x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Akkad associate plans film on Islam's birth

A film about the birth of Islam is to be made by a producer who worked closely with the late Moustapha Akkad.

Oscar Zoghbi, the Lebanese film producer, right, with Ramsey Thomas, the screenplay writer, at Dubai Marina.
Oscar Zoghbi, the Lebanese film producer, right, with Ramsey Thomas, the screenplay writer, at Dubai Marina.

DUBAI // A film about the birth of Islam is to be made by a producer who worked closely with the late Moustapha Akkad on his epic The Message. Oscar Zoghbi, who hopes to shoot parts of his film, The Messenger of Peace, in the UAE, said it would address widespread misunderstandings about the Islamic faith. "The world is in turmoil and there is a huge lack of knowledge about Islam," he said. "In all the years since Moustapha Akkad made his film, nobody has tried to explain the religion or its value. We have decided now is the time to do something about that."

Zoghbi and Ramsey Thomas, his screenplay writer, were in talks years ago with Akkad about a remake of his 1976 film. But after his death in the suicide bombing of a Jordanian hotel in 2005, they decided to embark on a new production. "Our film is a continuation of Akkad's work in terms of subject matter," Thomas said. "But it's a film in its own right. We continue the process of telling the story of the Prophet Mohammed but we do not follow the same plot or script."

Akkad, a Syrian who had success in America with his series of Halloween horror movies, had founded his own production company, Trancas International Films. This week the company said it had not endorsed Zoghbi's film and retained all intellectual property rights regarding The Message. Malek Akkad, the president of Trancas and Akkad's son, said: "While the life of the Prophet is technically in the public domain, and anyone can produce a film based on his life, it is inaccurate for anyone to suggest they have any connection to the film made by my father."

Nevertheless, Zoghbi and Thomas hope The Messenger of Peace will be as successful as Mel Gibson's 2004 film The Passion of Christ. "There is no reason it shouldn't be as popular as Gibson's movie. We just need the support," he said. Zoghbi and Thomas, who are based in London and California, are in the UAE to seek out investors. The Dubai-based Millennium Finance Corporation is already on board as financial adviser, and Dar Al Sharia Legal and Financial Consultancy, the Shariah consulting arm of Dubai Islamic Bank, will supervise spending on the project to make sure it complies with Shariah law.

"The investment we have put in ourselves is substantial, but we are here to gather further support, both financially and regarding our message," Zoghbi said. The film will be set in the times of the Prophet Mohammed and will tell of the emergence of the Islamic religion. Zoghbi said it was designed to appeal to both Muslims and non-Muslims, but ultimately was aimed at showing viewers the truth about Islam.

"We do not have one specific audience in mind, we just want to show the value of Islam and that it is a peaceful religion. The title, The Messenger of Peace, is all we need to explain this." It will be the first major film about the birth of Islam since The Message was made. As in Akkad's film, the Prophet will not be depicted either in person or by a voice because that is forbidden in Islam. Thomas said that while the film was about religion, it was also about human nature. "In Hollywood, the Arab is the bad guy of the week. He is portrayed all too often as a terrorist. We are challenging that by bringing in the human element to our film. Religion lives through people. The Byzantium and Persian tribes were humans, as we are. They cry when they are sad and smile when they are happy. It is with that we hope to connect with our audience."

The Messenger of Peace begins preproduction in the new year. Currently the team is planning to make the film in English and have it dubbed into Arabic, although a final decision has not been made. The production team will be back in the UAE before shooting begins. "We will return for location scouting, film festivals and opportunities to meet with those in the media industry out here," said Zoghbi.

"The UAE is definitely a central focus point for us. Things are changing in this part of the world in terms of film, television and other media and we want to be part of that. The relationship between Hollywood and the UAE is growing and we are happy to be fostering links between the two places." aseaman@thenational.ae