Joshua Seftel interview: ‘Stranger at the Gate’

Since Joshua Seftel started chronicling Mac McKinney for his short documentary, “Stranger at the Gate,” he’s gotten to see McKinney’s reactions to some of the more high profile incidents of violence against Muslims. Specifically, he recalled McKinney’s reaction to the tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand where a man shot up two mosques and killed over 50 people. “Mac, I remember, told me, ‘That was me.’ He was like, it could have been me. He sees his old self in these kinds of acts of hate,” he tells Gold Derby during our recent web chat (watch the exclusive video interview above).

While McKinney does see his old self when these kinds of incidents occur, he also views himself as a possible part of a solution. “He also, I think, sees himself as someone who could be a messenger, someone who could show them another way. That’s what I think is really powerful about his story.”

SEE Watch interviews with 2023 Oscar contenders

“Stranger at the Gate,” which can currently be viewed on YouTube, shows McKinney’s journey as a Marine coming home from several deployments with a seething hatred towards Muslims. The hatred inside him reached such a level that he decided to plan and carry out a mass shooting at the Islamic center in his hometown of Muncie, Indiana. When he went to scope out the location in advance of his planned attack, he found himself so taken with the kindness and generosity of the worshippers that ended up going down a completely different path of love and understanding. The short film was recently nominated for Best Documentary Short at the 95th Academy Awards. It marks Seftel’s first Oscar nomination.

The film is the latest in Seftel’s filmography that deals with Islamophobia in the United States. His decision to chronicle this comes from the prejudice that he faced when he was growing up as a young Jewish boy in a small town in upstate New York. “Kids would throw pennies at me in the hall in order to show me that Jews were cheap. Someone threw a rock through the front window of our house. That just stuck with me.” After the events of 9/11, Seftel saw the increase in hostility that American Muslims were facing and decided to do something about it. “I felt like, you know, I’m a filmmaker now. What can I do to help? And so I started making films about American Muslims and creating a platform to tell Muslim stories. It’s a big part of my mission these days as a filmmaker.”

On the morning of the Oscar nominations, Seftel had to be persuaded to record him and his team reacting to the nominations announcement, which you can view on his Instagram page. “I really didn’t want to record that moment because I was doubtful that we would be included. You know, maybe I’m a pessimist at heart but I think I didn’t want to get my hopes up.” Seftel is excited about the nomination, not only for what it means for the film but also for the larger mission he’s been focused on over the years. “It’s part of a mission that we’ve been on to try to tell these stories about hate and love and open people’s eyes. It’s a way to share the message with the world and to get it on to the world stage.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

UPLOADED Feb 8, 2023 7:31 pm