Farmington Hills Filmmaker’s Passion Shows in New Documentary

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11.jpgAndré Anton’s “Defying Deletion: The Fight Over Iraq’s Nineveh Plains,” which tells the plight of Christian Assyrians in Iraq, debuts Wednesday during the Detroit International Film Festival.
André Anton may live in Farmington Hills, but part of his heart rests in a country halfway around the world.

Anton’s new documentary, Defying Deletion: The Fight Over Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, debuts Wednesday at the Detroit Independent Film Festival (DIFF). The journey to that moment, however, began when the Wayne State graduate won a contest that gave him a shot at his first video project: a TV news interview with Miss Canada.

Working with a friend, Anton took a comedic approach, unsure whether the television station would appreciate it. “Surprisingly, they loved it,” he said. The spot got airtime in the San Francisco area and in Europe, he added.

As he got closer to graduation, Anton became more interested in film and decided to attend the Motion Picture Institute (MPI) in Troy. But his Canadian project was seen by a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, who had interviewed Christian Assyrians in Iraq and promised the people she met that “she would make sure their voices were heard,” he said.

Her search for a filmmaker to share those interviews ended with Anton and his company, Lamassu Productions. “She brought me about 20 hours of testimonials. I’m glad she trusted me, and I’ve lived up, I think, to her expectations,” he said.

The interviews share the story of what Anton describes as the “genocide” of the Christian Assyrians by al-Qaida. He lost two cousins in an attack on a Catholic church late last year.

Interview subjects include a mother whose 10-year-child was headed to his second job of the day, in the early morning hours. Widows find themselves struggling to survive in a culture where women are traditionally dependent on men. Other Assyrians have been kidnapped, beaten and held for ransom.

Anton admits he was intimidated at first by the idea of having to craft the 20 hours of interviews into such a weighty story.

“I knew what I was taking on needed a 100 percent commitment,” he said. “I did it out of my own pocket, on my own time.” That meant working on the project while he was also working full time—and sacrificing time with his family, who wondered why he was devoting so much time to a story they felt nobody would want to hear.

The 2 1/2-year project opened his eyes to the ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide of the Assyrians, also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs. Anton, who is Assyrian, said two-thirds of his culture has been lost.

“It’s an issue of humanity,” he said. “What kept me motivated was the stories and making sure those voices are heard.”

Entering the documentary into film festivals is another step in that process, he added. In addition to DIFF, the film is in the finals of three other festivals and has finished among the finalists in others.

Anton is now working on a documentary about the history of boxing and its importance to the city of Detroit. He loves the city and the state, but he’s concerned the cuts in incentives for the film industry proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder could force him to move.

“Hopefully, if we keep the incentives, I can stay here with my family and do the work that I love,” he said. “I believe if I pursue it long enough, I think I’m definitely talented and have the right motivation, and I’ll be able to make this my career.”

Defying Deletion will premiere Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Ren Cen 4 Theater in the Renaissance Center in Detroit. For more information about the Detroit International Film Festival, visit detroitiff.slated.com/2011.

The film will also be showing Friday at 9:30 p.m. at the Uptown Birmingham 8 Theater in downtown Birmingham for the Uptown Film Festival.

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