Taqwacores director interview


Written by Blair Mishleau
13 Saturday 13th August 2011

It started as a book written by Michael Muhammad Knight in 2003, and has become a home for punks, rejects and those who simply don't fit into standard Muslim culture. Eyad Zahra's film covers a group of so-called Taqwacores living together and trying to find themselves and their spirituality. 

Zahra chatted with us about the film's bold scenes, tiny budget and what having the crew live with mum and dad was like.

Who's your favourite character in the film? Are there any you can particularly identify with?

It's sort of cliché to say, but I really love all the characters. In making this film though, I really had aligned myself with Jehangir. His audacious spirit was something I had to embody to get through it all.

The press pack mentions that the film was shot on an "ultra-low" budget. Most indie films are pretty low on funds, was your particularly frugal? How'd you manage?

This film did in fact operate off of a tiny budget, which was a big blessing for this project. It forced us to connect with the punk community of Cleveland, OH, the city where we shot the film. 

One of the most important elements in this film was the production design, and perhaps the most important aspect of that was the punk house where we shot in. We shot the film mostly out of the Tower 2012, a real DIY space in Cleveland, OH, that is both a performance space and a residence for artists. 

The place was tagged from head-to-toe, and its room layout nearly matched our original novel verbatim. Coming across little miracles like the Tower 2012 is how we made this film look stellar, even with the small budget that we had.

And by shooting at the Tower 2012, we connected with the local punk community in a big way. A few people became crewmembers, while others did little things like lend shirts for actors to wear in scenes.  The Cleveland punk community not only helped us physically make the film, but they brought an authentic feel/look to it that we would have not been able to produce on our own.

You and much of your crew crashed at your parent's during filming. How'd mom and dad feel about hosting a film crew in the basement?

It was pretty insane, and I'm surprised how things ended up working out. My mom cooked the entire crew dinner every night, and my dad would come down and watch 2008 news election debates with the crew in our basement. It felt like a massive teenage slumber party that went on for 3 weeks. As crazy as it was, I'd love to do it again, and maybe deep down, my parents would want to do it again too.

Since the release of the book The Taqwacores, a real Muslim punk rock scene has adopted the term. Do you think a more tangible underground scene will make it easier for Muslim kids in America to find their own identity? 

Yes, absolutely. Taqwacore has become a phenomenon because it's something that is needed, and it's something that is helping people who are in a tough place with their spiritual identity. I'll even go further than that and say it's a forum of expression that people have found essential to their lives.

Would you have been into such a scene growing up?

Absolutely. One of the biggest reasons why I made this film was because I wish it was around when I was a teenager. It would have helped me out a lot.

And it's not just about the past, but right now I still belong to this scene, and I always will.

Some scenes are pretty rebellious against the Muslim faith - there's heavy drug use, drinking, pre-marital sex, the list goes on. Were you ever fearful that you'd gone too far? Have you had any crazy negative responses?

Before I even called [the novel's author] Michael Muhammad Knight about taking on the story to make into a film, I spent more then a month asking myself if I was really ready to take this story on, and everything that comes with it.  Once I said yes, I really was able to let go, and not hold back. 

A very smart piece of advice I got from an A-list indie producer was to not hold back at all in the early stages, and if anything you can hold back in the editing room. Well, we took that advice, and even in the editing room, nothing was held back. Pushing the envelope is really what makes this narrative special, watering it down would have ruined the experience.

As far as myself, I have gotten all kinds of responses, good and bad, from the Muslim community at large. I think that goes to show that Muslims are a lot more open then people think. Outside the Muslim community, people are fascinated by the unique look into the community that they don't often see.

It seems that for some, like the gay character Muzzamil, the Taqwacore community wasn't necessarily about punk music at all, but rather providing a haven where they could be themselves.

I think Taqwacore is actually way more about a place to feel accepted, then just about music. I see this film, the music, and the other artists involved in Taqwacore as an extent ion from the original novel. People have been inspired to branch out the ideas placed forth in their own way. 

This is why Taqwacore isn't going away soon.  It's not just about good music or a good movie. It's about ideas that people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, really need to think about right now.

The Taqwacores is currently on release in the UK

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