Saudi Arabian remake of inspiring Spanish film 'Campeones' to be released in September

Oscar-winning producer Andres Vincente Gomez calls the film, about a sports team made up of people with special needs, a 'serious comedy'

A still from 'Champions'. Al Maha Films, Lola Arabia
A still from 'Champions'. Al Maha Films, Lola Arabia

An Arabic-language adaptation of Campeones, a 2018 Spanish comedy-drama film, is scheduled to hit cinemas later this year.

Its Oscar-winning producer Andres Vicente Gomez hopes the 90-minute Saudi remake, called Champions, will impact Arab audiences and transform the lives of people with physical disabilities.

Champions stars Yassir Al Saggaf, Fatima Al Banawi and Khaled Al Harbi, alongside real people with special needs cast from the Help Centre in Jeddah, a non-profit organisation for people with disabilities.

The film, which was shot in Saudi Arabia, tells the story of a football coach who gets expelled for a fight during a game that goes viral and as a result he is sentenced to community service which involves him coaching a team of people with disabilities.

In a surprising turn of events, the coach finds himself in an extraordinary journey of learning, one he wasn’t ready for.

This isn't the first time producer and director Gomez has worked on a Saudi film. He was the co-producer of the 2019 historical drama film, Born A King, based on the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Having done Born A King, this was easy to handle. I went from a $18 million film to a $3 million one. But money is not always everything. I had the same satisfaction doing both,” Gomez tells The National.

Oscar-winning producer Andres Vincente Gomez on the set of 'Champions'. Al Maha Films, Lola Arabia
Oscar-winning producer Andres Vincente Gomez on the set of 'Champions'. Al Maha Films, Lola Arabia

The Spanish director wants to redefine the way Arab culture is perceived and the way movies are made in the Kingdom.

“Movies as we understand them are entertainment and culture. Having made over 130 feature films in Europe, and shooting all over the world, I was intrigued about the Middle East, especially the GCC countries, their culture and their movie market," he says. "I went to Saudi Arabia with the intention to shoot an Arab content animated movie... but I had the opportunity of making good friends and discovering a country with enthusiastic youth that was interested on social media, digital ways of communicating, who are sensitive and very advanced culturally.

"I then thought that it was the right fit to develop a number of projects, different to the ones I was used to and what I was starting to get bored with,” Gomez adds.

Soon after, he was commissioned to produce a stage musical The Last Horseman for Madrid and London. He then went on to produce a number of English TV series for Saudi TV before Born A King came his way in 2017.

'Born A King' documents the true story of 13-year-old Faisal, the young son of the first King of Saudi Arabia, who in 1919 is sent on a diplomatic mission. Courtesy King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies
'Born A King' documents the true story of 13-year-old Faisal, the young son of the first King of Saudi Arabia, who in 1919 is sent on a diplomatic mission. Courtesy King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies

Even though Gomez has wrapped up Champions, he says he is currently working on 10 other projects in Saudi Arabia that include feature films, television series and different audio-visual events.

“Arab audiences need their history, past and present being told through films. Movies to watch in cinemas and television," he says.

For Gomez, Champions was a reminder that winning is not the most important thing in life.

"Champions touched the sensibility and the conscience of a large of public that discovered the so called special needs person in a different dimension, capable of showing us a different way to understand and how to treat them. It was a fun movie, a serious comedy.”

Creating the soundtrack

In Champions, music plays an instrumental part in shaping the narrative and spirit of the movie.

To create a soundtrack for an epic blockbuster was a challenge, one Hasan Hatrash had to accomplish within a week. He was the producer, singer and songwriter for the theme song Life Rotates.

Fatima Al Banawi, left, and Yassir Al Saggaf, in 'Champions'. Al Maha Films, Lola Arabia
Fatima Al Banawi, left, and Yassir Al Saggaf, in 'Champions'. Al Maha Films, Lola Arabia

“The producer told me that I had a week at most to write and record a theme song that has to be modern, happy and of course had Arabic lyrics,” Hatrash tells The National.

“It was such a tough challenge especially that I was consumed with other work, but this one was too tempting to let go. Knowing Andres and his portfolio, gave me a boost in confidence and enthusiasm to overcome my worries to come up with a song worthy of being part of the film.

“It's amazing to be among the first people to leave a footprint in this huge emerging film industry in Saudi Arabia.”

Knowing that the actors were actual heroes with special needs fuelled my lyrical inspiration, and the main idea came in a flash

Hasan Hatrash, music composer

Speaking about the music-making process, he says he first watched the Spanish version to "get the general vibe".

"I had an idea then on the general sound and feel of the song, but the challenge remained with the Arabic lyrics. As a songwriter, I’ve written many English songs but that was my first Arabic attempt," he recalls.

“My goal was to keep it simple. I came up with a basic looping catchy progression and started layering instruments in my small studio. Due to time restrictions I had to play all the instruments during recording. Coming from a rock background I turned towards a pop rock sound with bass sections in the background, which was a new experience for me. It really helped me expand my musical experimentation and took me to new regions.”

After writing and recording the melody in two days, he went on to write the lyrics.

“Knowing that the actors were actual heroes with special needs fuelled my lyrical inspiration, and the main idea came in a flash," he says.

“Life rotates was the first Arabic sentence that struck my mind and it came from the general idea of the movie, which talks about determination, positivity and innocence in a very raw or humane way. The rest came naturally."

Shortly after submitting the song, not only was it approved but Hatrash was contacted again by Andres with big news.

“He said that they wanted to use my song again for the end credits, substituting a song by legendary rock band Queen. But they needed all the actors with special needs to sing along with the chorus of the song. “I thought that was the biggest compliment any artist could achieve, I accepted immediately," he says.

Hatrash booked a bigger studio, gathered the main actors and started rehearsing.

“It was quite a challenge to deal with heroes with special needs especially with some speech impairments, but they were all excited and worked their very best. We spent over six hours in the studio to get the best outcome we could from every one of the actors and the results were amazing.

“It was one of the most amazing times of my life," Hatrash adds. "Seeing the joy and happiness of the actors and hearing them humming the songs as they were leaving the studio, filled my heart with happiness. It was the best payback.”

Champions is slated for release in September this year.

Published: May 12, 2021 07:17 AM

SHARE

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one