GAZE 2015 – A Sinner In Mecca

It’s been over a year since my last post, and a couple of missed opportunities to write have flown on by – GAZE 2014, and the Irish Marriage Equality Referendum being the main ones of note. It has, however, also been a while since I have seen a film that made me want to get back here – this weekend, as part of GAZE 2015 (Dublin’s LGBT film festival), I went to see Parvez Sharma’s A Sinner in Mecca and I got the urge to share some thoughts…

To set the scene, I was really excited about going to see this film. I had seen the trailer posted online a couple of months ago, and for anyone who has read any of my previous posts, I have an interest in LGBT life in the Middle East. I was hoping to learn more about Mecca, hajj and Islam in a first hand documentary in Saudi Arabia – creating this film in itself was a huge step, particularly as filming is banned in Mecca. On top of that, films coming out of Saudi Arabia are rare at best, and I was hoping this would follow in the footsteps of the wonderful Wadjda.

Unfortunately, the trailer set this film up to be more of a documentary than it was in reality. The tension surrounding Sharma’s filming in Mecca was mentioned twice at best, and as he was using a smartphone to record, it must have been more than obvious to passers-by. After a powerful opening, showing the dialogue the director has with a gay man in Saudi Arabia online, the director’s sexuality plays almost no role in this film. As the film continues it becomes clear that there is no substance to this documentary shot on a smartphone – I would have hoped for more interviews away from Mecca to intersect the repeated shots of the Kaaba, and a discussion of the apparent topic of this film, i.e. being a member of the Muslim LGBT community. Of course, I understand this may not be easy to get on camera, but after such a strong opening, the documentary failed to keep up this momentum.

I was hoping to leave the screening with a greater understanding on homosexuality in the Muslim world, of faith and sexuality, and a struggle to combine these. To a greater extent I was also hoping for an increased understanding of life in Saudi Arabia.

While hajj was explained as Sharma completed the stages of his pilgrimage, it would have been interesting to hear from the non-LGBT community more about the significance of this journey. Unfortunately the film feels like Sharma set off on a personal journey to find a place for his sexuality and faith to be able to coexist, but in reality, it falls short of the expectations set out by the trailer and hype around the film.

I know I was not the only one to feel this way, my boyfriend and friend who came along to the screening felt the same, and despite the director being in attendance, the room emptied pretty quickly as soon as the final credits started to roll.

What had potential to be such an interesting subject matter, and a groundbreaking documentary, is unfortunately 80 minutes many of us will not get back.


(2009) עיניים פקוחות


Eyes Wide Open is a film I have wanted to write about for a long time, having watched it well over two years ago, I finally got around to getting my own copy and watching it again. As you may have already realised I have a penchant for Israeli queer cinema and have previous written about The Bubble, Yossi & Jagger and it’s sequel Yossi. Here we have a film directed by Haim Tabakman, not Eytan Fox. Moving away from the liberal metropolis of Tel Aviv, this film is set in deeply orthodox Jerusalem and it’s surroundings.

Aaron is recovering from mourning his father’s death and decides to reopen his father’s butchers. The young Ezri comes to Jerusalem to confront his boyfriend who is uncomfortable with his homosexuality and a conflict with his religion. Looking for an assistant Aaron takes on Ezri despite the rumours that are rife in this small community where everyone knows everyone else’s business. As a friendship develops between the two of them, it becomes clear that both men have feelings for each other. Ezri, despite his orthodox stance, is much more at ease with his sexuality than Aaron, who is married with children. Soon the tension becomes too much and they end up sleeping together. As rumours begin to spread (they do not spread on fact, but instead merely on the notion that Ezri has brought a bad reputation with him) trouble increases for the pair and for Aaron’s family. Aaron is warned, and later threatened as a result of his involvement. As everything escalates, Aaron fells alive for the first time in years but realises that he can’t live this double life.

The film is very touching and covers a wide range of issues. Aaron is also involved with the modesty police and his seen to threaten a man who is believed for be unsuitable for a friend’s daughter. Throughout the film the audience sees how patriarchal this society is and how much danger Ezri, and later Aaron, could be in if they are discovered. This film is in stark contrast to the liberal and privileged lives Fox’s characters live in Tel Aviv and as a result highlights the paradoxes so rife in Israeli society today – society, religion and politics all fight for the upper hand.

(I do not own this image)