This film is a documentary covering various groups of Muslim youth around the US and Canada who inspired by a book about fictional Islamic punk rockers in Buffalo, NY started creating their own bands. A real life example of life imitating art. Though the quality of the "art" varies wildly between the bands showcased. As a fan of hardcore punk I personally think talent and not just enthusiasm do matter. The preponderance of the latter and a slight deficit of the former somewhat makes this doc a little less fun than it could be. Though I'm sure that's way besides the point of the filmmaker. In a punk doc I want to rock a bit - sue me. :-)
The doc definitely does some things right. Including
- Gives the basic info that out the book The Taqwacores a real life music movement has sprung up.
- Provides a little flavor for the music itself and the personalities of those involved.
- Throws some occasionally very funny humor from the kids into the mix. A personal favorite - when faced with some mechanical concerns about the bus one of the assembled band members jokes "we don't want it to blow up until we actually want it to."
- Manages to actually get through an entire film covering a music scene without anyone uttering "we're not about labels" on the screen. For that last one especially I'm more than willing to forgive the constant refrain from everyone on the tour bus (joking I believe) "... Now that's punk rock."
- Shows them showing up at a national conference religious conference, signing up for open mike night, having (dare I say it) women actually perform (Setara from Afghan Star would be so proud) and leaving some of the little kids in attendance clapping for more as they thrown out. Which along with their fuck off attitude is admittedly fairly "punk rock."
Some knowledge of punk/hardcore definitely adds to the experience. It helps one appreciate some of the song names such as 'Muhammad is a Punk Rocker and "Sharia Law in the USA" (featuring the lyric "I am an Islamist, I am The Antichrist") and the reference to The Taqwacore writer Michael Muhammad Knight looking like Ian MacKaye. But I don't know that's really vital to get something out of the film - but it did help in my case. Even if you're not that familiar with the music I suspect the spread in talent between the bands is pretty clear. I love the heart of all of 'em, though there were a few that were pretty good and I wish they were a bit more prevalent throughout the soundtrack. One of the joys of a punk doc (especially in the theater) should be getting caught up in the music.
The first 2/3 or so documents a bunch of these Taqwacore bands along with Knight setting off on a bus tour of the US. We learn some about the book, some about the inspiration of the kids and see a little of the music, accompanied by a lot of footage of them joking and talking amongst themselves. I didn't find this riveting, but interesting enough most of the time. The last third follows Knight back to Pakistan (where he spent time as a teenager after his initial conversion to Islam). One of the Taqwacore bands had gone back there to try to break into the local music scene and he checks in on their progress. While that's likely the most personal part of the film it seemed somewhat out of place with the beginning and pulled me in far less. I suspect the filmmakers felt they needed a narrative arc, but I'm not quite sure that's what they ended up with. If they had spent that time giving a deeper sense about the kids forming the front wave of the Taqwacore movement - how much of it was about religion to them vs. rebellion within their cultural upbringing, etc. I think it might have been better spent.
So all in all, interesting topic (at least for me) - though I didn't quite feel the doc gave me more insight than previous articles I'd read about the Taqwacore book. At the end of the day felt it wasn't that different than any youth rebellion through music. And perhaps that may well be the point.
Screening Note: I saw this film at the Vancouver International Film Festival last week. One of the nice things about a festival screening is that sometimes the folks involved in the film show up. The director (and apparently some of his buddies) came along. During the intro one of them was taping the director addressing the crowd. So far so good. Then this same entourage member sat down two rows in front of me with his camera. Filming the screen with the BRIGHT glowing viewfinder sticking out prominently. I figured maybe he wanted to tape the great VIFF trailers. So I said nothing. Then as the film started and the bright lights continued I thought perhaps he wanted to tape the intro title of the film at its world premiere. But when the lights stayed on after that I got up to say something. After asking him (I thought relatively nicely) to turn it off he flatly refused saying "it's at the request of the filmmaker." I suggested I didn't really much care as it was disturbing the screening and perhaps he should film from the back. I managed to control the growing need to point out it was a pretty dick move to irritate the folks who'd paid good money (and it wasn't as though they were turning folks away at the door) to support the film. When he still refused I went looking for an official - by the time they came back in it seems he finally thought the better of it. Relating the story to a friend with SIFF the next morning she suggested perhaps smashing the camera could have been an option. Now that would truly be "punk rock."