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The Independent Critic

Richard McKinney, Dana McKinney, Emily McKinney, Bibi Bahrami, Saber Bahrami, Jomo Williams
Joshua Seftel
29 Mins.

 "Stranger at the Gate" takes Doc Short Grand Prize at Indy Shorts 
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I was familiar with the story of Richard McKinney before I sat down to watch Joshua Seftel's award-winning short film Stranger at the Gate, a film that captures the rather remarkable story of the former Marine known as Mac. 

Having served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mac returned home a severely scarred man with a deep hatred for Muslims and a deep resentment that he found Muslims openly within his hometown near Muncie, Indiana. Reaching the point where he began plotting and planning a terrorist attack that he hoped would claim at least 200 lives at the Islamic Center of Muncie, it was a chance encounter that his own daughter had with a Muslim at her school that led McKinney toward a journey he hoped would affirm his belief that they were evil and that his plan was justified. 

Instead, Mac found acceptance and a community. 

As a Hoosier myself, I've been familiar with McKinney's story. In fact, Stranger at the Gate is not even the first short film I've seen about his journey and the remarkable twists and turns it caused in his own life. Yet, it's not surprising that Stranger at the Gate has proven to be an award-winning film including picking up a Special Jury Mention as Best Doc Short at Tribeca and now capturing the grand prize for doc short at the Academy Award-qualifying Indy Shorts in my own hometown of Indianapolis. 

McKinney makes for a compelling figure, a relentlessly transparent man who speaks openly about his past and about the fears he felt the first time he stepped inside the Islamic Center of Muncie and the rather astounding transformation that unfolded when those present within the mosque welcomed him despite their acknowledged momentary wariness. The film largely centers around McKinney himsef along with his ex-wife Dana and their daughter Emily along with three specific members of the mosque - Saber Bahrami, an area family physician, his wife Bibi, and Jomo Williams, a Muncie resident who converted to Islam at age 21. 

Stranger at the Gate is a simple, powerful story illustrating that hearts and minds can be transformed. During this time when it seems society is ruled by so much division, a film like Stranger at the Gate is a soothing cinematic salve and a truly moving motion picture. Very likely to be remembered come awards season, Stranger at the Gate is a story of hope, healing, and transformation.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic