Mega film on Prophet Muhammad (S) Set for Premiere

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TEHRAN: A multimillion-dollar biopic about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)– Iran’s most expensive and lavish film to date – to counter, what films director says, negative portrayal of most revered person in Islam, is set to premiere on Sunday.

The film does not show the face of Prophet.

Tehran’s Fajr international film festival, which coincides with the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, is scheduled to show 12 years of Prophet’s life. To protect the prophet’s dignity, the film will be shown out of competition.

Iran has been a vocal critic of the prophet’s portrayal in the west, recently expressing strong condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo cover cartoon in the aftermath of the deadly attacks in Paris, which depicted Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) weeping and holding up a sign reading Je Suis Charlie.

The film, to be released as Muhammad, Messenger of God” in the festival’s opening ceremony, is directed by internationally-acclaimed Iranian auteur Majid Majidi. The film is the first part of an ambitious trilogy about Prophet’s life. It tells the story of Muhammad (pbuh) from his birth to the age of 12, ending with his first visit to Sham (Syria) where Bahira, a Christian monk, is believed to have predicted he would one day become a prophet.

It took Oscar nominated director five years and estimated  $30 million– to produce what is only the second big-budget feature made about the prophet. The first was Moustapha Akkad’s 1976 The Message, starring Anthony Quinn.

Majidi has had his own doubts about Akkad’s biopic, which he said failed to do justice to Prophet’s life by showing “only Jihad and war” and also because “the image of Islam in that film is the image of a sword”.

Iran is bracing for a large international release in March, at least in the English- and Arabic-speaking worlds.

Prophet Muhammad’s face is not shown on screen and the Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the three-time Oscar-winner for masterpieces like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, has worked on various combinations of light and darkness to make religious depictions in the film possible.

Majidi told a press conference last month, saying: “This film is a step forward for Muslim cinema. This is an investment into the development of Muslim cinema.”

He added: “While there are 250 films on Jesus Christ, 120 films on Moses, 80 about the other prophets and 40 films on Buddha, there is only “The Message” on the life of prophet Muhammad (Pbuh). Unfortunately, we fail to introduce our prophet to the western world. In this case enemies will remain enemies.”

He said he has consulted Muslim scholars of all major sects from across the Muslim world before making the film.

Majidi added, “the film starts with [the prophet’s] adolescence, and childhood is shown through flashbacks. 

On the quandary of portraying the prophet’s face, something that is resented by many, he said “the face of the prophet is not shown in the film. By hiding his face I make it [the character] more intriguing for the viewer.”

“We’re going to help open your eyes to what Islam really is all about,” Majidi added. “We have a lot of positive things to share with the world, provided that the West is ready for such a dialogue. I think that Iran can have something strong to say through its arts and culture.”

Majidi said his goal was to present the right image of Islam to the world. “The world’s perception of Islam today does not match with the beauties of Islam.”

However, the film has not been able to escape contention. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s highest Sunni authorities, has asked Iran not to show the film, while Qatar announced a rival plan for a film about the prophet, with a budget of $1bn (£660m) and backed by likes of the Lord of the Rings producer Barrie Osborne.

In response, Majidi has said: “I am aware of their concerns, we have our own sensitivities about religious figures and I wonder why they are criticising it before actually seeing it.”

Majidi’s film is financed by Bonyad Mostazafan, Iran’s foundation of the oppressed, which is a charitable entity under Ayatollah Khamenei’s authority. In October 2012 Ayatollah Khamenei made an unusual visit to the film’s location to the south of Tehran, near the holy city of Qom, where giant replicas of sixth-century Saudi Arabian cities Mecca and Medina were built. Other parts of the film were shot in South Africa after India refused to allow filming there.

Besides Storaro, who is said to have brought his own crew from Italy, other international figures on the film include the Oscar-winning Scott E Anderson, who has worked on visual effects, and the Iranian-born British singer Sami Yusuf, who has contributed to its score.

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