With his movie being screed at the Cannes Film Festival, filmmaker and producer Ayman Jamal talks filmmaking, the importance of history, and bringing animated film to the UAE
When did you decide to go in to filmmaking?
I've aways had an interest in telling stories. Stories about heroes that history has long forgotten. I was personally inspired by the likes of Gandhi, Lincoln and Malcom X. But I couldn't find a single animated movie that told these types of stories.
I was fond of animated film when growing up, so it was natural that I moved in to that type of filmmaking when I grew up. You just start doing it and then the rest just falls into place.
You're new film Bilal is being shown on Animation Day at the Cannes International Film Festival this year. What's the movie about?
The film is about timeless faith, hope and self-discovery. The story is based on the life of historical figure Bilal Ibn Rabah, an African slave who lived in the Arabian Peninsula.
Bilal focuses on the character’s resilience in the face the danger, his role as a guardian and protector of his younger sister after both were abducted as children.
He called for justice against inequality. Bilal brings out a new dimension to the whole notion of a 'superhero'. It's a strong story that offers a fascinating glimpse of history, through the costumes and the backgrounds.
What made you want to tell this particular story?
For two reasons. The first, it's a simple story about a 7-year-old boy who has faced injustice and tyranny, but becomes one of the most prominent figures in history after calling for justice and equality.
At the same time, this story also teaches an important lesson about our history, and that of freedom. The combination of those two things was very compelling to me.
Were there any challenges to turning this story in to an animated picture?
Everything comes with obstacles. As a new animation company, we expected a few hurdles and challenges. Especially as this is the first animated movie from the Middle East.
At first it was hard to convince people to be a part of it, however we still managed to put together a team of 327 talented artists and animators from 22 different nationalities, as well as some great celebrities to perform the voices. Telling this story – along with its important moral lessons – was challenging, but not impossible.
As a filmmaker, where does your responsibility go from telling an entertaining story, to spreading a lofty message like equality?
I think you first need to open yourself up to a broad range of subjects, and then understand the impact these themes can have on yourself and an audience.
I have an incredible team of people that I work very closely with. We had many conversations about creating a successful historical story.
But the focus was always on the main theme: the struggle for freedom and equality. I think stories that motivate you appeal to both young and adult audiences.
How has the reaction been to the film since its release? Were you surprised?
Everyone has loved the concept of the movie. People usually like watching fictional characters in animated movies, so it was amazing to see the response towards a real life hero story.
While the story took place in the past, the tale of Bilal is very well known to this day. I'm overwhelmed by the reaction. I'm living every filmmakers dream.
Seems quite a first step for the Middle East's first animated movie.
Also for Barajoun Entertainment, that produced the movie. Barajoun was born out of a great passion for storytelling, art and innovative technologies.
It's the first animated studio of its kind in the Middle East, with a goal to contribute to the development of the filmmaking industry in the region.
What's next after Bilal?
We have a long list of exciting projects to get started on over the coming months and years.
We have another movie in the works as we speak, but I can't share anything about that now. Watch this space.
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