Abdu’l-Baha was the eldest son of Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away on 28 November 1921, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
Across Australia young people are participating in an endeavour that strives to give them a voice in today’s society. Through the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, these junior youth groups are enhancing their power of expression, sharpening their spiritual perception, analysing the constructive and destructive forces of society and changing their surroundings through the service projects.
“Life’s Springtime” is a short film made by a group of friends involved with the junior youth activities in the Gold Coast, Australia. The film was premiered at the World Conference Gold Coast (1-3 April, 2022), one of hundreds of global gatherings called upon by the Universal House of Justice.
I was fortunate enough participate in this conference, and it was incredible to see the short film shared with everyone there and the way the crowd was moved. We just published the film on Baha’i Blog’s Youtube channel, and so I asked my friends who were behind the film, Aidan Ashford and Hyde Hassall, along with Leily Moghbelpour, who played the main character, to hear more from them about the whole experience. Here’s what they shared:
Baha’i Blog: Hi Aidan, Hyde and Leily. Can you tell us what the video is all about?
The video is about a day in the life of a junior youth who is facing everyday ordinary things. She is faced with inconsistencies in the behaviour of her parents, the temptation to block out life’s difficulties by indulging in materialism, and peer pressure at school, to name a few. This causes her initially to rebel at home, and to not perform in the classroom. Though when faced with an explicit expression of injustice in the form of bullying, her natural reaction is to show kindness to the victim. This example is intended to illustrate the forces operating in society, and the innate capacities of junior youth, which the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program (JYSEP) assists with drawing out. After school, she is approached by a member of a junior youth group who invites her to join the group. She accepts the invitation because she feels that her principles align to the aim of the group in serving their community. After their first session, the film implies that she goes home and cleans the kitchen for her parents, as was asked of her in the beginning. She realises that service to the community begins at the levels of the individual and the family, and so naturally feels the desire to contribute at home. By doing so, she helps to unite her family, and we see a glimpse of the potential of JYSEP to effect transformation.
It is about the change a young youth–that could represent anyone in a community–is going through tests and difficulties. This film goes through the process of a girl who gets introduced into the Junior Youth Empowerment Program and presents the development and transformation that happens as the program goes on.
Baha’i Blog: What was the inspiration behind making the video and how did it come about?
I think the inspiration was to create an artistic presentation about the Junior Youth Empowerment Program for the global conference, as well as to teach and show it to the community that is curious about the Junior Youth Empowerment Program.
I was talking with one of the arts presentation coordinators for the global conferences about how to express the program artistically. This first idea that popped into my head was to do a big painting with all the JY, but we talked about leaning towards something we didn’t have to explain on stage. I have wanted to make a JY movie for a while, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do one. I was trying to think about people who could help me make this movie and the first name that popped into my head was Hyde. We sat down and consulted and to my relief he agreed to join the team. I gave him the spiel about what I was thinking for the overarching story and then we both began to storyboard. It was nice that we came in with the same vision for the movie and that really helped how we prepped and approached the filming style. The next big hurdle was finding a lead JY, which after consulting with the other animators we came to a collective decision. We contacted the Moghbelpours asking them if we could pitch them an idea for the arts presentation. It was just one confirmation after another and the whole family came on board.
Baha’i Blog: What was the process of making the film like?
Roughly three weeks out from the Gold Coast conference, Aidan and I had a first meeting where he pitched the idea to me, and we immediately began brain-storming what we wanted the film to depict. We then set a meeting with the animators in Gold Coast and pitched it to them and heard their thoughts. In that meeting we also asked the animators who they recommended from their groups to be the cast.
From there, we looked through Book 5 to get some key principles and themes that we wanted to highlight and began piecing together a story-board. We attempted writing a script, but decided that it would be more effective to imply certain conversations and muffle out most of the dialogue.
We met with our potential lead actors (the Moghbelpour family) and asked if they would be happy to assist and fortunately they accepted and shared our excitement. They managed to fit in filming in their busy schedules and were so flexible and accommodating, not to mention incredibly talented actors!
