Zikr: A Sufi Revival premieres at Sundance


ZIKR: A Sufi Revival aims to shed light on a crucially misrepresented religion, revealing an Islamic practice of inclusion, acceptance, art, joy and understanding. By dancing and singing alongside members of the Tunisian group Association de la Renaissance du Maalouf et du Chant Soufi de Sidi Bou Saïd while they revel in the euphoric communal experience of ritual and music, participants can feel the power of this faith, which welcomes women and those practicing other religions.

“My hope is that ZIKR: A Sufi Revival, with its unprecedented level of engagement and interactivity, will allow for a more meaningful connection to Islam that goes beyond empathy and tolerance. I want it to evoke the deep sense of bliss and elation these rituals can bring in order to communicate something that cannot be learned through words, but only through experience,” Arora, the director of ZIKR, said.

“We founded BoomGen Studios as a hack to leverage the power of storytelling to reframe perceptions, to change people’s minds, to create new identities. And there is no better example of that than what Gabo and team have accomplished with Zikr,” said Best Selling Author and Scholar of Religions Reza Aslan, Executive Producer of ZIKR and co-founder of BoomGen.

VR is the ideal medium for this exploration thanks to its innate responsiveness. Up to four participants engage in the experience together, making it possible for them to delve into the participatory, community-oriented aspects of Sufism in a way previously unimaginable.

In keeping with the social nature of the religion, participants can see one another as virtual avatars, interact through song and dance, and effect each other’s environments using various physical objects including a string of prayer beads. Perceptual triggers allow bodies and voices to activate visuals and hidden experiential features within the experience; and antechambers are used to prepare participants for the rituals.

“In Zikr, we push the boundaries of interactive social VR experiences by re-imaging embodiment and presence in Sufi rituals. Participants are afforded an opportunity to engage with each other through song and dance and gain a more holistic understanding of Islam,” said Igal Nassima, Zikr’s creative technologist.

“Sufism is a popular, mystical practice of Islam that counters the constant media representations of the religion as rife with extremists and bound to terrorist organizations. We want participants to not only explore Sufism as a religious outlet, but also one that counters the perceived violence and intolerance of prevalent conservative Islamic movements. Hopefully this can add a positive element to the dialogue surrounding the role of Islam in the United States,” Niederhauser said.

ZIKR: A SUFI REVIVAL was created by award-winning filmmakers Gabo Arora, John Fitzgerald and Matthew Niederhauser; directed by Gabo Arora and produced by Jennifer Tiexiera, with executive producers Reza Aslan, Mayhad Tousi, Mohab Tarek Khattab, Eva L. Burns, & Cameron Brodie



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