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Friday, March 31, 2023

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Illustration by Tom Voss Illustration by Tom Voss

Reel Story

By Lauren Coartney

Ibn Battuta left Morocco in 1304 C.E. for what would turn out to be almost 30 years of intrepid exploration. He visited all of the Muslim regions of the time, including Turkey, Central Asia, China, Sub-Saharan Africa and India, covering no less than 73,000 miles.

Though not as renowned as his contemporary Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta did something the Venetian traveler did not – he inserted himself as a personality into the narrative. By combining his own perceptions with rich descriptions of the sites he visited, Ibn Battuta created one of the first modern travelogues.

The “Rihla,” as his collected writings are called, is ripe for cinematic interpretation.

“In a movie, you have to have dramatic tension and story arcs, and it’s all there,” said Ross Dunn, an African and Islamic history scholar at San Diego State University.

Dunn wrote the book “The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century,” and is serving as academic consultant for two films dramatizing the traveler’s epic adventures.

The first is an untitled, full-length dramatic feature starring Said Taghmaoui, known for his work in “The Kite Runner” and “Hidalgo.” The second is the IMAX documentary, “The Greatest Journey: Pilgrimage to Mecca in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta.”

The films are not based directly on Dunn’s book, but producers of the untitled project are borrowing from his research to interpret the copious material in the “Rihla.” Dunn has corresponded with the writers of both projects to review scripts for historical accuracy. But his opinions have not always prevailed.

“The IMAX producers like the idea that Ibn Battuta is finding his way to Mecca using a pocket-sized astrolabe and I have serious doubts that is plausible,” Dunn said. “I may not have all the answers, but I usually know people who do.”