Some of my answers are here on FILMMAKER magazine from an interview we did two weeks ago.
Here is an excerpt from the journalists introduction:
A Jihad for Love, Sharma's debut as a director, is a highly personal documentary informed by his own status as both Muslim and gay. It is a revelatory examination of the paradox of Muslims who remain devoutly within the religion despite Islam's persecution of them because of their sexual orientation. Sharma presents a panoramic view of Islamic homosexuals throughout the world such as Muhsin, an openly gay Imam in South African; Mazen, an Egyptian refugee who was incarcerated because of his sexual preference; Ferda and Kiymet, a lesbian couple living in Turkey; and Amir, a young Iranian man forced to flee to Turkey. Shot in 12 countries over six years, Sharma's film is an intelligent and eloquent exposition of a taboo subject that not only movingly pays tribute to the strength and integrity of the film's embattled subjects but – despite its provocative title – maintains a reverent rather than critical attitude towards the Islamic religion.
I really like this review on IndieWire not because it is flattering (which helps certainly!) but because it is written well.
(To put it bluntly it is less about the reviewers seeming knowledge of cinema and the world and more about the film.)
[An indieWIRE review from Reverse Shot.]
Homosexuality isn't a choice, but often, many forget, neither is religion. And this is certainly the case for the world's dense population of devout Muslims, now comprising the second largest religion in the world. Since the dictates of various orthodoxies seem almost by design to painfully rub up against basic biological desires, the demonization of sexuality has been widely reported upon and dramatized, whether directly or indirectly, for as long as there has been sophisticated thought.
Though the most blatant and rigorous denial of carnal desire is extended, as ever, to homosexuality, only in recent years have we been granted the courtesy of fine documentaries such as Sandi DuBowski's "Trembling Before G-D" and Daniel Karslake's "For the Bible Tells Me So," primers on the eternal battle of conscience and love waged in the minds of gay individuals for whom abandoning faith-based communities is not an option. For them, the need to touch another human body does not preclude the desire to be close to God; of course, in dealing with a handful of extreme, sexually repressive Islamic societies, Parvez Sharma's passionate, yet reserved new documentary "A Jihad for Love" can't help but seem even more urgent.
Sharma, a gay writer, reporter, and filmmaker born in India, is himself a Muslim, and his lack of condescension toward the religious communities he captures on film is "A Jihad for Love"'s greatest strength. Sharma excels at depicting the effects of repressive regimes on individuals in a matter-of-fact manner, without the aid of overly cute populist doc tricks or direct audience appeals; one comes away with the sense that Islamic governmental law based on religion isn't so different from nonsecular Westernized rationalizations for discrimination.
Indeed, there's a terrific scene in which Muhsin Hendricks, an Islamic scholar and Imam in Johannesburg, questions the very existence of any sort of anti-homosexual decree in the Quran, citing the Old Testament tale of Sodom and Gomorrah as the most oft misconstrued passage of all, in which God's condemnation of rape has been twisted to include all forms of male-male love. It happens to be the same argument made by Western scholars in Karslake's film, and though it's been used in such nations as Saudi Arabia and Iran as the base rationale for government-sanctioned punishment and execution, it unites religious intolerance in harmonious discord.
Despite the instructive necessity of scenes like these, it's "A Jihad for Love"'s focus on the personal conflicts, tortures, and everyday quandaries of articulate, desperate people like Hendricks that truly ennoble the film. "Help us remove this desire and replace it with love," a praying woman is heard saying at the beginning of the film, and it's a stunning phrase, heartbreaking in the fact of its irreconcilability, which defines all of the film's principal subjects. Some show their faces and some do not, yet when they have chosen not to Sharma heightens their abstraction to both humane and artistically valid ends -- the closeness of human bonds and the rights of two people to lovingly touch one another are impossible to misrepresent.
The decision for some -- like Amir, an Iranian seeking asylum and living as a refugee in Turkey with other young, ostracized gay men in one cramped room, or Maryam and Maha, a Moroccan and Egyptian lesbian couple -- to not show their face on-camera does not make them any less brave than those who do, including middle-aged Sufi lesbian couple Ferda and Kiymet, living in the more sexually permissible Istanbul, and the Egyptian Mazen, who had been imprisoned and tortured as one of the "Cairo 52," men rounded up from a gay club, before remaking his life in Paris.
Yet when Mazen calls home to his mother, invoking Allah with reverence, Sharma's film reinforces the fact that complete escape is not only impossible, but in many cases, unwanted. "A Jihad for Love" depicts those who do not reject their faith but must also choose survival. The movie isn't perfect -- even for an eighty-minute film shot in twelve countries and following at least eight principal personages there's a bit of narrative filler, including Ferda and Kiymet's rambling conversation about the presumed sexuality of a parrot, and too often Sharma relies on an overly familiar slow-mo-imagery-and-melismatic vocals to string together scenes. But as a document of testimonials from those who otherwise dare not speak, and for whom being gay is like being born, inextricably, into the lowest possible caste, "A Jihad for Love" is invaluable.
[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and the managing editor and staff writer of the Criterion Collection.]
Interesting comment here btw-what do you all think? To be clear-I am strongly against the Iran-phobes that surround us and have been speaking emphatically and clearly to the press about the war drums that are beating again and how a sovereign nation like Iran needs to decide its own fate-My interview on Democracy Now! is a case in point. This email is worth generating a discussion on and therefore I reproduce it below.
When I saw the movie last night I thought the portrayal of the situation in Iran was overly grim. During the discussions, the director expressed regret that he did not visit Iran and instead relied on the testimony of a group of Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey who had approached the UNHCR seeking refugee status in order to go settle in Canada, claiming that their lives in Iran were in danger because they were gay. One of them claimed having had a gay marriage in Iran, the videos of which had been seized by the police.
The idea of a gay marriage in Iran (video, cake, and all) sounds too improbable, especially in the case of lower middle-class Iranians from the provinces (Shiraz in this case). Their stories seem far-fetched to any Iranian ears.
Could these asylum seekers have improved their chances of winning asylum by participating in this documentary? Was the director manipulated?
In a world where top-ranking French ministers talk about nuclear attack against Iran, Hillary Clinton talks of "annihilating Iran", and Israeli officials drop hints of preemptive nuclear attacks against Iran, increasingly it is Iran that is facing an existential threat, not Israel (a country with the bomb).
There is a very real chance that this film will be used as ammunition by Zionist sympathizers to bolster their case for further marginalizing Iran. And worse.