What’s in a name? I find myself approaching the new POV season the same way I used to love cracking the college course catalog, eating up the clever names teachers would give their courses, such as my comp-lit favorite, “Uncanny Tales.”
What sounds good? Life. Support. Music., Hold me Tight, Let Me Go and Bronx Princess each have a particular ring that makes me want to see more. But the one that grabs me most is the first up, New Muslim Cool.
There’s something so enticing about those three words together, complemented by the image of the film’s main subject, Hamza Perez. The notion of a new form of Islam, coupled with something cool, is so seemingly incongruous and yet appealing, that I was hooked.

New Muslim Cool
I’ve watched the doc, which I really enjoyed and felt lived up to the promise of the title, but then I started turning alternative titles in my head, most of them variations on the word jihad.

I had to wonder about director Jennifer Maytorena Taylor‘s process of deciding the title, so I dropped her a line.

“The title was inspired by the Miles Davis album Birth of the Cool,” she tells me. “I was thinking about other seminal moments in popular culture and how they got announced to the public at large, and it made me think of jazz and be-bop, which in some senses were the hip-hop of their day. And of course, I was playing a bit with the idea that ‘Muslim’ and ‘cool’ are usually two words that are [not] thought of as congruent in any way.”

As for using the word jihad in the title: “We did think about ways to possibly use what we like to call the ‘j word’ in the title,” she says. “But ultimately decided it would need too much explanation. It takes the whole film and many events in the lives of Hamza and the other characters to fully manifest the definition of what a lot of people call the greater jihad — i.e the internal struggle to better yourself.”

A lot of thought clearly has to go into coming up with a title. And while movie titles get test-marketed to death in the world of feature films, in the doc world, the title depends on the filmmaker’s gut. I think Jennifer has a good gut.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite doc titles. You may note there are none of Michael Moore‘s films here. I think his titles generally stink (Roger and Me being the exception).
When We Were Kings
Capturing the Friedmans
The Sorrow and the Pity
Born Into Brothels
Hands on a Hard Body
An Inconvenient Truth
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
Super Size Me
My Kid Could Paint That

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen