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Taqwacore breaks boundaries at VIFF

The Vancouver Observer's Wendy Dallian, talks with director Omar Majeed about his controversial film, Taqwacore.


VO: Could I ask you a little bit about your background?


OM: I was born in Canada. My parents are Pakistani. I wasn't raised Muslim in a very strict way. My parents identified as Muslim and that was always something in the back of my mind, but we weren't an extremely observant family. I did live for about four or five years in Pakistan as a teenager. My family moved back there for a couple of years so I got to experience that culture and by extension, a little bit more engagement with Islam because it's a very big part of that culture. I have a particular attachment to being Pakistani as well as Canadian.


VO: Could you tell us a little bit about your film background?


OM: All my life I wanted to be a filmmaker. From a really early age.

Out of film school I went into television. I lived in Toronto for a long period of my life and worked for CityTV. I started off as an editor, eventually producing, in particular, short form half hour documentaries, but I really wanted to make something a bit more narrative and cinematic.

So four years ago I moved to Montreal with my wife, and decided that it was time to pursue a different job in television and I would just try to kick around an idea I had in my head about making a film about what it was like to be Muslim in the post 911 world.

That was all I had at the time. That sort of notion that I knew I wanted to do something about that because I had certain feelings about it and wanted to get something out.

After doing some research, I connected with this idea about Taqwacore. I found out about what was going on and just decided to go for it.

I really tried to do the film in the way that I envisioned it, and take a more narrative approach to it, and here we are.


VO: Could you tell us about your film Taqwacore, the whole idea and how that formed.


OM: Yes, well, as I was mentioning, I was doing this research just trying to find out what kind of interesting Muslim voices there were because my feeling was that we weren't hearing from those kind of people. We were hearing from very, very mainstream Muslim organizations that would apologize a lot for the fundamentalists or we were hearing from the fundamentalists themselves. We weren't hearing from anyone in the middle, in the gray zone. People who lived lives in between.

That was really important to me, so I was talking to all sorts of Muslim academics, Muslim artists, people like that, and time and time again they would ask me, “have you read this book, Taqwacore?

It's really interesting considering what you're taking about. It's this novel by a man who converted to Islam, became a fundamentalist for a while, pulled back from all of that, and now, has written this very rebellious and challenging novel imagining what it would be like if there was such a thing as punk Islam.”

So I was like, that sounds a bit wacky (laughs) but you know, I'm going to give it a try. I got the book off Amazon and I read it and it blew my mind. On a personal level as a Muslim I was like, wow!

First of all, the kind of references that he was making, the language was so exact both in terms of his Islamic language and his punk language. I mean he really got the right references in there and the characters were really rich, full of contradiction and complexity, and a lot of the characters and the situations in the book really spoke to me.

So based on that I decided I had to meet this guy. So I made it happen. I emailed him and asked him to meet. He agreed, he's very amiable, so we met and from that point on I was hooked because he basically told me his life story which I found very fascinating.

The ideas in the book had already gripped me and then on top of that he was telling me, in our very first meetings, that he was starting to meet people who had read his book and were telling him they were Muslim and punk. I thought to myself, wow, this guy's written this fiction, this fantasy, and now life is imitating art. And that's just fascinating to be here on the cusp of that happening. I just jumped in and was sold.


VO: What was the most challenging thing about making this film.


OM: (laughs) Working with punks. The most challenging thing? The very origins of it date back to about three and a half years. By the time I actually got Michael and all the other guys, I'm assuming you've seen the movie...


VO: oh, yes.


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