This is something you normally do not see on my blog – an interview with a documentary filmmaker. However, I’ve been wanting to add something more to this blog. When I was approached by Vinu Joseph to help get the word out about his new documentary film, Fort Dix 5 , I jumped at it. After swapping a few emails with Vinu and watching the trailer, I had the opportunity to interview him. Here is my interview with Vinu Joseph.
How did you get involved with this case?
I really wanted to do a documentary to submit to the film festivals, and I could not find a good topic. So I contacted a film screener who works for Sundance and asked him for some guidance. He told me I needed to find a topic or subject that would interest me and that I would be passionate about. I was going through a friend’s Facebook page one day when I saw a flyer for an event hosted by Projectsalam.org in Philadelphia. I called the organizer, Lynn Jackson who is the Director of Project Salam, and told her I was looking to film a documentary and wanted to come to the event to get more information. I went to the meeting and after leaving that meeting, I knew that the Fort Dix 5 case was perfect for my documentary.
Why do you think this documentary is important for the general public?
I think the Fort Dix 5 documentary is important because there has been a lot of misconceptions about this case. The only news that the public has received about this case was what was relayed to them through the media. The case made international headlines in 2007. There are several key facts and vital information that I believe shows that the Duka brothers never knew of a plot to attack Fort Dix.
The plot the government alleges that the Fort Dix five had conspired was actually scripted by the FBI and two government informants. The government hired two criminal informants who had extensive criminal backgrounds, and they were paid a quarter of a million dollars each for their role. The FBI spent an estimated 2 million dollars on this case and Governor Chris Christie repeatedly uses the Fort Dix Five case to bolster his presidential campaign. I believe that after seeing the Fort Dix 5 Documentary, the general public will have better understanding on the Fort Dix 5 case. It will lay out all the facts and let the general public make their own decision about this case.
Tell us about a short brief on the case…
The Fort Dix 5 is about five young men. Three brothers, Dritan Duka , Shain Duka and Eljvir Duka who are ethnic Albanians. They had their own roofing business in Cherry Hill. Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer is Eljvir Duka’s brother-in-law, a Palestinian cab driver from Jordan, was a naturalized United States citizen. Serdar Tatar, born in Turkey and his parents owned a pizza shop near Fort Dix, NJ. They were all friends, and they took a vacation to the Poconos in January of 2006. They did things you and I would normally do on a vacation. They went horseback riding, they were pulling pranks on some of the guys that were sleeping, and they went to the range to shoot some guns.
They had recorded their vacation and took it to a local electronic store in Mt. Laurel, NJ to make copies to give to their friends. The clerk who was copying the tape saw a a group of guys shooting guns and yelling “Allah Akbar, which means God is great in Arabic. He called the FBI, and the FBI came to the store to view the tape. The FBI immediately started an investigation and brought an informant to infiltrate the group. Later, they brought in a second informant, who was also Albanian, to try to seal the deal. This resulted in a 16-month investigation by the FBI. The Duka Brothers and Mohmad Shnewer were sentenced to life in prison, and Serdar Tatar was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Where will the general public be able to view this documentary?
We will be submitting it to Sundance in August of 2016. We will keep the public updated through our Facebook page, and our social media sites.
How difficult and time consuming is it to make a documentary?
I knew going into this that this would be a difficult documentary. The case is very complex, and the amount of evidence is overwhelming. I had to go through the FBI recordings, transcripts, and court papers to get a good Idea about the case. There are hundreds of pages of transcripts and court hearings. David Brown, who is a family friend of the Dukas and also has done extensive research on this case, helped me understand the Fort Dix 5 case. That is only one aspect of making the documentary. I had to find a good cinematographer, audio engineer, editor, and the list goes on. I also have to deal with marketing, social media and financing. Making a documentary is not as simple as you may think. You have to be willing to put in a lot of time and effort if you want to be successful. That goes for anything in life.
What inspired you to do this particular documentary?
I believe that this case is a very interesting case. The Dukas and Schnewers are very nice people. I had a chance to speak to both families, and what happened to these young men is very unfortunate, but this case is not uncommon. I believe the public has a right to see the facts and evidence to be able to make their own decision. Sometimes, the media can sway peoples opinion and that is the case with the Fort Dix 5. Even today, people don’t have all the facts and solely base their opinion on what they heard from media. I want to change that perception. I want to show them the facts, the evidence, things that the public has not been able to view. I want the public to understand that these five young men who all had families were sent away to prison for a crime they did not commit. It was a case of preemptive prosecution. It was a manufactured case by two Government informants who had their own interest and motives.
What is the current status of the Fort Dix Five?
The Duka Brothers had an appeal hearing on January 6th, 2016. The judge will make a decision soon. Sedar Tatar is currently serving his sentence at a medium-security facility in West Virginia and is scheduled for release in 2036. Mohammed Shnewer is currently serving a life sentence at the United States Penitentiary in Illinois.
Eyekon Productions was started back in 2001. Eyekon productions has a YouTube site with over 1,000 subscribers. This will be the first full feature documentary.
Vinu Joseph is the producer and director of this film. Vinu is a former United States Marine and Iraqi War veteran who has been filming documentaries for the past 6 years. He currently lives in Philadelphia,PA.
YouTube– www.youtube.com/eyekonproductions (view the trailer here)
Instagram – @fortdix5doc