It took two minutes to convince Haytham Nasr to come on board as executive producer of Salma Hayek’s Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, an animation based on the writings of the famed Lebanese poet.
“Distributor [Mohammad Fathalla] showed me a very rough edit of, potentially, the people who might be involved, and the works that they’ve done, and I remember seeing this two minute edit on an iPhone, and I was blown away. I was literally blown away. That second, I said, ‘Yes, we’re in’,” Nasr told tabloid!.
The film, which has been at least five years in the making, will open in cinemas on May 7. It’s divided into “chapters” directed by nine segment directors — Emirati talent Mohammad Saeed Harib, creator of animated television series Freej, is among them — as well as writer and director Roger Allers.
The underlying story that binds the fragments together focuses on a young girl by the name of Almitra (Quvenzhane Wallis), who strikes up a friendship with the jailed poet, Mustafa (Liam Neeson).
Hayek, from Mexico, is both the co-producer and the voice behind Almitra’s mother, Kamila. She has said that the film is a tribute to her late Lebanese grandfather, who had cherished Gibran’s best-selling work.
“Through this book I got to know my grandfather, through this book I got to have my grandfather teaching me about life … For me this is a love letter to my heritage,” said Hayek at the Lebanese premiere of the film in Beirut in April.
Before that, the film had a pre-screening at Cannes Festival in 2014, and later that year premiered at Toronto International Film Festival.
33-year-old British-Lebanese Nasr and his company MyGroup were the first funders behind the film, getting involved four years ago. They were later joined by the likes of the Doha Film Institute, FFA Private Bank, Participant Media and Financiere Pinault (of which Hayek’s husband is the Director).
Nasr said: “Selma was like, [Gibran is] a Lebanese icon, so it only makes sense to have Lebanese be a part of it and work on it. It has a very Arab distinct feel to it.”
He added that, despite a lack of Lebanese people among the film’s plentiful directors, there was an overall Lebanese influence.
“[French-Lebanese musician] Gabriel Yared did all the music along with Yo-Yo Ma,” he shared.
“Visually, a lot of the aspects of Gibran’s paintings were incorporated in the movie. We had the producers all came out to Beirut, we took them around to Jbeil [Byblos], we took them to the mountains of Bsharri, Gibran’s hometown, so there was obviously a lot of imagery taken on, in that sense.”
One of the most difficult aspects was tackling the various different topics covered in Gibran’s original book, The Prophet (1923), which contained 26 prose poetry essays. Condensing them into a 90-minute film, without having it feel too fragmented, was a concern. After all, each segment of the film (an average of two to five minutes) was done in a different animation style, depending on its director, furthering the divide.
“That’s where Roger Allers really showed his expertise,” said Nasr.
Allers, known for being co-director of Disney’s The Lion King, tied the segments of The Prophet together with a single story, weaving in and out of it between the different chapters. This made for easier viewing.
“We wanted to come up with a movie targeting not only an older generation, but a younger generation, and exposing the works of Gibran to a younger age group. Without having that part of the story done, it would have maybe been lost on a couple of the younger viewers,” said Nasr.
But despite their hopes to reach multiple generations with the film, Nasr said they were disappointed to find it “slapped with a 15” rating in the UAE.
“We wanted to have kids be able to watch it. But there’s a couple of scenes, you know, dancing scenes on love, where — obviously, it’s a cartoon — but it’s still quite sensual in nature, which comes through Gibran’s work, anyway,” said Nasr.
The film, he said, was a “visual, musical and insightful journey”.
“It’s very, very heart-warming. Everybody probably knows Gibran’s work — maybe they don’t know it’s actually Gibran’s work, if that makes sense — but especially at Western weddings, and even funerals, you’ll hear it recited so many times on love, on marriage, on death, on children,” he said.
“[The film is] just a really powerful way of getting that information. It’s, in that sense, exposing everybody to the works of Gibran in a way that maybe people don’t sit down and physically read the book.”