Haram Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten for Shockya. Databased on Rotten Tomatoes.
Grade: B+
Director:  Parvez Sharma
Written by: Parvez Sharma, Alison Amron
Cast: Parvez Sharma
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/30/15
Opens:  September 4, 2015

Using the syllabus for World History, I, a former teacher of history, mechanically evoked the point that every Muslim must recognize the monotheistic nature of Islam and, if financially able, must undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.  But I would have little doubt that this lesson would be forgotten after the monthly test and would hardly constitute the subject of student discussions on their way home or to the court to do hoops.  If only the vigorous teens could have the opportunity to see Parvez Sharma’s “A Sinner in Mecca” which would do what films are so capable of doing: of bringing the concepts of history to vivid life!

The film is remarkably photographed with two, small hidden cameras which despite their size captured the waves of humanity in Mecca.  Sharma, who co-wrote and directs the documentary—which follows his “A Jihad for Love” in 2007 about gay and transgender Muslims around the world—is openly gay in New York and is shown getting married to one Dan, a bond that is difficult to understand since Dan is an atheist musician whose only pilgrimage in this film is a trip to India with his spouse.

Sharma shifts from New York to his birthplace of India, then to Mecca, Saudi Arabia where non-Muslims have been forbidden to enter for fourteen centuries.  This makes the doc all the more valuable as even the most eager cinephiles may have never see the one million pilgrims who make the journey each year.  In fact, as we learn from Sharma, who narrates the tale, this may be the first film that introduces the world to the holiest site in Islam, the black rock or the Kaaba, which is the equivalent for the Jews to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Sharma is interested not simply in directing a travelogue, though he has done a bang-up job in that area.  As a gay Muslim, he wonders how he, pious that he is, can fit into the one-quarter of the world that follows his religion.  We never really see how his trip to Mecca helps him to realize this and may be left with the impression that Sharma is as critical of himself as was his mother, who died of cancer, but left him with her desire to see him with “a nice girl.”

Like most of us in the Western world, Sharma is critical of the hijacking of his religion by extremists and has negative things to say about America’s ally, Saudi Arabia, which follows the strictest brand of Islam and secretly finances ISIS.  “”A
Sinner in Mecca” to say the least is a notable feat of cinematography that no only shows most of us here in the U.S. with a graphic description of one of the world’s most visited city yet one in which photography is prohibited, but also provides a gay man’s inner monologue as he searches (mostly without success) for peace within.

Unrated.  79 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – B+


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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