Journey to Mecca: The Genesis

Bridging Islam and the Western world - words from the Producers.

The genesis of this film was to promote a better understanding of Islam in the West. At the same time, and as importantly, it is to present on the big screen the heart of Islamic heritage to the Muslim world. My personal view is that there is a sense that the Muslim world today is a little under-represented in the media except on political issues. What we want to do is showcase the cultural and spiritual and historical elements of the Islamic world in a non-political way. Dominic Cunningham-Reid.

Journey to Mecca is about peace because the Hajj is about peace. We want to look beyond what the Western media cover when there is a stampede at the Hajj. Think about the three-million people who come each year to participate in this extraordinary spiritual experience. At its core, the Hajj is a celebration of the Prophet Abraham. The Muslims believe that the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Ka’bah on a site where there was originally a shrine built by the Prophet Adam. So we share in all of this - Christianity and Islam and Judaism. It is all part of the same story. Taran Davies.

At the heart of the film is an epic adventure story about an exceptional and driven young man on his perilous year and a half long journey to perform the Hajj in Mecca in 1325, at an amazing time in Islamic history and culture. Ibn Battuta is one of the greatest travelers of all time, but largely unknown to Western audiences. In order to complement and underscore the timelessness of his spiritual quest, we have bookended the film with astounding, first-time ever IMAX® footage of the modern day Hajj, including inside the Holy Mosque and aerials. It is a compelling true story combined with the immersive and stunning IMAX® medium, and guarantees a totally unique and once in a lifetime experience for all audiences, Muslim and non-Muslim. Jonathan Barker.

Little did Producers Dominic Cunningham-Reid and Taran Davies realize that when their paths crossed in New York that shortly thereafter, they would form a partnership to produce, with Jonathan Barker, a 45-minute film that would consume the next four years of their lives-the giant IMAX® film of Ibn Battuta’s epic journey circa 1325-1326 from Tangier to Mecca.

Cunningham-Reid previously made documentaries about conflict; Davies made documentaries focused on Islam. Together their talents combined to create a partnership resulting in the formation of Cosmic Picture in 2004, the company founded to make Journey to Mecca. Barker, the IMAX® filmmaking expert and President of SK Films, rounded out the production team in 2006.

Cunningham-Reid had become intrigued with the IMAX® format and wanted to do something new, other than nature and wild animals. He felt that IMAX® was an underutilized medium when dealing with subjects relating to people. In his and Davies’ early discussions, one of the subjects they both thought would work extremely well was the Hajj. "The reasons behind that were certainly the times we were living in, and the fact that after September 11th, there was a great hunger and real need for information about Islam in the West. To really shake up the format, we were willing to take a risk, go after something new and difficult and bring an Islamic story to the Giant Screen against all odds," says Cunningham-Reid.

"The Hajj is a global conference that brings three million people from all over the Muslim world to one location every single year, an event uninterrupted for the last 1,400 years. Why not bring it to the giant screen and in the process find a way of telling the story of the Hajj to enlighten people about Islam and teach them about this extraordinary relatively unknown world to many people in the West," says Davies. "The Hajj is the center of Islam, yet it is the least known element of it. It is the spiritual magnet that created the Islamic Silk Road." His eureka moment came when the Hajj and the IMAX® format came together.

"One of our goals was to show the Hajj on the giant screen as a way to strip away barriers between cultures. And when it is there on that 25-metre high screen, it is so powerful, yet so peaceful. And that is one of the big things that struck us as non- Muslims, learning how harmonious the Hajj is. Three million people from around the world and all walks of life mixing together in peace," says Davies.

The figure of Ibn Battuta leapt down from the centuries, as a vehicle for the story. "We wanted to package the film as an Islamic adventure and have the audience identify with the character of Ibn Battuta, who was a man with an open mind," says Cunningham-Reid. When they learned that, at age 21, Ibn Battuta set off from his home in Tangier for Mecca, they had their perfect story arc. "We wanted the audience to step into the shoes of a young man who is setting out on this epic voyage risking his life to reach Mecca, and along the way we would learn about the Islamic World," adds Davies.


Heading for Saudi Arabia
The Filmmakers
The Screenplay
Casting for Ibn Battuta
The Highwayman
Ibn Muzaffar and Hamza
Ben Kingsley as Narrator
Filming in Mecca
IMAX® film logistics
Mecca in Morocco
The Camel Caravan
Camel Capers
Damascus, The Red Sea and The Nile
IMAX® Isn't For Sissies
Historical Advisors
Arabic Calligraphy
Ibn Battuta