Baba 'Aziz, a Sufi feature done by a highly acclaimed Tunisian director/screenwriter Nacer Khemir (along with an acclaimed co-screenwriter, composer, and photographic director) will soon be hitting a number of theaters. Baba 'Aziz won first place for feature films ("The Golden Dagger award") at the Muscat Film festival in 2006. Also in September 2007 at the 3rd International Muslim Movie Festival in Kazan (in the Russian republic of Tatarstan), it won the best picture, `Golden Minbar' award.
I have not yet seen it but am scheduled to see it at a film festival at the High Museum in Atlanta on Saturday, February 16 at 8pm. After the film, I have been asked to say a few words and answer questions from the audience about Sufism.
I have seen 9 minute UTube clip and a short trailer, have read the publicity packet and a few viewer reviews at IMDB, and as a result I suspect the film will be excellent and strongly recommend it. The dialog in the UTube clip I have seen is in Persian (Baba 'Aziz also does cite a little Persian accented Arabic) with subtitles possibly in Hungarian. But the film will be shown in the US with English subtitles. As you will see from the publicity packet, it has been subtitled in a variety of languages. The dialogue in the film is apparently both in Persian and Arabic.
The publicity packet contains among other things a high quality interview with the director/screenwriter in which two of the topics he discusses are Islam and Sufism. He makes it very clear that he made the film because of his love of Islam and Sufism in order to try to counteract the horrible image that Islam has in the world today.
You can read the publicity packet and interview here: http://www.typecastfilms.com/babaziz/BAB'AZIZ%20Typecast%20pressbook.pdf
If the above url breaks, try http://tinyurl.com/26tshh .
The 9 minute utube clip ends with qur'anic verses about Sayyidatina Maryam. They are sung extraordinarily well by a professional singer whose voice is familiar to me but whom I cannot identify.
Here is the 9 minute utube url: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrcSK0tEP28&feature=related
The first screen has in nicely calligraphed Arabic the early Sufi saying: At-Turuq ila Allah, bi-
Here is the publicity trailer (with English substitles): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPYjenA3VFg&feature=related
Mark your calendars, email this note to your friends in the cities where it will be shown, and tell people about it. It will be showing in theaters in the following cities on the following dates:
Cinema Village New York, NY February 8, 2008
High Museum, Atlanta, GA February 16, 2008
Nuart Theatre Los Angeles, CA February 22, 2008
Landmark's Varsity Theatre Seattle, WA March 14, 2008
Landmark Theatres San Francisco, CA April 4, 2008
Landmark Theatres Berkeley, CA April 4, 2008
Starz FilmCenter Denver, CO May 2, 2008
Just in case you cannot access the pdf file of the publicity packet, here is what the director said about Islam and Sufism (the first half of the interview with the director/screenwriter in the publicity packet):
By Nawara Omarbacha
Why this film today?
I would explain it with this allegory: if you are walking alongside your father and he suddenly falls down, his face in the mud, what would you do? You would help him stand up, and wipe his face with your shirt. My father's face stands for Islam, and I tried to wipe Islam's face clean with my movie, by showing an open, tolerant and friendly Islamic culture, full of love and wisdom, an Islam that is different from the one depicted by the media in the aftermath of 9/11. Fundamentalism, as well as radicalism, is a distorting mirror of Islam. This movie is a modest effort to give Islam its real image back. No other mission seemed as urgent to me as this one: to give a "face" to hundreds of millions of Muslims who are often, if not always, the first victims of terrorism caused by some fundamentalist. And although this movie is based on the joyful and love giving Sufi tradition, it is also a highly political film, and deliberately so.
It is a duty nowadays to show to the world another aspect of Islam, otherwise, each one of us will be stifled by his own ignorance of "The other". It is fear that stifles people, not reality. There are nearly 1 billion Muslims in the world, 1/6th of earth inhabitants. To try your best to know your neighbour better is a form of hospitality. Hospitality is not just about housing people and feeding them; hospitality is about listening and understanding. You cannot receive someone in your house, just feed him and ignore him! In my opinion, this is a movie that encourages people to listen to each other and, perhaps further down the line, to really come together. Watching this movie is a way of offering hospitality to "The other one".
Why did you choose the complementary title, "The Prince Who
Contemplated His Soul"? Is it an image of Narcissus?
