The Cosmic Picture and SK Films IMAX feature loosely recreates the footsteps of 14th century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta‘s journey from Tangiers to Mecca for the Hajj. Battuta is one of history’s greatest adventurers and travel writers. In his almost 30 years of wanderings he visited Spain, Russia, Turkey, Persia, India, China and all the Arab lands. His description of the religious, political and social conditions of the lands he visited – in some cases the only record – give important insight into medieval Eastern civilization.
The film’s spectacular scenery is awe-inspiring, particularly in IMAX. The film opened at the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on January 14th. Movie times here. The footage, which captures pilgrims circulating the Ka’bah inside the Grand Mosque is a cinematic, spiritual, and cultural treasure. Producers Jonathan Barker, Dominic Cunningham-Reid and Taran Davies certainly had their work cut out for them when they began the process of creating the film in a post 9/11 world. Their patience paid off, and the scenes they captured showcases one of the world’s most dynamic and important religious events.
“The film was created to foster a better understanding of Islam in the West and pride within the Muslim world,” said Cunningham-Reid during his remarks before the screening. The film is family-friendly and created with a broad IMAX demographic in mind – no Oscars here – but that isn’t the point. The beauty of the film – besides the incredible footage from Medina and Mecca – is that it showcases positive messages from Islam, the strong spirituality of Muslims, and the important role the Hajj pilgrimage plays in Islam. It also does a nice job of highlighting the different rituals performed during the Hajj, such as kissing the Black Stone in the corner of the Kaaba, the running back and forth between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah, drinking from the Zamzam Well, the vigil at Mount Arafat, and throwing stones in the ritual Stoning of the Devil.
The film screening brought together a much smaller pilgrimage in Washington. Embassy Row’s top Ambassadors from the Muslim world came, including Ambassadors Roble Olhaye, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps (Djibouti), Ali Al-Hajri (Qatar), Yousef Al-Otaiba (UAE), Abdulwahab Al-Hajjri (Yemen), Salem Al-Sabah and Mrs. Rima Al-Sabah (Kuwait), Ali Aujali (Libya), Antoine Chedid (Lebanon), Abdoulaye Diop (Mali), Dato Hamid (Brunei), Husein Haqqani (Pakistan), Hussein Hassouna (Arab League), Habib Mansour (Tunisia), Aziz Mekouar (Morocco), Houda Noono (Bahrain), Akahmul Qader (Bangladesh), and Dato Sri (Malaysia).
Former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal was also in attendance. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait provided experts who advised on the presentation of Islam in the film and Prince Turki Al-Faisal was one of many who took up the call to help. That process was overseen by Faisal Al-Muaammar, General Supervisor of the King Abdulaziz Public Library and Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who is Chairman of the Board of Directors for the library. The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Saudi Arabia was also involved in providing research for the film along with an immense list of international and domestic scholars and experts.
The project was certainly a labor of love – I wonder how many meetings and cups of tea it took British filmmakers to gain permission to do a fly-by of Mecca during the Hajj? The film is definitely worth viewing and experiencing. It is scheduled to be released in 20 cities in the U.S., but the filmmakers are hoping more venues, both domestic and international, pick up the film. Cunningham-Reid wisely had his distributor stand up during his opening remarks so the high-powered and captive audience of ambassadors could see him.
“To do a film like this, you have the opportunity to introduce to audiences something that’s entertaining but also enlightening to help them understand one of the pillars of one of the great religions of the world,” said Cunningham-Reid. “The goal is to use the film as way to promote better understanding.” Certainly, that is something we could use about now.
Other notable guests: General Colin Powell and wife Alma, Secretary and Mrs. Michael Chertoff, Assistant Secretary of State for NEA, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, Deputy Chief of Protocol, State, The Honorable Glayds Boluda, Ambassador Walter Cutler, Mr. Leo Daly and Esther Coopersmith.