The film will have its Jersey City debut Wednesday, March 12 at Victory Hall, 186 Grand St., near Marin Boulevard.
"We made the movie with $85,000 in grants in about eight months," said McDonald, who graduated from Columbia University and has made three documentaries since then. "[But] in some cases, it has taken a few years to get a movie completed. Documentaries are different from feature films. They take much longer to do."
McDonald and her cinematographer, Grand Street resident Mark Smith, interviewed 12 subjects on their feelings after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. For McDonald and Smith, the most arduous aspect of the production was getting people to speak on camera.
"I think it was the hardest time I've ever experienced getting people to speak," McDonald said. "No Muslim women wanted to be profiled for the movie. I even went to a Muslim women's conference and no one wanted to be followed for the film."
Smith echoed McDonald's sentiments about the difficulty of getting subjects to talk.
"The problem was that people would say they were going to be somewhere, and then they weren't," said Smith. "That ended up costing us money. We were only getting paid a little bit to do this, and we have kids who have to go to the dentist and stuff like that."
In one instance, McDonald and Smith attempted to get a Muslim family on camera to no avail, until the family agreed to meet at their lawyer's office.
"Libby and I sat there for hours waiting for these people," said Smith. "They never showed up, so we left. Just as we were driving away, the family drove up to the office."
McDonalds said she learned a lot about non-Muslims' perception of Muslims while making the one-hour documentary.
"African-Americans were very hesitant about speaking for the film," said McDonald. "Many African-Americans in Jersey City live in or around large Muslim communities and they were scared of backlash."
McDonald also detected a feeling of ambiguity among the people she spoke to regarding the Jersey City Muslim community.
"One person commented on the growing number of Arabs in their neighborhood by saying 'I have to walk for miles to get good ham.' "
Started on York Street
The genesis of "Terror Town" was a community meeting McDonald organized a few days after Sept. 11 between Muslim and non-Muslim residents around her York Street home.
"There was a lot of disagreement between the groups," McDonald explained. "The Muslims talked about the political motivations of terrorism. The non-Muslims said, 'We haven't even buried our dead, how can you talk about politics."
One non-Muslim woman McDonald spoke to swore she had seen a pictures celebrating the 9/11 destruction on the walls of a downtown mosque. McDonald interviewed the imam, a Muslim clergyman, who ran the mosque and who denied there were any such pictures. McDonald believes the woman was so distraught over the 9/11 attacks that her emotions got the better of her.
"After that, I decided to make Terror Town," said McDonald.
Christian Coalition flick
Along with various script writing and short film production for corporations and Showtime Cable Television, McDonald has directed another film called "New School Order." Screened on Public Television in 1998, the documentary covers the infiltration of Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition into a schools system in Lansdale, Pa. "Under the guise of calling for tax cuts, the Christian Coalition got people elected to school boards around the country to implement the organization's agenda," McDonald explained, adding that the movie was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
According to McDonald, once the Christian Coalition, a Christian right-wing organization, got members onto the Lansdale Board of Education, they began removing "anything good that was in the system."
"Music and art classes were removed," said McDonald. "They also did away with drug and sex education courses."
McDonald admitted that Reed's organization was well organized, appealing to older taxpayers who still had to pay for education through property taxes, even though they did not have children in the school district.
"They would bus in lots of elderly people for the elections," McDonald said. "Reed was very impressive."
McDonald and her film crew spent a year in Lansdale making the movie, watching the Coalition members change the school curriculum.
"When we were leaving, the board members were just introducing Creationism to the science classes," said McDonald.
Currently expecting her third child, McDonald is concentrating on writing, which she said she does when she is pregnant.
"I'm interested in the prison system," said McDonald. "I would do research, write an article and turn it into a film."
For now, McDonald is looking forward to the response to "Terror Town Jersey City USA" and hoping it will build a bridge between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.