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Lovers of the World to Unite at MVFF34

Sausalito filmmaker Stephen Olsson debuts daring and ambitious 'One Through Love,' a world premiere film and global, interactive dialogue about famed Sufi poet Rumi.

The Beatles sang of it in "All You Need is Love." Bob Marley made it his signature with "One Love." Here in Marin, a film making its world premiere at the  is bringing that same message of unity through love to audiences both local and global.

One Through Love, a first-of-its-kind multimedia event celebrating the poetry and philosophy of Rumi, the 13th Century Sufi mystic, is the brainchild of Sausalito filmmaker Stephen Olsson.

Olsson's decades of experience as a globe-trotting documentarian brought him into contact with Sufism years ago through the teachings of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and a friendship with renowned Rumi translator Coleman Barks. While filming a documentary in the Moroccan city of Fez, Olsson encountered firsthand the beauty of Sufi dervishes performing at the Festival of World Sacred Music there, planting the idea of a film about Rumi in his mind.

But One Through Love is not simply a nonfiction film about the great poet. It is a meditation on the life and poetry of Rumi and his encounter with another mystic of the time, Shams of Tabriz. Combining history with poetry recitation and narrative voiceover, the film is meant to provoke reflection and discussion.

As a result, Olsson and his collaborators on the film and at MVFF have envisioned a live, global, interactive dialogue that will use the festival and local audiences as its launching point. Simultaneous with its screening at the Rafael Film Center on Saturday, Oct. 15, the film will be broadcast live on LinkTV, as will the post-screening discussion featuring Rumi scholars from around the world.

“The idea is to have audiences from around the world watch the same one-hour program and then take part in a conversation about what they’ve seen and heard,” Olsson explained in a recent telephone interview. Rumi scholars in Istanbul, Cairo and Paris will share a split-screen with local guests, and the discussion will also be joined by online audiences.

As one might expect with a poet who was born in Afghanistan to a Persian family and who eventually died in Turkey, language and translation play an important role in the project. Olsson was determined to “transcend the linguistic barriers that prevent people from hearing people,” and decided that the film would be subtitled in Farsi, Arabic, and Turkish. Simultaneous translation is a feature of the live event.

Though film was always a central component to the project, One Through Love wasn’t originally intended as a theatrical film for movie audiences. On the contrary, the project originated as a website, which Olsson and his collaborator Parisa Soultani envisioned as a hub where Rumi lovers could connect and engage with each other – the first cinematic, multi-lingual website devoted to the great poet.

But when some of his friends at the Mill Valley Film Festival saw the short films that Olsson was featuring on the site and the community of “lovers” that they attracted, they suggested that he think of a live experience that could be presented at the festival, an opportunity that he seized immediately, despite the technical challenges it presented.

To pull off the live element, which relies on streaming hook-ups to Istanbul, Cairo and Paris, Olsson has had help from festival staff and from San Rafael’s Community Media Center of Marin. For the broadcast element, he had a natural partner in the progressive cable-television news and documentary channel Link TV, where he serves as the Head of Original Programming and as the producer/director of its series “Global Spirit” (which he calls the first “internal travel” series on television). He has also made deals to broadcast One Through Love on Turkish television and Iranian diaspora stations outside of Iran.

If it all sounds heady and ambitious, it is at least in line with Olsson’s career, which has taken him everywhere from Afghanistan to Cuba to Vietnam, where he recently completed the film A Water Buffalo Named Bob, about a group of Vietnam veterans’ first return to that nation since the war.

Having been entrusted with one of the most emotionally significant moment in these retired soldiers’ lives, Olsson can’t help but reflect on how their stories might have been his own: “It really could have been me. I happened to be in university and avoided being drafted, but I’m American and I lived in that time period… And yet, I can do the work [of a documentarian] better having not been through that trauma myself.”

Fortunately for Olsson (and for MVFF audiences), trauma plays no role at the world premiere of One Through Love, where anyone curious to learn more about Rumi’s lessons can experience a cinematic ode to what Olsson calls his “transcendent message of all creation unified through love.”

The 411: One Through Love premieres on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 11:30 a.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center. Click here to buy tickets or go to mvff.com for more information.

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