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El-Yateem Stars in Documentary Film about Council Campaign

A former Bay Ridge church pastor who came close to making history when he ran for a seat on the City Council last year is the subject of a new award-winning documentary film that will be shown in a special presentation at the Alpine Theater this weekend.

The Rev. Khader El-Yateem, 50, moved from Bay Ridge to Florida several months ago but is expected to return to Brooklyn to attend a screening of “FATHER K,” a documentary chronicling his 2017 City Council run.

Directed by Judd Ehrlich, the 32-minute documentary looks at El-Yateem’s Council campaign as well as his continuing influence on Bay Ridge politics.

The film will be screened on Sun., Dec. 9, at the Alpine Theater, 6817 Fifth Ave., at 6:45 p.m.  El-Yateem, Ehrlich and Aidan Tumas, one of the film’s producers, will take part in a question and answer session with the audience following the screening.

El-Yateem ran in the Democratic primary for Bay Ridge’s Council seat in 2017, coming in second to Justin Brannan, who went on the win the general election that November.

Had he won, El-Yateem would have made history by becoming the first Palestinian-American to be elected to the New York City Council. His foray into politics galvanized young people, particularly Arab-Americans in Bay Ridge, many of whom have remained active politically.

“Father K is somebody who represents an alternative way of framing difference to find common ground. We need more people like him right now in our politics, and in our public discourse,” Ehrlich said in a statement.

El-Yateem’s candidacy attracted a great deal of attention due to his ability to tap into a large constituency of Arab-Americans to win over voters. He filed more than 2,800 signatures on nominating petitions to get his name on the ballot when only 450 signatures were needed.

El-Yateem was born on the West Bank and came to the U.S. in 1992 at the age of 24. He moved to Bay Ridge in 1996, the same year he became a U.S. citizen. In 1998, he founded Salam Arabic Lutheran Church.

During his time in Bay Ridge, El-Yateem was active in civic life, becoming a member of Community Board 10 and helping to organize the Bay Ridge Unity Task Force.

In May, El-Yateem left his post as pastor of Salam Arabic Lutheran Church to take on a new assignment in Florida as director of ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. But before he left, he announced that he had formed a new political club called Yalla Brooklyn.

At the time, El-Yateem said he envisioned the club as a way “to continue building the political voice of underrepresented communities, increasing voter turnout, and making political education accessible for all.”

Yalla is the Arabic word for “Let’s Go.”

Members of Yalla Brooklyn campaigned heavily for Democrat Andrew Gounardes in the race for the 22nd State Senate District, a contest Gounardes won on Nov. 6, beating out 16-year incumbent Republican Martin Golden.

“FATHER K” has already created a buzz on the film festival circuit. It took home the grand prize for Best Documentary Short at the 2018 Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Best Documentary Jury Award and the Audience Award at the 2018 Austin Film Festival, and the Route 66 Film Festival’s Democracy Award.

Ehrlich admitted that El-Yateem’s loss in the Democratic Primary threw him for a loop.

“When I began this project, I believed Father K would win his primary, and when that didn’t happen, I was at first unsure how to move forward with the project. But I eventually realized that I was left with an even more productive question: How does a grassroots movement continue without winning, and without its leader in a position of power? And later in production, that loss would be ratcheted up another level and beg the question whether a movement can survive without its leader,” the director stated.

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