Filmmaker Ahsen Nadeem has embarked on a strange journey throughout his life. Born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia who later moved to Ireland, Nadeem met a woman who wasn’t Muslim and kept the relationship secret from them. In his search for faith and meaning, he was drawn to a Buddhist sect in Japan, whose monks were generally hostile to him, save for one, Ryushin, who listens to heavy metal music and represents an incredibly interesting set of contradictions.
Nadeem himself played an unexpectedly large role in his documentary Crows are White, which tracks his trips to Japan and his grappling with the conflicting parts of his identity. I had the chance to speak with Nadeem, who is at SXSW where his film is making its world premiere, about the experience of getting to know Ryushin, how the film’s other subjects have received the film, and how he feels about his connection to religion.
You can watch the video above, and read below for an official summary and where to watch.
For over a thousand years, a secretive Buddhist sect has lived in an isolated monastery in Japan performing acts of extreme physical endurance in their pursuit of enlightenment. A filmmaker, struggling to reconcile his desires with his faith, sets off to the strict monastery in search of answers. When he arrives, his presence is not welcomed and the only monk who will speak with him is an outcast who prefers ice cream and Slayer to meditation. Together they forge an unlikely friendship that leads them to higher truths and occasionally, a little trouble. Shot over five years on three continents, Crows are White is an exploration of truth, faith and love, from the top of a mountain to the bottom of a sundae.
Crows are White makes its world premiere in the Documentary Spotlight section at the SXSW Film Festival.