The Hajj, Screened Large

From Harvard Magazine:

Hajj Journey to Mecca took five years to make, and required no fewer than 85 permits from government agencies in Saudi Arabia; the diplomatic process of building relationships was one that Cunningham-Reid summarizes as “a million cups of tea.” Cosmic Picture also raised the $13-million budget from an international corps of investors, hired actor Ben Kingsley to narrate, made a distribution deal with the National Geographic Society, and booked the January 2009 world premiere in Abu Dhabi. In coming months, Journey to Mecca will show at the Smithsonian Institution, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other American cities. Endorsed by both the Dalai Lama and the archbishop of Canterbury, the film has drawn audiences in Kuwait, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Canada.

Non-Muslims like Davies and Cunningham-Reid cannot enter the holy city, so they trained two all-Islamic camera crews to shoot images like the spectacular aerial shot of thousands of pilgrims circling the Ka‘ba, the black cubical building in the center of Mecca that is the most sacred site in Islam. (Islamic tradition holds that Abraham [Ibrahim] built the first structure on the site, and all Muslims face the Ka‘ba when praying. Abraham’s centrality indicates, as Davies explains, that the hajj actually connects with Jewish and Christian, as well as Islamic, traditions.)

Journey to Mecca tells its story by dramatizing the pilgrimage of Ibn Battuta, who set out from Tangier in 1325 and arrived in Mecca 18 months later. (He then kept voyaging, for 29 years and 75,000 miles more, becoming the best-traveled person of antiquity—and also the only person to have both a crater on the moon and a mall in Dubai named after him.) His hajj, described in his memoir, the Rihla, waited only seven centuries to find its way onto the big screen.

More here.