A Sinner in Mecca enters a world that has been forbidden to non-Muslims for 14 centuries. Sharma documents his journey on an iPhone and two smuggled tiny cameras. On the streets of Mecca he joins 4 million other Muslim pilgrims from different traditions of Islam, fulfilling a lifelong calling for Hajj.
The film examines parts of the ideology that governs today’s Islamic extremism and what it has in common with Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi Islam.In the movie the filmmaker, an openly gay Muslim man tries to find his own place within an Islam he has always known, an Islam that he believes bears no resemblance to Wahabi Islam.
In the movie the filmmaker sees himself as a longing Muslim, labeled an infidel, wondering if he can finally secure his place within this religion that condemns him.
A Sinner in Mecca is co-produced with Arte and ZDF in Europe.
The film is set in Saudi Arabia, India, and the United States.
A Sinner in Mecca continues to play at many film festivals around the world. Its European premiere was at the UK's Sheffield Doc/Fest where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Award. Additional security was provided. The film won the Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary at Outfest in Los Angeles. where additional security was provided as well.
A Sinner in Mecca premiered at the 2015 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and had a limited US theatrical release beginning on September 4, 2015. The film continues to play at international festivals including CPH Dox in November, 2015 and IDFA in November, 2015. It won the Grand Jury award at Outfest, Los Angeles in July, 2015 and the Best Documentary Award at Image+Nation in Montreal in December, 2015. The film was among those in consideration for an Academy Award on October 23, 2015.
The world premiere at Hot Docs required added security in response to online hate mail and death threats against the director.
The online abuse and death threats around the film continued through its theatrical release and its debut on iTunes, Netflix and television channels.
The film was initially slated to be screened at the 26th Singapore International Film Festival. Due to the country's conservative policies, permission to screen the film was withheld at the last minute.
The New York Times named the movie a Critics' Pick and said “Mr. Sharma has created a swirling, fascinating travelogue and a stirring celebration of devotion. We emerge from his film more enlightened.” Critic Alan Scherstuhl in the Village Voice said “Next time you hear politicians or right-wing broadcasters asking why “moderate” Muslims don't denounce terrorism, show them this movie.” The Los Angeles Times in a feature about the movie wrote “Challenging his own faith in the face of adversity.” In a story on the film, The Washington Post called the film “Complex" and "Revelatory". In a feature about the film, Yahoo News called the film “A Rebuke of Saudi Arabia”.
The film received universal acclaim upon its 2015 Hot Docs premiere. The Hollywood Reporter called it “Wrenching… gritty… surreal and transcendent; Visceral and Abstract… a true act of courage and hope.” The Guardian wrote, “With poetic simplicity… a delicately personal story and a call to action.” OUT Magazine described it as “Brave... An unprecedented exploration of Islam.” Indiewire wrote, “Powerful, Illuminating … a remarkable examination of contemporary Islam.” NOW Toronto said, “Spectacular… Emotional core stands out”. BBC Persian called it “Shocking and Courageous”. Screen Daily referred to the film as ““Unprecedented… Surreal.” The Toronto Star called it “A deeply personal film about faith and forgiveness.” Scroll.in said, “Deeply personal … High Drama … A protest against Saudi Arabia”. J.B. Spins wrote, “Nonfiction-filmmaking does not get much gutsier than Sharma video-documenting his hajj... Bold and stingingly truthful, A Sinner in Mecca is very highly recommended.” Anne Thompson in Thompson on Hollywood wrote, “The film combines the political, the personal and the spiritual in a remarkable way”. It has a score of 76% on Metacritic. The film has a score of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In a feature on the film, The Daily News said it was “(A) death defying religious journey.” In its review of the film, The Daily News said “Compelling… takes its audience where no film has gone before”
NBC News while writing about the film called it “The Talk of the documentary circuit.”
The Daily Beast says “Goes undercover...A rare look...sure to be controversial.”
In its review of the film, Slant Magazine calls it “A work of vital social and political import.”
Writing about the film, VICE says “Brilliant...Rare...Takes aim at Wahhabi Islam.”
In a special feature about the film Paper Magazine says, “Surreal...Bold...An incredibly rare insight.”
The Advocate says the film is “Like a carefully constructed thriller.”
The Daily Mail says the film is “Powerful”.
Religion News Service wrote a detailed feature about the film on September 10, 2015.
Christianity Today says the film is “Critical but not mocking”.
JB Spins calls the film “The Bravest documentary of the year”.
Out (magazine) published an op-ed about Parvez Sharma's Hajj.
Jahan News, an Iranian news agency, denounced the filmmaker for promoting “the disgusting act of homosexuality” and labeled the film "an attack on Islam."
Won a RapidLion for Best Documentary Feature, 2016