Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 September 2019

First UAE-produced animated feature film Bilal finally makes regional debut

The UAE-produced animated film tells the story of Bilal, an African slave in 7th-century Arabia, who wins his freedom and becomes a great leader and warrior.
Ayman Jamal, left, producer and co-director of Bilal, and actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, at the  film’s premiere in Dubai on Sunday. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Ayman Jamal, left, producer and co-director of Bilal, and actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, at the film’s premiere in Dubai on Sunday. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Bilal, the first UAE-produced animated feature film, finally made its regional debut on Sunday night, with a red-carpet gala premiere at Dubai’s Ibn Battuta Mall ahead of its general release in cinemas on Thursday.

The event included an appearance by British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who provides the voice of the film’s title character. He also appeared as Killer Croc in last month’s DC Comics blockbuster Suicide Squad, and will be familiar to fans of TV drama Lost as the mysterious Mr Eko.

The premiere marks the end of an epic journey for the film’s creators, who had already taken it to international festivals this year, including Cannes, and the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. “I’m so happy to finally be here,” says producer and co-director Ayman Jamal. “So many people have been asking when they can see it, and now finally we’re here in cinemas.”

He added that the regional release this weekend will be followed next month by a global release, including key markets such as North America and Europe. Jamal said that the festival circuit has been a useful preparation for the movie’s eventual public debut.

“The best thing about the festivals is that that’s where you can really find out what audiences think of your film,” he said.

“Cannes was really busy, but it was maybe Annecy that struck us most. It’s solely an animation festival – I think the world’s biggest – and we ended up screening four times there. We were only supposed to screen once. They actually asked for a fifth screening, but we had to say: ‘No, that’s enough now.’ “Everyone kept thinking this was a French movie – I don’t think anyone expected to see an animation out of this region, telling this kind of story. It was really inspiring.”

The film tells the story of Bilal, an African slave in 7th-century Arabia who wins his freedom and becomes a great leader and warrior.The voice cast also includes Deadwood star Ian McShane.

Jamal added that even as Bilal nears the end of its long journey to the big screen, his company, Barajoun Entertainment, is now working on a second animated feature, a musical, that will once again shine a light on another story from the history of the region.

Bilal will be in cinemas from Thursday. Don’t miss our interview with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and review of the film in Thursday’s Arts&Life

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Updated: September 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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