July 22nd, 2010
05:07 PM ET
What links a single mother from Colombia who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with an ancient Muslim mosque in India? Both are the subjects of award-winning short films about faith, honored Thursday by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
The foundation - a project the former British prime minister launched after leaving office - challenged young people to make movies about religion. Entries came in from around the world and were judged by a high-profile panel that included actors Hugh Jackman, Jet Li and Natalie Portman, Queen Rania of Jordan, and Blair himself.
The winners were announced Thursday in London.
They're a diverse group, ranging from Esteban Pedraza's highly personal "People I Know," a technically accomplished introduction to his mother and best friend, to "The Guide," by Shiv Tandan, which appears to be a straightforward tourism video until Tandan reveals a surprise in the last seconds of the film.
They're all part of Blair's aim of bridging barriers between people of different religions, especially young people.
"What I can do is to create programs to bring people of different faiths together," he told CNN just before the winners were announced.
That goal resonates with Tariq Chowdhury, an observant Muslim in Britain.
He set out to show the diversity of faiths in London, but also what links them.
It wasn't always easy.
"When I turned up at one of the largest Hindu temples in London, they see me, I've got a beard, clearly I am person who is Muslim, there is tension there already," he said.
But he managed to explore six religions, and grew himself in the process, he said.
"The journey of making the film was far more incredible than what the film would suggest, and it's sad that I am the only person who went through that," he said.
London has seen bombings in the name of Islam and by the Irish Republican Army - a Catholic group - in Chowdhury's lifetime, but he completely rejects the idea that the violence is motivated by religion.
"To associate those two things is wrong," he said. The thread that unites religions, he argued, is "the instruction toward being kind and compassionate towards everyone, and this is found in the texts of all the six major religions that I featured in my film."
Pedraza, a film student at New York University, is who he is today because his mother made decisions based on her faith, he said.
A young single mother, she left Colombia and moved first to Miami, Florida, and then Nashville with Esteban in tow, not sure why she was doing it.
"She felt like God was telling her to move there," he said, though she had never been to Nashville.
And it wasn't easy, he said.
"Every night she just prayed to God for hours and hours for him to show her why we were there and to show her a path, and you know, he came through on that," he said. She's now a successful businesswoman putting him through college.
While Pedraza focuses on his own faith and that of those closest to him, Tandan, whose film is about a mosque in India, urges believers to learn about other religions.
"It doesn't matter which faith you are and it doesn't matter what the other faith is. What matters is whether you know the other faith as well as you do yours," he said.
The results of that understanding will invariably be positive, he said.
The message of his movie, he said, "was that no matter what faith you are, you should know the other faiths as well, and then, what I feel is that inevitably you will fall in love."
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.