On a cold and wet Sunday morning in winter I would normally get up for fajr prayer at around 7am and once I have offered my prayer would crawl back in to bed. Not today. I was invited to a special screening of the film Journey to Mecca at the IMAX cinema in Waterloo taking place at 9.30am. I had told the kids and the Mrs. that we would be going so they were prepared but my boys, Yusef and Binyamin (14 and 12) were not all that excited, typical teenage nonchalance. We headed to Waterloo from Aylesbury at about 08:10am, the sat nav told me it was about 46miles. It took us an hour to arrive at Waterloo bridge and we managed to find a free parking spot there and the IMAX was a short walk in front of us.
My wife Nazia and I had a special interest in the film as the the hajj scenes were shot whilst we were on hajj in 2007. Some months earlier Abdal Lateef Salazahar (the unit director for Mecca) had mentioned to me that they would be making the film and I told him that I would be going on hajj the same year. One evening as I was walking out of the Haram in Mecca I heard someone calling “Mas’ud! Mas’ud!” and I looked around and saw Abdal-Lateef waving at me through a crowd of hujjaj (pilgrims), I went over gave my salams and he said “I had a feeling today that I would meeting you today!” He told me that they would be directing scenes in and around the Haram and that his son Yasin was also around (who I met later at Jamarat). Anyway, Nazia and I were very keen on seeing the film (no, I didn’t have a starring role lol!)
As the film rolled, immediately it was clear to me that, with the music score and visuals, you know that this is something of quality and as the scenes of the Ka’aba faded-in, my emotions got the better of me and my eyes welled up with tears, I looked around at my wife and she also had tears in her eyes, it was beautiful, it was as if our yearning to return to Mecca was unveiled and reignited by this film, even as I write this, I have a deep feeling from the pit of my stomach, a visceral longing that I never really understood in others once they had returned from Hajj, which I fully understood once I had experienced it. I had never been on Hajj before, nor even on umra so the experience for me is still very unique and special.
I don’t plan to review the film, since I went to watch it to enjoy it and experience it, I would love to watch it again once more to attempt to critique it, but from what I saw, it is a top quality production on par with some of the best Hollywood productions. The cinematography and locations were breathtaking, the direction – masterful, the editing – slick and flowing, the score – evocative but unobtrusive and composed by Michael Brook (worked with the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), the acting – wonderfully sincere and believable with Ben Kingsley narrating some of the incidental scenes. The film was shot entirely on IMAX cameras and this was entirely appropriate considering the majestic nature of the cinematography, the locations and subject matter.
The only criticism I could have of this wonderful film was that perhaps it was too short – it is not feature length, I think the running time is about 45mins, having said that, it is the perfect length for educational purposes and my two boys remained interested throughout and thoroughly enjoyed it.
As the credits closed, an “in memory of” message and a picture showed the lead actor, Chems Eddine Zinoun, who died, tragically, in a car accident aged only 28. I am told that he was an upcoming actor on the cusp of greatness and this was his last role before his passing, my emotions were running high anyway and this felt like a punch in the gut having just watched his wonderful performance, there is no doubt he had a star quality about him but a humbleness in his eyes, may Allah grant him a high maqam in the akhira, Amin.
The audience gave the film a rousing ovation, everyone was in awe of it and had lots of good things to say.
The film is currently not on general release and unless we demand it, it will not be on general release. Those of you who have seen it should write in to the BFI and tell them what you thought of it and encourage them to put it on their IMAX theatres as special showings. Those of you who have not seen it, write to the BFI asking for it to be shown. You can do so here: http://www.bfi.org.uk/help/contact/4/?utm_source=ask&utm_medium=internal&utm_campaign=home. Don’t underestimate the importance of this film and you should, at every opportunity, support it and the film makers in whatever capacity that you can.