Parvez Sharma in a Scene from A Sinner in Mecca (All Images Courtesy of Haram Films)
Just when you think you’ve seen everything, a film comes along that tells a completely unique story, and it blows your mind a little bit. Combining highly engaging aspects of a sociopolitical exposé, a deeply engrossing travelogue, and a minutely focused autobiography, filmmaker Parvez Sharma’s A Sinner in Mecca is a one-of-a-kind documentary.
Raised in India, but now living as an openly gay, married man in San Francisco, Sharma is a devoted Muslim who is deeply conflicted. His desire is to make the sacred journey of faith to the Holy City of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but as a gay man (a Sinner), his internal struggle concerns whether Allah/ Islam can truly accept him as a devotee, and whether this trip might bring him personal resolution and peace. It does not help that there is a fatwa (religious opinion) calling for Sharma’s death for his 2008 film, A Jihad for Love. The viewer knows from the outset that by embarking on his pilgrimage, known in Islam as a Hajj, Sharma is putting himself in the path of possible grievous bodily harm. Like one of the most white-knuckle Hollywood thrillers, the act bravery undertaken by Sharma in bringing his story to the screen is astounding.
With its primary action taking place in a land where filming is forbidden and homosexuality is punishable by death, A Sinner in Mecca is guerrilla film-making at its most epic. All on-location footage was captured entirely on Sharma’s iPhone and on two small cameras that passed for iPhones. This allowed him to be able to act like he was just talking on phone should suspicions be aroused, and so Parvez Sharma was able to record to film aspects of the Hajj that no non-Muslim has ever seen before.
Mecca is the most visited city in the world, but entry is forbidden to all but followers of Islam. For centuries, only Muslim pilgrims knew what happened inside the city of Mecca, but now this film opens wide a door to that world. Many scenes in the film, such as the pristine interiors of the temples, the crowds of millions of pilgrims continuously encircling a massive black cube, the Kaaba — housed within the sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram, which is the most sacred site in Islam — and rest areas strewn with an endless sea of garbage left behind by the faithful, are positively otherworldly.
A Sinner in Mecca is not only visually stunning, but there is also a great story. While Parvez reveals engaging and candid tales of his own up-bringing, as a Muslim whose otherwise loving mother, a poet, never approved of his lifestyle, he also discusses the history of Islam going back centuries. Sharma helps to elucidate the differences between the peaceful, spiritual religion he grew up with, and the violent, extreme and puritanical form of Islam practiced within Saudi Arabia (and associated with terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS) which is called Wahabism. I believe that films like A Sinner in Mecca — which provide an alternate, inside view of the religion — are important for westerners to be exposed to, especially those of us living the USA — where, let’s face it, prejudice against Muslims as a group is out of control — in order that we can better understand that the actions of certain extreme terrorist groups do not represent all people who practice the Islamic faith. This a very important film.
Saudi Starbucks Logo, which eliminates the woman’s face, as any depictions of the human form are forbidden in Mecca
A Sinner in Mecca opens in New York on September 4th at Cinema Village, and Los Angeles at Laemmle Music Hall on September 11th, 2015, before expanding to additional markets and VOD. You can contribute to the Indie Gogo campaign to help fund additional screenings of the film at This Link.
The Worley Gig Gives A Sinner in Mecca Five out of Five Stars.
Watch the Trailer Below: