Koran by Heart
About IDFA
Koran by Heart
IDFA 2011

Koran by Heart

Greg Barker
United States, England
80 min
European Premiere
Festival history
"I like the way the letters look," says 10-year-old Djamil from Senegal. He has no idea what the Arabic signs in the Koran mean, but he knows how they sound. He knows the whole book by heart - all 600-plus pages of it. Djamil is one of the participants in the oldest Koran recitation competition in Cairo. Children and young adults come here from all over the world to represent their country. Filmmaker Greg Barker follows three of the youngest participants as they go about their preparations. He does this primarily by observing them closely: he records their tiny clenched hands, and the tears of confusion when Djamil doesn't understand what the Arabic-speaking jury wants of him. And we also hear the wonderful melodies of the recited texts. By allowing a wide variety of the people involved to have their say, Barker manages to create a nuanced picture of the competition. There are strict fathers and teachers, as well as a young imam who explains why a literary perspective on the Koran can counteract extremism. This all feeds into the sense of astonishment: at the power of the memory, and at the blinkered vision of some parents. It begs the question of whether this religious recitation competition is essentially any different from the much-maligned kids' beauty pageants in the United States.
Screening copy
    Passion Pictures
    Passion Pictures
Executive producer