Journey to Mecca: The Filmmakers
In late 2005, Director Bruce Neibaur, who wrote and directed the IMAX® hit, Mysteries of Egypt, starring Omar Sharif, joined the team. "I loved the idea of shooting a dramatic narrative on the Golden Age of Islam," says Neibaur, who also wrote the first drafts of the script 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 one of the pillars of one of the great religions of the world." Using as one of his sources, the translation of Ibn Battuta's travels, The Rihla, written at the behest of the Sultan of Morocco more than 700 years ago, Neibaur notes, "I've always felt that Ibn Battuta was an interesting, complex fellow who was spiritual, but also had an adventurous spirit. So he combined those two passions into his 30- year sojourns into ancient foreign lands."
"In the building of the script, the fictional character, the Highwayman, was developed. There were bandits and mercenaries on the road to Mecca, so the Highwayman is representative of any number of people that Battuta met along the way. We're not trying to be 100% historically accurate to his journey, but we're being faithful to the spirit of it," says Neibaur.
At the same time, legendary Academy-Award-winning Jake Eberts, who was instrumental in helping to shape the project, agreed to serve as Executive Producer. "I'm not interested in religion as religion, but I'm interested in religion as a culture," says Eberts, whose fascination with the explorer Richard Burton, one of the first non-Muslims who learned Arabic to sneak into Mecca, which led to his interest in the Hajj. "When Dominic and Taran came along with the idea of doing something that would finally explain not only the philosophy, but the physical challenge of the Hajj, it brought back all the ideas-- what it meant to someone in the 14th century in contrast to contemporary Mecca.
"As you get older in this business and you stand back a bit," says the distinguished filmmaker, whose films 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."
"Ibn Battua is part of the fabric of Middle Eastern Culture," says Eberts. "He traveled 75,000 miles as opposed to Marco Polo's 25,000 miles. He was an astute observer of geography, flora, fauna, people he met, their history and culture, an extraordinary source of information. He best represents the voice of the journey to the Hajj. That voice is still being heard today."
By October 2006, the producers needed to partner with a production company with considerable IMAX® experience due to the challenges of this film. They invited Jonathan Barker, President of Toronto-based SK Films to join the producing team. While Cunningham-Reid was drinking endless cups of tea and Davies was raising financing, Barker brought on veteran supervising producer Di Roberts to form the production team with him. They made every effort to build the best possible team and to always strive for the highest quality knowing that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a great film about something very important to the time in which we are living. Their first key hire was Daniel Ferguson as Line Producer, with broad experience in the Giant Screen industry and who speaks French, vital for the Moroccan crew.
Barker, who has specialized in producing and distributing award winning Giant Screen IMAX® films for over 15 years, says, "When Taran first pitched the project to me in 2006, I found it completely unique and totally different from any other IMAX® project I had been involved with. I also knew it would be the most challenging film to produce with difficulties at every turn. The subject matter of both Ibn Battuta's adventure and the Hajj, is ideally suited to the medium in many ways, because it is a big subject. It involved going to Mecca and shooting contemporary footage of the longest running congregation of humans annually on planet earth - the Hajj - and I wanted to be a part of something that had that sense of spectacle and importance." He also liked the fundamental idea behind it: to present this film as a way of building bridges and understanding for non-Muslims, and for Muslims to be able to participate in giving the gift of celebrating something so important to them.