Best Dramatic Short Houston Film Festival 2010 Le Prix du Public La Geode 2009

“Wondrous to Behold” Total Film


Journey to Mecca is an IMAX® dramatic and documentary feature, filmed in Saudi Arabia and Morocco in both English and Arabic, with background Berber. The film tells the amazing story of Ibn Battuta, the greatest explorer of the Old World, following his first pilgrimage between 1325 and 1326 from Tangier to Mecca. His perilous journey resonates with adventure while presenting an unforgettable picture of Islamic civilization during the 14th century, culminating with Battuta’s first Hajj. The story is book-ended by a close-up look at the contemporary Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca that draws three million Muslims from around the world every year who perform rituals that have taken place for over 1,400 years.

Behind the Scenes

“The goal of Journey to Mecca…” Taran Davies, Dominic Cunningham-Reid and Jonathan Barker, Producers

“The goal of Journey to Mecca is to promote a better understanding of the Islamic world in the West through an epic adventure story about an exceptional young man on the journey of a lifetime to Mecca, the spiritual heart of Islam. We set out to answer questions such as ‘what is Islam?’ and ‘who are Muslims?’ At the same time, we seek to celebrate Islamic heritage, culture, history and spirituality for the first time on the giant screen.

The pilgrimage to Mecca lies at the heart of the Islamic experience, yet few in the West know anything about it and a majority of Muslims will never experience the Hajj for themselves. By sharing the peaceful values and extraordinary history of the Hajj with the widest possible audience, we hope to pioneer a better understanding of Islam in the West and foster a strong sense of pride and dignity amongst the Muslim community around the world.”

“And so I was hooked…” Jake Eberts, Executive producer

“As you get older in the movie business and you stand back a bit,” says Jake Eberts, whose films, which include Gandhi, Dances with Wolves and A River Runs through it, have won 27 Academy Awards® and 65 Oscar® nominations, “you feel a compulsion to leave a mark and do something that will be important. It is not all about commerce, it is not all about making money, it is not all about movie stars, it is much more about having an impact. And so, when they had this idea that was impactful, it was important, it is something that the world has to know more about. And so I was hooked.”

“I loved the idea…” Director and Writer, Bruce Neibaur

“I loved the idea of shooting a dramatic narrative on the Golden Age of Islam,” says Bruce Neibaur, who wrote and directed the IMAX® hit, Mysteries of Egypt, starring Omar Sharif, and also wrote the first drafts of the script for Journey to Mecca based on the story concept of Cunningham-Reid and Davies. The producers’ reasons for doing the film were philosophically in line with mine. To do a film like this, you have the opportunity to introduce to audiences something that’s entertaining, but also enlightening to help them understand what is Islam, who are Muslims – through one of the five pillars of one of the great religions of the world.”

“What I didn’t expect…” Cinematographer Afshin Javadi

“What I didn’t expect were the challenges we faced working around millions of Hajj pilgrims, in many cases, making the most important journey of their lives, the pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site, the Ka’bah. Initially, the process seemed arduous and frustrating, until I looked beyond the chaos and discovered how the pilgrims flowed, not as many, but as one. Once my crew and I began going with “the flow,” both figuratively and literally, we managed to capture the essence and the beauty of Hajj. I went as far as doing a steadicam shot of the holy Ka’bah, while circumambulating it with tens of thousands of pilgrims, a shot never done before. The footage was mesmerizing and monumental.”

“Everything was difficult…” Line Producer Daniel Ferguson

Line Producer Daniel Ferguson began setting up the Saudi Arabia shoot of Mecca in October 2007 in Jeddah. The crewing of the film was a Herculean task because Ferguson had to find three local crews to shoot in Mecca, all had to be Muslim and all had to have knowledge of film. The total Muslim crew in Saudi Arabia numbered 85, all of whom had to be trained in less than a month before the Hajj began on December 17th.

“Everything was difficult. We had to obtain permits to get permits, permits for meetings; sand bags, cars, things we take for granted in the West. They worked so hard. There was a force behind it. It was a shoot that was meant to happen.”

