Doc Review: “Koran by Heart”

Tonight Greg Barker’s “Koran by Heart” debuts on HBO. It’s a competition doc — this year there’s a bunch — but it’s so much more, and I highly recommend it. Here’s an excerpt from my review of the film at Spout:

The fact that it’s not necessarily a display of comprehension does correlate Koran recitation to spelling bees, making “Koran by Heart” more akin to “Spellbound” than most competitive docs likened to Jeffrey Blitz’s 2002 exemplar. But the contest here is also a metaphor for contention among Muslims throughout the world regarding proper observance of the text and Islam in general. Many of the competitors, including the three that Barker focuses on, do not speak Arabic. So while they may have an understanding of the teachings of Islam, they don’t know what they’re literally chanting when they recite the text in the Arabic language. Equate this with followers of any religion who either don’t fully know or fully obey the doctrine of their faith. Or, to followers who believe and live one way that is perceived as ignorant or incorrect by other followers. The irony of the analogy, however, is that there is only one perfectly accepted way to recite the Koran.

The film premieres as part of HBO’s summer doc series at 9pm. It’ll also be on demand and on HBO GO through 9/11. See it.

Doc News: John Steinbeck, Hilary Swank, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, Muhammad


– An exploratory documentary that would make Andre Bazin proud: an adaptation of John Steinbeck‘s non-fiction book “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” has begun from producer Robert Kanter, who has just acquired the rights. The plan is to recreate, as in somewhat reenact, Steinbeck’s six-week scientific exploration of the Sea of Cortez with marine biologist Ed Ricketts in 1940. Filming will start next year and will have a sort of environmental agenda. The doc can’t be entirely faithful, obviously, and Kanter aims to present how the flora and fauna have changed in the past 72 years. He also states that he hopes to attract a perfectly fitting actor to narrate the finished work. For more info, see the press release here.

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