Bullying. Racism. Terrorism. Jeremiah Birnbaum explores the state of the world we live in today through his directorial debut "Torn" starring Mahnoor Baloch and Dendrie Taylor in the principal cast.

The film narrates the story of two mothers, a Pakistani-American real estate agent Maryam, played by Baloch, and Lea, an office cleaner, played by Taylor, who bond after losing their teenage sons in a San Francisco mall explosion. But while they are worlds apart, their grief is identical and that is what brings them closer. Their newfound friendship, however, is forgotten when Maryam's son becomes the prime suspect in the bombing, mainly because of his Pakistani roots. His mother and father are both subjected to wrongful interrogations and racial profiling. And once again, we are reminded of the aftermath of Sept. 11.

While Lea feels betrayed by her relationship with Maryam, the investigation soon brings her son into focus after officials discover a video in which he made deadly threats in response to bullies at his school. Both women are faced with revelations and ambiguities about their sons that may or may not have been misread.

"Torn" is more subtle than dramatic with convincing performances by both female leads. Says Taylor, "We knew going in that we were making something true and necessary." Baloch, a successful model and actor in Pakistan, embraced the role primarily because of the richness of the character she is playing in "Torn" which is her first American film. Faran Tahir, with films like Iron Man and Star Trek under his belt, plays Maryam's husband. A grieving father, his character in "Torn" is unlike his previous roles. Other actors in the film are John Heard, Patrick St. Esprit, and Sharon Washington. The film is produced and written by Michael Richter and directed by Birnbaum, the founder and president of the San Francisco School of Digital Filmmaking.

"Torn" is a quiet but powerful story leaving us with an open-ended question: How well do we know the people we live with?

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