Before filming, we thought of the specific shots that we wanted for each scene. We learnt as we went during the filming, as we had to adjust our ideas to our technical abilities and the settings. We didn’t use professional equipment, just a phone, and a drone for a few shots, but we were pretty optimistic that we could fake it till we made it and produce a decent quality end product. A few times we weren’t sure how to film a certain scene, and as a group with our actors we consulted on ways to go about getting footage.
There was a bit of a learning curve involved with the editing and learning of new software, but things fell into place fairly quickly towards the end.
There were a few moments where we felt that God was assisting and confirming us.Two nights out from the conference when we were editing and it was past midnight, there were times where we weren’t sure how certain scenes would piece together. It was too late to get any more footage and so we would get stuck. But each time inspiration would suddenly strike and things would fall into place, often in ways that were better than we originally imagined. A few shots also, including the drone footage, were absolute flukes, and when we watched them back we realised that something special was coming together and it wasn’t just us at the wheel!
Making this film was really fun as there was a lot of smiling faces. There was a lot of times where I couldn’t keep a straight face and bursted out laughing! I really do respect Hyde and Aidan for being patient with me and sometimes laughing with me. The space felt really open to share ideas and have fun as well as feel safe as it was surrounded by a bunch of friends and family. There was a few times where I would make eye contact with one of my friends and try to play it off and not smile.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope the viewers will take away from the video?
I hope this helps anyone with tests and difficulties to overcome their troubles. I want this film to make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling. I also hope that it will encourage people to help others who are having troubles.
It is hoped that the video might inspire a fresh sense of hope in the viewers and a greater appreciation for the aims of the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program (JYSEP). While much of society maintains a pessimistic view on human nature, the Baha’i perspective is decidedly more optimistic, considering each soul as being created noble.
As children progress into junior youth, new spiritual and intellectual powers are awakened in them that demonstrate that inherent nobility; powers such as a thirst for knowledge, an attraction to beauty, and a keen sense of justice. These powers combined with the positive or negative forces around them, influence the junior youth in various ways. JY might find that injustice, for example, will produce in them a strong sense of indignation. This feeling must be channelled appropriately if it is to produce a positive effect on the environment around them. JYSEP seeks to assist junior youth in every step along the way. Drawing on their innate spiritual powers to identify the forces operating around them, enhancing their powers of expression, and accompanying them along a path of service to act in response to the needs of their community.
The video then, is a reminder of the inherent nobility of our souls, of the reservoirs of capacity and potential latent in communities all over the world, and of the importance of the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program in helping us tap into this key resource. We hope it might inspire people to see in each individual a potential protagonist of positive change in their communities, and to accompany them to fulfil this purpose.
Baha’i Blog: Is there anything else you would like to share?
I felt the need to share about one of the bloopers that we all laughed at. There was this deleted scene of me making a sandwich (taking the bread out, putting peanut butter and jam on it, etc.) And I remember telling Hyde and Aidan that I would narrate what I was doing because they would mute it later, and all I was able to say was “I am taking the bread out” but I started bursting out laughing and snorting for the entire scene and I actually started crying by the amount of laughing I was doing, so they decided to just keep the one scene of me cutting the bread. Another time was I was supposed to turn the one half of the sandwich onto the other half and cut it but it slipped and fell face-down onto the cutting board leaving a thick slob of peanut butter on the cutting board!
We are so grateful to everyone involved. There were a couple days that we needed to shoot last minute scenes, and everyone was always down to help. A huge thank you to all the JY involved as they persevered through shooting multiple scenes over and over again, so we were able to get the right shot. Everyone really got right into their roles as we were shooting, and it was very impressive to see this younger generation’s ability stay focused and stay in character. Our star, Leily Moghbelpour, was amazing and she was always giving Hyde and I ideas about how to shoot the scene. It was a nice collaborative process that brought this movie together. Another big thank you to our animators and parents who were involved: we couldn’t have done it without you guys.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you Hyde, Aidan and Leily, for taking the time to tell us about your short film, and congratulations to you and everyone involved in making it happen! We all hope to see more!
To find out about a conference taking place in your area, contact your local Baha’i community, or learn more about the world conferences taking place across Australia here: www.conferences.bahai.org.au
Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.