The Cleveland Experiement

The third in a trilogy of films made about paranormal/anomalous subjects between 1997 and 2001.

The Cleveland Experiment is the story of Dr Howard Hall's investigation into the claims made for a Middle East Sufi healing practice known as Deliberately Caused Bodily Damage.

Dr Hall is an American psychologist from Cleveland Ohio whose work centres on mind/body effects in relation to healing. During his research he came across references to a Sufi ceremonial ritual in which practitioners engage in radical piercing practices through both their bodies and faces. The Sufis say that these practices cause them no pain. There is no bleeding, no infection and the wounds heal rapidly. Dr Hall travelled from Ohio to Baghdad to witness one of the Sufi rituals. His mission was firstly to find out if the claims made for this practice were authentic. Secondly he wanted consider if there might be a rational explanation for the practice or whether it could be a paranormal effect.

Impressed by what he has seen in Baghdad, Dr Hall set up the Cleveland Experiment. He invited a dervish to travel from the Middle East to Cleveland, to test if the piercing practice could be replicated in the sterile environment of a Western medical facility. If replication was possible this could have exciting implications for healing.

The film examines the footage from Baghdad and Cleveland and Dr Hall’s conclusion that a paranormal healing effect may be at work. It contrasts this claim with the opinions of other experts such as Professor Peter Mulacz of the University of Vienna. Professor Mulacz has made the Sufi rituals of piercing the subject of a special study. Drawing on his own photographic evidence that features in the film, he maintains that although the effect of piercing is spectacular there are perfectly natural explanations that can account for the practice.

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.


Camera: Andy Adamovitch, Paul Sadorian, Ken Slater
Sound: Steve Katz, Tony Cogger
Editor: Robert Hargreaves
Commentary: Dan Russel
Produced and directed: Adrin Neatrour

2001, UK, SP dv VHS, 48.28.


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