Journey To Mecca details the incredible journey of the real-life scholar Ibn Battuta who travelled 5000 miles from his native Tangier to the spiritual home of Islam – Mecca – in 1325. Along the way he battled against harsh terrain as well as falling prey to Highwaymen and bandits. The story of Battuta – who was only 21 years old at the start of his journey – has largely been ignored in the West despite the intrepid traveller having accumulated three times the number of miles on his clock than the much better known Marco Polo in a quest that was to last thirty years. This singular achievement later led to a crater on the Moon being named after him in honour of this feat.
Combining both drama and documentary, Journey To Mecca juxtaposes the modern day Hajj (Arabic for pilgrimage) with that of Battuta’s. In accordance with the film’s running time – an ephemeral 45 minutes – the ‘drama’ concerns itself with a few key episodes in Battuta’s journey as he seeks to join the Damascus Caravan, the infamous pilgrimage that leads the way to Mecca. Before he merges with the other pilgrims, Battuta encounters a Highwayman who, after an initial confrontation, becomes his paid-protector and, given time, ally.
This constitutes the ‘drama’ of Journey To Mecca which is otherwise bookended by images of a contemporary Hajj, showcased by a sumptuous helicopter shot that captures the millions of pilgrims partaking in the centuries old ritual. In terms of sheer aesthetic beauty it provides the most impressive moment of the film as herds of people congregate together inadvertently forming gorgeous swirling patterns as they circumnavigate the inner-circle of the Grand Mosque.
By bookending the tale of Battuta with the latter day pilgrimages to Mecca the film lends a certain timelessness to the ceremony, of a tradition that the ages have failed to diminish or weather away. It is a welcome depoliticised depiction of Islam in a current media environment that is fixated on terrorism and war emanating from the region, cruelly neglecting to focus on the peaceful aspects of a culture that has been historically misrepresented.
Journey To Mecca is one of the most sublime cinematic experiences I’ve enjoyed in recent years. Shot on awe-inspiring 70mm it at no point sacrifices substance in favour of style in order to facilitate a screen that boasts an impressive height equivalent to that of two double-decker buses. Combining immense ambition and directorial flair, Journey To Mecca far surpassed my expectations and gave plenty more in return. The IMAX isn’t cheap but this is a genuine cinematic experience that you would be foolish to miss.