It is true that the Prince leans over the water, but he does not see
his own face, like Narcissus did, because whoever sees only his
reflection in the water is incapable of love. The prince contemplates
what is invisible, that is his own soul. We are all similar to
icebergs; only one tenth of us is visible, while the rest lies under
the sea. The idea of the "Prince" came to me from a beautiful plate
that was painted in Iran in the 12th century. It shows a prince
leaning over water, and it carries the following inscription "The
prince who contemplated his own soul". This image struck me as
something I had to build upon, which is why it seemed obvious to me
that the movie should be shot in Iran. Making a film as continuity to
a 12th century artist! I don't know if it was a sheer coincidence (or
is it something else?), but we shot parts of the movie in the city of
Kashan, which is the city where this plate was made! Now, concerning
the structure of this movie, I think it helps the spectator to forget
about his own ego and to put it aside in order to open up to the
reality of the world. It borrows the structure of the "visions"
usually narrated by dervishes, and the structure of their spiraling
and whirling dances. The characters change, but the theme remains the
same: Love, under many forms. As the famous Sufi Ibn Arabi said: "My
heart can be pasture for deers and a convent for monks, a temple for
idols and a Kaaba for the pilgrims. It is both the tables of the
Torah and the Koran. It professes the religion of Love wherever its
caravans are heading. Love is my law. Love is my faith".
What is Sufism?
Fundamentalism and fanaticism do not represent Islam, just as the
inquisition did not represent the faith of Jesus. Nowadays one can
feel quite lost and confused in front of this growing wave of
defiance and hatred towards Islam. Sufism stands against all forms of
fanaticism. Sufism is the Islam of the mystics; it is the tenderness
of Islam. But in order to give a better definition, let me use this
Sufi saying: "There are as many ways to God as the number of human
beings on earth." This quote alone is a representation of the vision
of Sufism. One could also say that Sufism is the pulsating heart of
Islam. Far from being a marginal phenomenon, it is the esoteric
dimension of the Islamic message.
Abou Hassan Al Nouri, a great Sufi, once said: "Sufism is the
renouncement of all selfish pleasures", because true Love cannot be
selfish. He also said "A true Sufi has no possessions, and he himself
is possessed by nothing". Love has many shapes in the movie. The
example of Ishtar, the little girl who was born from the sand, like
the Arabic language, is reminiscent of the letter "Waw", "�" which
means in Arabic "and". The Sufis call it the letter of Love, because
without it, nothing can come together. We say "the sea and the
sky", "Man and Woman". The "Waw" is the meeting place, thus it is the
place of Love. It is also the letter of the traveler, because it
gathers together things and beings.
What is a Dervish?
The word "dervish" means "Sufi" in Persian. But with time, it was
used to refer to those who chose poverty and wandering. They put the
world aside and enter into a quest of poverty and Love. There are
many types of dervishes. I did not want to address the different
brotherhoods, but I wanted to give an idea of what seems alive in the
Islamic-Arab culture: this endless quest for the Absolute and the
Infinite. Throughout history, there have been kings who have become
dervishes, like this Prince, who is famous in Afghanistan. As Gibran,
the author of "The Prophet" said: "The Prince of all Princes is he
who finds his throne in the heart of a dervish". The dervishes go
even farther than that. One of them once said: "I no longer visit the
mosque or the temple, I am a servant of Love, I am in Love with Your
beauty". One cannot understand the aesthetics of Islamic Culture
without studying Sufi texts. Dervishes repeat the following quote of
the Prophet Mohammad like a motto: "God is beautiful and He loves
beauty". And here is what dervishes sing to express their state of
"The butterfly throws itself in the burning fire
If you must love, then you will need that much courage
At each step, the heart is pushed to its limits,
At each breath, it is tested,
If you must love, then you will need that much courage."
By their actions, dervishes free Islam of certain dogmatic
interpretations, just like this auburn dervish in the movie, who is
attracted by the minaret, and tries to clear the "dust" off it with a
broom. In another scene, he is in a mosque half-buried in the sand
and he tries to get it out of its tomb by removing the sand with his
You might notice that the film is titled in various places on the web
as "Bab 'Aziz." The American distributors informed me that that is a
mistake that started when the film went into European distribution.
The old blind dervish's name is actually Baba 'Aziz. The word "Baba"
which literally means "father" is also used in various Muslim (and
even non-Muslim South Asian) cultures to refer to a respected elder,
shaykh, saint, or spiritual teacher. Hence we have Sufi names
like "Gul Baba," "Tosun Baba," and "Somuncu Baba," "Baba Afzal-e
Kashani," as well as Baba Ram Das and Meher Baba.