how complicated these events are both in the moment and historically.

Picasso said, “War’s end. Hostilities go on forever.” But in this story we find there is also an equal and enduring kinship shared by those who have suffered the violence that comes to the innocent. The ideologies and politics that perpetrate violence are sometimes forgotten and forgiven, and a deep connection links those who have survived terror—and their compassion for each other is enduring.