Bilal Film Screening In Cannes

It was a pleasure to attend the avant-première of Bilal: A New Breed of Hero during the Cannes Film Festival 2016.

Bilal is a one of its kind animated feature movie produced in the Middle East, and that reimagines the life of Bilal ibn Rabah, a very famous personality in Arab history.

Using advanced captivating technology, and for a budget of $30 million, Producer/Director Ayman Jamal successfully transformed a historic epic into a message to humanity. The story is told through the life of a boy with a big dream, who finds the courage to defy the status quo and make a change to defy social inequality and injustice.
The film was a roller coaster ride, as the audience was laughing during some scenes and felt deeply touched during the others.

For us to find out more about the story behind Bilal, its message and creative process, we sat down with Producer/Director Ayman Jamal who elaborated his vision.

AM: How challenging was it to transform a story of religious heritage to a universal story that transcends its time and place? 
It was a real challenge indeed. But prior to that, I thought of people like Gandhi. For example, everyone knows about him and reads about him without necessarily being a Hindu. So why do we always have to link a person to his/her religion? And specifically when this personality’s story deserves to be told. Bilal’s narrative is different from that of other heroes, because he is a hero through his voice and persistence to free himself. It’s a story that still resonates with people 1,400 years later.

AM: Why an animated movie? 
An animated movie takes around 3 to 5 years of preparation, which is way more than that of a regular feature film. And recently, animation studios have proven that their movies are not exclusively for children. Additionally, it’s surely more attractive to the new generation who is interested in everything digital like video games.
And what is unique to Bilal, is that the majority of animated heroes are fictional, while Bilal is based on a true story. And this is where reality coincides with virtual reality. When we worked with different focus groups, we found that the movie’s message was even comprehended by children of ages 7 to 10.

AM: What would you say was the main obstacle in producing Bilal?  
I would say the funding of course, which was nearly impossible at the beginning. Since we come from a region where the movie industry is still developing, finding funds for a regular movie is already complicated. And because Bilal required quite a big budget, the people involved in the project were hesitant about it.

AM: What is your advice to filmmakers who are not finding the right means to execute their projects? 
To never give up! If they keep focused they will realize their projects. That being said, sometimes they might have to change or edit their stories, but they should always stick to their dreams. For instance, I had numerous ideas prior to Bilal that I had to abandon until I found the right script.

AM: Where is Bilal heading after Cannes?
Our next step will be to participate in the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June. Later on, we will be premiering Bilal at either the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) or during The Montreal World Film Festival. And finally, the film’s commercial release will be in Fall 2016.

AM: What are your next projects?
We are currently in pre-production of a new animated movie, with the script doctor of Ratatouille and Finding Nemo. The movie tells the story of another real life hero. Our mission is to always shed light on people that history has forgotten.

Editor’s note: A big congratulations to the cast and crew of Bilal for winning the Best Inspiring Movie Award at Cannes, and we are confident that this film will be a commercial success.

CONVERSATION