Sundance 2010: With ‘The Taqwacores,’ festival continues to get punked

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Earlier this week, L.A. Times film critic Betsy Sharkey characterized the collective artistic vision coming out of this year’s Sundance competition as one that paints punks as society’s saviors. Sharkey predicted that people would look back on the festival as ground zero of a bigger conversation that would continue to cast ‘the rebels, the misfits, the outcasts’ as the solution to a ‘desperately floundering mainstream America.’ In her column, Sharkey specifically mentioned three films: ‘Welcome to the Rileys,’ ‘Sympathy for Delicious’ and ‘Hesher.’ But there’s another group of potential punk saviors that have garnered attention in Park City this year: the Taqwacores.

‘The Taqwacores,’ Eyad Zahra’s first feature film, premiered this week as part of Sundance’s new low-budget section Next. Based on Michael Muhammad Knight’s 2003 novel by the same name, the film follows the journey of a first-generation Pakistani Muslim student who moves into what can only be described as the ultimate punk house, smoldering with a ragtag collection of marginalized misfits who coexist in a fragile stasis on the outer edges of Islam.

As with any adaptation of a cult hit such as Knight’s novel, which ignited a real-life movement of sorts, the film will face inevitable comparisons to the source material, but Zahra’s faithful interpretation simmers with raw immediacy and seething humor. Shot on what looks to be the world’s most depressing film stock, Zahra’s vision of Buffalo, N.Y. is reminiscent of a Soviet-era Vladivostok, leached of color and hope. This moody world is then punctuated with bright bursts of hyper reality straight out of a skater video from the ‘90s, which jolts the viewer from unutterable bleakness to heart-stopping exhilaration and back again. The film is sure to appeal to fans of ‘Trainspotting,’ ‘Fight Club,’ anything by Gus Van Sant, and of course Taqwacore. Click the photo below for a gallery of the band scene at the Sundance Film Festival.

But the festival was less about launching a movie and more about the mini-pilgrimage it sparked in the unofficial yet closely knit Taqwacore scene of artists, bloggers, filmmakers and fan kids who trekked out to Park City to support the film, almost 40 of them jammed into one small condo. And, of course, there were the bands immortalized in last year’s documentary of the budding scene, “Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam,” and which feature heavily in Zahra’s film -- the Kominas and Al-Thawra. Along with Filmstrip, the Cleveland band whose performance space Tower 2012 stood in as the film’s punk house, the musicians toured their way across the country to promote the film, and played to packed houses in Park City.


For more on ‘The Taqwacores’ and the Taqwacore scene, check out Brand X.

-- Melissa Henderson