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VIDEO ESSAY: Reel Islam

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by Kevin B. Lee
September 29, 2012 1:22 PM
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Originally posted on Fandor.

There are many things that disgust me about Innocence of Muslimsand all the tragic violence it has caused. As a movie lover, what disgusts me is this: Something that looks like it was made by rank amateurs in a basement studio, something that has nothing valuable to say about the lives and beliefs of one and a half billion people, has somehow captured the world’s attention in the worst way possible.  Lost in the media firestorm are many other films that actually deserve our attention in exploring the world of Islam.

The documentary Veiled Voicesis a revealing look at the evolving role of Muslim women in the Arab world, profiling several women who serve as leaders in their communities and in the media. The film shows how these women are fostering a new generation of progressive thinking and openness in Islamic society.

Children of the Prophet is a vivid look at Ashura, an important religious day for Shiite Muslims, the largest denomination of Islam in Iran. The film uses the occasion to elicit frank reflections from Iranians about their faith. We also learn that for young, modern Iranians, this religious day of mourning has a completely different significance.

The Tunisian comedy Khorma shows that, contrary to what the mass media portrays, Muslims don’t mind poking fun at their own faith and pointing out its shortcomings. Khorma is the simpleminded servant of a cleric whose job is to announce weddings and funerals, that is until one day when he gets them mixed up. Khorma takes over the job, and unwittingly exposes the petty corruption and economic exploitation lurking within the shadow industry of religious services.

But for a movie that captures the beauty of Islam at its purest, it’s hard to beat the films of Tunisian director Nacer Khemir.  Bab’Aziz the final chapter of Kehmir’s Desert Trilogy, and unlike the deplorable green screen effects ofInnocence of Muslims, it was actually shot in the desert, drinking in its panoramic beauty. Inspired by the mystical teachings of the Sufis, the film charts a winding intuitive journey, as one story falls into another. Each character has their own spiritual quest to fulfill, their own path to follow. Khemir’s film shows that Islam is not a single monolithic entity or pernicious threat, but a world of innumerable wonders waiting to be discovered, especially in its films.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

What are some of your favorite films that depict Islam and the lives of Muslim people? Leave a comment.

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