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Independent filmmakers share their definition of the 'human experience'

By Zachary Mongillo

Students and Long Island locals gained insight on what it means to be human on Wednesday Feb. 29 at the screening of documentary film "The Human Experience." The film won the Audience Choice Award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

Those that attended the screening had the opportunity to meet an associate producer of the film, Michael Campo, and one of the humanitarian New Yorkers that the story is centered around, Jeffrey Azize. According to the film's website, the pair has done a question and answer session after the film in 14 countries and for 200,000 people.

The film tells the true story of a group of men including Azize that began their story at a "halfway house" in Brooklyn and decided that they wanted more from life. Seeking to experience life from the point-of-view of other people, they traveled through the conditions of multiple groups of people around the world. This included spending a week in the streets of Manhattan as homeless men and traveling to Ghana to visit a secluded colony of people who had been shunned from their families for having a rare condition known as leprosy.

Campo and Azize's film began as an underground and independent feature, but gained recognition as word passed from group to group. Now they spend much of their time touring campuses, religious organizations, and high schools around the globe screening the film.

"We never solicited even one call to show our film anywhere," said Azize who just returned from Honduras. "It was all through word of mouth; that's the beautiful part."

Both Campo and Azize were gracious of the praise and attention that they have been given by many people, which tend to be made up of primarily spiritual and religious groups. Here at Hofstra, many members of Christian clubs on campus were in attendance. Yet the filmmakers stressed that the film does not endorse any particular religion or spiritual denomination.

Campo mentioned that the film has a strong following from the Catholic and Christian community, but also said that all kinds of religious groups try to "claim the film as their own."

 According to Campo, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish People tend to relate the film into their own spiritual values. He said that even atheists have seen the film and claimed that the teachings were a form of "social justice."

Although both Campo and Azize confirmed to the crowd of people that they are Christians, Campo cleared up that no particular religious group is the main influence of their message.

"If people can get past the differences in what we believe, and agree that life is precious and that we can take care of each other, then the world can be a better place," said Campo.

Spirituality aside, a major thing showcased in the film, which Campo and Azize emphasized deeply, was the happiness and optimism that even those stricken with disease and poor health were still able to achieve.

"I think that there's this crazy thing in the Western world, which is that people are trying to eliminate suffering," said Azize. "I think suffering is just a part of the human experience. It's a part of life, it helps us appreciate the things that we really have. It allows us to see the world differently."

Azize claimed that Americans might enjoy life more if they were to experience the true suffering that they had to when doing things like living homeless in the city when temperatures were almost 30 degrees below freezing. Some students, taking this idea of experience true suffering as a challenge, inquired about how to try doing this on their own. The two men encouraged students to do so and claimed that it really shouldn't be too difficult.

"If there's something you really want to do, then do it. But you should take in precautions and be safe about it," claimed Campo, "Don't be afraid, make it happen.

Aside from public screenings, the film is accessible on Netflix.

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