Salma Hayek’s passion project – Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

Salma Hayek is bringing Khalil Gibran's The Prophet, a book she loved as a child, to life with the help of nine famous animators and the Doha Film Institute.
Salma Hayek in Cannes. Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images
Salma Hayek in Cannes. Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images

It’s unusual for Cannes to showcase a film that is not finished. But when the actress Salma Hayek is producing and wants to host an evening showcasing animation from a forthcoming adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, exceptions can be made. Published in 1923, The Prophet is a collection of 26 essays written by the Lebanese artist and philosopher on all aspects of life including children, death, eating and marriage.

The US$12 million (Dh44m) animation is being backed by the Doha Film Institute and will likely premiere in Doha later this year.

Cannes Interntional Film Festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux introduced the 47-year-old Hayek as a Mexican star, but she was quick to point out that it was her Lebanese heritage – and deep personal connection to the book – that fuelled her desire to make this film.

“Thierry spoke about me being Mexican, but I would also like to speak about me being Lebanese,” said Hayak. “As a Lebanese woman I’ve been looking for a part to play where I could represent Lebanese or Arab women and in my very long career I’ve not been able to find a part playing an Arabic woman and this made me very sad. So when I had the opportunity to do this film, to me it was a way to write a love letter to this part of my heritage.

“A very long time ago, my grandfather, I was very close to my Lebanese grandfather. I’m sorry but I was his favourite, he adored me and we were very close. Unfortunately I lost him at the age of 6, but I used to see this little book at the side of his bed and I remember very well the cover and it was The Prophet. Of course I was not reading at the time, definitely not philosophy, and many years went by and when I was around 18 I found this book again, and to me it was as if my grandfather was teaching me about life through this book. Through this book I learnt so much about this man I loved so much and I still do.”

The gathering over the weekend turned out to be one of the most magical evenings of the festival so far – and even featured the global superstar Gérard Depardieu as a surprise guest, reading an excerpt from the book. But the star of the evening was Hayek, who has recruited nine animators from around the world to animate different vignettes for the forthcoming film, bringing on The Lion King director Roger Allers to oversee the project.

Several of the directors were at the event to introduce first-time screenings of their footage.

The first director Hayek introduced was Allers, who has created the overarching animation that ties the whole film together. Describing his first experience of reading the book, he said: “When someone approached and said they are looking to make The Prophet into an animated film, I thought I have to do this, I have no idea of how I would adapt this book, but it did fall to me to provide a framework for these poems so that is what I’ve done. We have got all these animators from around the world, each with their own unique vision and style.”

He showed some footage of the film, which, unusually for modern times, was made in 2-D, using hand drawing. It was after the footage ended that Depardieu made his surprise ­appearance.

Next stepped up Joan C Gratz, who won an Academy Award for her 1992 animated short film Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase. She spoke about her remarkable finger-drawing technique, which from the footage shown, resembles an impressionist painting.

Also showcasing elements were the American animator Bill Plympton, who worked on the death segment, and Paul and Gaetan Brizzi, the French animators who made the 1996 Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although they did not have footage ready to show the crowd, the twins did reveal several storyboards they created as part of the process.

Liam Neeson, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina and Hayek are providing voices for the film.

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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