Dancing on a Tightrope: Justin Mashouf’s Documentary, “Warring Factions”
Kashif Ghazanfar, Aslan Media Music Editor
Despite the fact that my own attempts at “b-boying” (Breakdancing) have proven to be a series of catastrophic gyrations that exist somewhere between a spasm and accidental vulgarity, it is a form of dance and movement that’s always amazed and impressed me. Emerging from the urban streets of America, b-boying is raw and powerful, yet, incredibly artful and athletic in it’s execution. Justin Mashouf is one such example and his documentary, “The Warring Factions” is not only infused with electrifying scenes of him and others b-boying, but it is also an incredibly thoughtful exploration on his identity as a Muslim daring to dance across two cultures and traditions seemingly at odds with one another.
To be sure, this is no ordinary Muslim and no ordinary American. Initially, one is struck by the juxtaposition of his light brown hair and fair complexion with his strong, abiding faith in Islam. Mashouf’s mother is an American and his father is an Iranian. Neither of his parents are religious and, yet, Islam seems to be central focus for Mashouf and his emerging sense of identity. In “Warring Factions,” Mashouf deals with an array of complexities concerning how to define himself amid various competing ideas of faith and culture. Quite often these complexities are not explicitly stated but, rather, understood as one absorbs the film.
Amid the various scenes of b-boying in America and in Iran, Mashouf’s documentary attempts to dispel the stereotypes Muslims and Iranians face amid the current political climate in America, so suffused with vitriol against them. His own experiences as an adolescent in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy serve as a kind of genesis for his story and informs his passionate defense of both Muslims and Iranians.
Clearly, the entertainment highlight of the film is the various scenes of b-boying. The wild athleticism and grace involved in b-boying are framed by the inherent sense of kinship and community the dancers feel for one another. As Mashouf steps into the surrounding circles of his peers to dance, amid the raucous cheers and encouraging shouts of his fellow dancers from a myriad of faiths and ethnic backgrounds, his dancing transforms into an act of faith itself and, at least for moment, he’s freed from the vexing questions of who he ought to be. He becomes, instead, who he is.