Building Babel

Sharif El-Gamal wanted to give back to Lower Manhattan by building a community center called Park51. When the project flew into the spcial consciousness as a political football called the "Ground Zero Mosque," El-Gamal's dreams and faith were shaken.

Building babel 01
America ReFramed
Premiere Date
September 10, 2013
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call
Osit david filmmaker bio

David Osit

David Osit is a documentary film director, editor, and composer. Osit’s first feature documentary film, Building Babel, which he produced, directed, shot, edited, and composed, was a recipient of ITVS Open Call funding, broadcast as the series premiere of PBS America Reframed in 2013, and played at film festivals worldwide, including True/False and DocNYC. Osit was co-producer, composer, and sound recorder on Where Heaven Meets Hell (IDFA, HotDocs), which broadcast on the WORLD Channel’s Global Voices in 2013. Osit is an alumnus of the Tribeca Film Institute’s All Access Program and the True/False Swami program. He received his bachelorʼs degree at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan, and studied Refugee Law at the American University of Cairo. Osit received his MFA in Social Documentary Film from the School of Visual Arts in New York.

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The Film

Building Babel follows a year in the life of Sharif El-Gamal, developer of the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," a Muslim-led community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. With unlimited access to his home and office, the film paints a portrait of a Muslim-American businessman up against impossible odds.

Sharif El-Gamal, a passionate Brooklyn-born Muslim, sees Park51 as a centerpiece of his own Muslim American identity. Born of a Polish-Catholic mother and Egyptian-Muslim father, El-Gamal only turned to Islam after 9/11 shook his faith to the core, and sees Park51 as a way to give back to the Lower Manhattan community.

Married to a Muslim convert and the father of two daughters, Sharif represents an Islam that remains foreign to most Americans, especially given the way the media and politicians have continued to use Park51 as a point of controversy. Despite a principle goal of helping to rebuild Lower Manhattan, opposition to the plan has been virulent and non-stop.

Thousands of Americans have rallied against the prospect of a Muslim institution being constructed in such proximity to Ground Zero, and Park51 has become an internationally discussed symbol of Islam's relationship to the Western world. Building Babel follows Park51’s development through the daily experiences and struggles of the men and women trying to make it a reality.