Taqwacore hits the road

Three-year search for alternative Islam voice leads EyeSteelFilm director to VIFF and Sheffield -- by way of Pakistan

Three years ago, director Omar Majeed’s wanted to make a film that channeled an alternative Muslim voice — as an antidote to both the religious extremists who had been the focus of the media since 9/11, and what he calls the ‘religious apologists’ who came out of the woodwork saying Islam was really all peace and love.

‘There are all different kinds of Muslims in the world,’ says Majeed. ‘People live their lives between those extremes. Why aren’t we hearing more of those kinds of voices and why aren’t we hearing the voices of young Muslims?’

So he went on the hunt for young Muslims, and was repeatedly pointed in the direction of The Taqwacores, a punk novel written by Michael Muhammad Knight which struck Majeed as a voice of a new generation. When he spoke to Knight and learned that a scene of musicians was forming out of the book’s themes, his documentary, Taqwacore, started to take form.

Majeed, working through noted Montreal shop EyeSteelFilm (Up the Yangtze), pitched the project at the Banff World Television Festival in 2007, coming in second and garnering $20,000. The film gained more buzz in early 2008 during the MIPDOC Co-production Challenge when the jury created a special prize for the project because they didn’t want to see its creators walk away empty handed.

The film follows a group of young people who have melded their Muslim roots with punk rock music.

When the doc’s subjects, the band The Kominas, led Majeed back to Pakistan, he was thrilled to revisit the place where he attended school during his teen years. However, there were obstacles filming in a country during an energy crisis, where officials are often corrupt and where the people are not used to encountering cameras, making it sometimes difficult to capture natural moments.

‘In most ways it was incredible shooting there,’ says Majeed, who hopes to screen the film in Pakistan in the near future. ‘It was always important to me to show Pakistan in a different light than the way it’s come to media attention in the last little while. In that way I was very pleased in the way we captured it.’

Taqwacore premiered this month at the Vancouver International Film Festival and just made a stop in Montreal during the Festival du nouveau cinéma. It opens in Toronto on Friday before hitting the road for next month’s Sheffield Doc/Fest.

From Realscreen Online