Three years ago, I mentioned that a Coptic Orthodox Christian screenwriter and a Muslim movie producer in Egypt were hoping to make the first Arabic movie about the life of Jesus. The project stirred up a fair bit of controversy, though, due to the fact that Sunni Islam forbids any depiction of the prophets, and I have heard nothing about that film’s development since.
Now, however, another group of filmmakers are on the verge of making an Arabic film about Jesus — and this time, they are based in Lebanon. Variety reports:
The first Arab feature film about Jesus Christ is about to see the light of day.
Lebanese exhibition and production shingles Eagle Pictures and the Marwa Group are making “The Resurrected,” a $2 million biopic of the life of Jesus.
Production is set to begin in the summer with a Middle Eastern theatrical release set for Easter 2010.
Lebanese helmer Samir Habchi (“Beirut Open City”) is in negotiations to direct the project, while thesp Youssef Al-Khal is set to play the Messiah.
Project will depict Jesus’ life in flashbacks and be seen from the perspective of Mary Magdelene, who will be played by Nadine Al-Rassi.
Pic will focus on the redemptive nature of Jesus’ message. The producers will be taking elements from all four Gospels.
“This is a real attempt to go back to the mutual respect which existed between Christians, Muslims and Jews in this region for centuries,” said Eagle topper Jamal Al-Sharif. “We’ve seen films about Jesus from the West but there has never been an Arabic production about him despite the fact that he came from here.”
An Iranian telepic “Jesus, Spirit of God,” was made last year but this is the first time an Arabic project has been put together.
Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” was a huge hit in the Arab world when it was released, particularly in Lebanon where there is a large Christian population. Authorities in the United Arab Emirates even changed the law forbidding the depiction of prophets to allow for the film’s theatrical release there.
Producers will be lensing on location in many of the sites where Jesus is believed to have visited, including Qana and Tyre in South Lebanon. They are also hoping to lense in the towns of cities of Nazareth and Bethlehem, although that will be dependent on the political situation there.
Eagle and Marwa execs have put together a $50 million fund drawn from private Arab investors to help turn Lebanon into a production powerhouse. While the country has a long history of TV and film producing expertise, it has long been hampered by political instability.
The two companies have already started production on romantic comedy “Larita and Aziz,” featuring local stars George Khabbaz and Rita Barsoum. Eagle and Marwa also have three Ramadan TV skeins set to go into production in time for delivery this year.
Al-Sharif is hoping “The Resurrected” can help bring Lebanon’s divided factions together. He has received the official blessing for the production from Lebanon’s Maronite Christian Patriarch, while the country’s prexy and speaker of parliament have both pledged to attend its Beirut preem next year.
It sounds like the company behind the film is not tied to any particular religion — note the reference to their Ramadan programming — but the references to the gospels, the approval of the local Christian patriarch, and indeed the movie’s title itself all suggest that the film will reflect a basically Christian point of view. (Muslims do not believe that Jesus died, so they presumably would not believe in his resurrection — though they do believe that he ascended, albeit without dying, kind of like Elijah.)
Still, it could be interesting to see if any Muslim ideas about the life of Jesus make their way into the script, kind of like how the depiction of Mary in the American TV-movie Mary and Joseph: A Story of Faith (1979) borrowed elements from the story of Hagar in Genesis, just as the Koran’s depiction of Mary does. (I don’t know for a fact that the TV-movie got this idea from the Koran — they may have come up with it on their own — but that’s the sort of borrowing from other texts that I’d be looking for.)
It should also be interesting to see how this film handles Jesus’ visit to Tyre, since the main thing the gospels tell us about his visit there is that he resisted helping a Canaanite woman, and indeed he suggested that she and her kind were “dogs”, until she made a humble and somewhat clever reply to his remark.
Some theologians say Jesus always meant to help this woman but was testing her resolve, while others say this story shows how even Jesus was capable of changing his mind and “learning” from other people. Either way, for a film that wants to hark back to an earlier era of “mutual respect” between religions and cultures in that region, this episode could take on new meaning.
At any rate, this all sounds very interesting, and I definitely look forward to seeing the film, if it ever comes this way.