Looking back on this film I made 15 years ago, it is the product of another world; a world that post the Iraq invasion of 2003, no longer exists; post sectarian Moslem orthodoxy, a world no longer tolerated. Prior to 2001 the school of Sufis, the Casnazaniyya with their ecstatic piercing rituals, were established in Mosques in Baghdad and Aleppo. I can’t imagine they still exist. Perhaps they do. Or that many of the men captured on film survive. Perhaps they do. Whatever the pros and cons of the claims made by practitioners to be divinely protected, the film always seemed to me raw testimony to the human spirit in all its manifestations. That’s why I made it.
More prosaically, The Cleveland Experiment tells how psychologist Dr Howard Hall, travels from Ohio to Baghdad to visit a School of Sufis. His mission is to assess the Sufi’s claim to possess a paranormal ability to heal the wounds inflicted on themselves during religious ceremonies. Impressed, Dr Hall invites a Sufi to visit Cleveland, to pierce himself under controlled medical conditions. Within a scientific medical framework. the Cleveland Experiment examines film from Baghdad, Syria and Cleveland and invites a number of experts from a variety of disciplines to comment on Dr Hall’s conclusions that there might be a paranormal effect at work in the Sufi ritual.