“The most challenging film…”, Producer Jonathan Barker

“It is certainly the most challenging film I’ve ever been involved in,” explains Jonathan Barker who has worked on films where IMAX® cameras were put on a space shuttle and sent up to dock with the Mir Space Station. “But this one was extraordinarily difficult and complicated because, first of all, we had to have an all-Muslim crew and to date there have been very few Muslims with experience in the IMAX® medium. We were fortunate to find three really wonderful and talented Muslim Cinematographers who we flew to Los Angeles and trained.”

“The desert opened its arms…” Cinematographer Rafey Mahmood

“The desert opened its arms and welcomed us. I felt my unit members were like fellow travellers on a cosmic journey. We had come to witness, record and share an age long spiritual practice of great inner and outer movements and we were happy to be doing it on the wondrous IMAX®. The promise of sharing these great images on the biggest screen kept me inspired each day. One night waves of faithful pilgrims went around the holy Ka’bah in Tawaaf, as we tried to calculate a time lapse shot from one of the minarets. Can this event be a symbolic replica of some timeless pulsation of our reality? But one thing I knew for certain in crossing the Arabian Sea from Mumbai, I had covered an important part of my own journey as an Indian Muslim and as a Cinematographer. I welcome all to Journey to Mecca!”

“It was the first time ever…” Ghasem Ebrahimian, Cinematographer

“It was the first time ever the Saudi Arabian authorities allowed any camera to be that close to the Ka’bah from the air. We almost touched the minarets when we shot the Tawaf (the circumambulation of the Ka’bah),” says one of the cinematographers, Ghasem Ebrahimian, who directed the pilot to fly counterclockwise to follow the Tawaf. “Seeing people from some 100 different countries all merge in one spot like a flowing river was quite an event. Some have saved their whole lives to get there. Altogether the helicopter made 20 flight paths over Mecca over five days, shooting a total of 60 minutes of film,” says Ebrahimian. “As the IMAX® film magazine lasts for a little over two minutes, we had to come back to base and reload. We would change film while the helicopter was still running and then we would take off and do more shots.

The Great Camel Caper

“The pilgrimage caravan is one extraordinary example of Islamic cultural heritage that has been lost to the world forever, and which we wanted to bring back to life on an unprecedented scale on the giant screen. We hope that this sequence in the film, when Ibn Battuta joins the Damascus pilgrimage caravan to Mecca, will resonate deeply with the Muslim audience as many of their forefathers will have taken a similar journey.

We also hope it will provide a window into the wonders of Islamic culture and its contribution to human civilization for a non Muslim audience.” Historically, caravans could be up to 30,000 to 40,000 camels strong, with two weeks passing between the first and last leaving the gates of Damascus.

The size of a small moving city, they were run like one, from the leading Emir or Caravan Captain, pilgrims, torch bearers, physicians, lawyers, soldiers, medical assistants, traders, servants, musicians, merchants, citizens of all classes in addition to camel, goat and donkey handlers. In those days, pilgrims would travel by foot, camel or horse for up to three years to reach Mecca with no guarantees of reaching their destination or of returning home. Ibn Battuta took 18 months to get to Mecca from Tangier. Everyone traveled at great personal risk dealing with heat, exhaustion and bandits. But the faith pulled them to Mecca.

“When you’re sitting on a camel in 52 degrees centigrade and Mecca is a thousand miles away, the admiration you feel for people willing to make that journey is overwhelming. And now we’re living the jet age Hajj in which people fly,” says Cunningham-Reid.

Preparing the Journey to Mecca pilgrimage camel caravan began six weeks prior to principal photography in Morocco in the Spring 2008, with local artisans stitching camel and donkey packs, palanquins (covered litter) in addition to making all the period props such as bows and arrows, flags, goat skin water packs, saddle covers, spears, shields, tents, reed urns and grain baskets, to name but a few artifacts.

Over a thousand animals and five hundred extras were choreographed into a caravan meandering through the desert over a mile long.

contact Cosmic Picture