Filmmaker Parvez Sharma (director of the acclaimed documentary A Jihad for Love) has struggled most of his life with the paradox of being a devout gay Muslim man. After getting married to his longtime boyfriend once the Marriage Equality Act is passed in New York, Sharma decides to embark on his Islamic pilgrimage (the Hajj) to Mecca, knowing full well how unwelcome he is by his own faith.

A Sinner in Mecca, Sharma’s second feature, is very much a diaristic approach to the material he tackled in his first film. He shoots himself and his surroundings largely from his iPhone, due to the fact that filming is generally forbidden in much of Mecca. This gives the film a taboo urgency – as Sharma states, he is as much in the closet as a filmmaker in Saudi Arabia as he is a gay man.

As you can imagine, the intensity of the pilgrimage is captured pretty viscerally and we see how rough of an affair it is. Pilgrims are pushed and jostled around due to the huge number of participants, garbage is strewn everywhere due to lack of disposal options, and people go without water for large stretches. Alternatively, some images are beautifully surreal, as in the shots of the pilgrims walking around the Kaaba in unison.

Is A Sinner in Mecca essential festival viewing?

I wouldn’t say it’s essential festival viewing, but it’s still an interesting exploration of faith, particularly for fans of Sharma’s earlier film.

A Sinner in Mecca screening times

A Sinner in Mecca trailer

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