SXSW 2013 Preview: Chai Vasarhelyi’s Touba


SXSW is often times best known for its various narrative feature premieres, it’s support of short film and music videos, and its various world premieres and “secret screenings.” However, when it comes to documentary film, very few festivals have as diverse and intriguing a lineup as the Austin-based festival.

One of the standout films in this year’s lineup, one that most people may overlook by the seemingly odd name, is a film by the title of Touba. Named after the holy Senegalese city of Touba, the film is a lusciously made meditation on Islam, a look at just how beautiful and truly important the faith is, despite how violent and evil some of its extremists may truly be. Shot on celluloid, the film is vital and important in today’s landscape, and is an absolute joy to look at. Here’s the film’s synopsis:

 Touba is the new feature documentary from director Chai Vasarhelyi  (Youssou N’Dour : I Bring What I Love). With unprecedented access, Touba reveals a different face of Islam, one which is so essential to these divisive times. The film chronicles the annual Grand Magaal pilgrimage of one million Sufi Muslims to the holy Senegalese city of Touba. One of the rare films still shot on celluloid film, its breath-takingly vivid cinematography by Scott Duncan and integrated soundtrack elevates it to the level of a humanist film poem. This dynamic and immersive observational film takes us inside the Mouride Brotherhood–one of West Africa’s most elusive organizations and one of the world’s largest Sufi communities. The pilgrims travel from all over the world to pay homage to the life and teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba. His non-violent resistance to the French colonial persecution of Muslims in the late 19th century inspired a national movement and doctrine. Until this day, freedom of religious expression through pacifism is still practiced by millions of his followers. In light of recent events in Mali and the region, these are lessons the world can learn.

Having the chance to preview the film prior to its screening, I can safely say that this is one documentary that may go unnoticed during the star studden lineup found within this year’s SXSW Film Festival, but hopefully, it won’t.  Featuring brilliant photography from Scott Duncan, Touba is a breathtakingly engrossing documentary feature, and one that is as pertinent to today’s political and global landscape as any this year’s documentary slate may have to offer. It’s a thrilling feature film, and one that should not be missed. By anyone.

The film screens at SXSW on:

Stateside Theater
11:00am – March 9

Alamo Slaughter
11:30am – March 10

Stateside Theater
1:30pm – March 16

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.

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