Taqwacore breaks boundaries at VIFF
OM: ... by the time I got Michael and all those guys involved in the thing, it had been about three years. And I think the most challenging thing with a film like this is you have very small, very astute, very media savvy subjects, people who understand the media. They're artists themselves so it's not as if we could script a lot of stuff or stage it.
As a filmmaker sometimes you kind of push and you prod to try to edge the story along in certain ways and sometimes you do that with people who are not as comfortable on camera as these guys are. Because they're performers, it took a long time to break through their distrust they have of the media and what the media could possibly do with their image and the message of what they're trying to convey. And like it or not, for a while I was considered part of that media.
First it took a long time to build trust, and even when we did that it was very hard to find very vulnerable, very real moments. The only thing you could do was to stand around. You just had to basically spend a lot of time with these guys, all of them, and be attentive and observant to capture moments that were very raw and personal. There was a lot of hanging around, waiting around, going with the flow, (laughs) a kind of Zen concentration in the end.
Sometimes I wasn't up for it, and neither was my crew, but I think that over that couple of years we got what we needed.
VO: How is your film being received so far?
OM: Last night was our world premier here at VIFF. It was surreal. This is my first feature length film. First of all, VIFF is awesome. I'm happy to go on any record and talk about how amazing VIFF is. They fly you out here, they feed you. I don't know any festival that feeds their filmmakers (laughs), so that's amazing. Everyone's really friendly and very helpful. It's incredible and I really get the vibe that the audience here is really in to going out and seeing interesting offbeat films. It doesn't seem to be about stars or industry. We're over indulgent in the industry side of things.
It was a well attended screening, which I was pleased about, but more important to me than that, was it was a screening of really thoughtful people. We had an excellent Q & A afterwards where the usual cliché questions weren't asked. I got really in depth questions from some of the Muslims in the audience, challenging me at some points, and some of the non-Muslims talked about things they found difficult or challenging as well.
You know at times I kind of felt that I really wasn't representing the punk side of things well because I was kind of pontificating. The Q & A ended up a discussion at the end, which was really nice. And it really made me feel like the film was working in terms of engaging people in ideas, which was my intent all along.
VO: What would you like people to take away from this film?
OM: That's interesting. Some people kind of challenged me yesterday asking if I was trying to make a definitive statement about Islam, was I trying to make some heavy handed point, and I totally don't think I am. I don't think that's what these guys who I portray in my film are trying to do either.
I think really in the end what Taqwacore (the book) is about, and what the film is endorsing as well, is this idea of being Muslim on your own terms, finding your own path, and that being ok. It's ok to be a complex human being. It's ok to have contradiction, we all do, let's just be up front about it and don't hide away from that.
If you don't feel like you can conform to your parents' Islam, if you don't feel comfortable with everything that's going on in the western world and the way you're getting stereotyped, don't be comfortable with it. Speak out against it where you can, express it in healthy ways like through music and through art, and through satire.
The ultimate thing for me is that Taqwacore is about a new space. It's not a movement, it's not an ideology, it's not trying to sell you something. Let's create a space here for all of us who feel like the labels don't work. I think the film is just asking for the right of that to exist.
VO: Where do you go from here? Is Michael writing another book? Are you going to make another film?
OM: Michael is one of the most prolific men I know. He's one of those people, as far as artists go, that just constantly inspires my jealousy, deep jealousy. He's younger than me, fitter than me, and has already published five or six books, and he's going to Harvard right now to study Islamic studies.
So the guy is just one of those guys that's got that kind of mind. The book, Taqwacore, is truly an incredible piece of writing. I urge people to read it. Michael's writing in general is quite vivid, and quite an amazing insight into Islam and the North American experience. And of course the bands and their music, all of whom people want to find out more about, you can find on the web site we just put up. (www.taqwacore.com) We're trying to make that into a one stop resource.
There is one final screening of Taqwacore at the Granville 7 theatres this
Mon, Oct, 5th, at 1:15pm