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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with BILAL Writer/Director/Producer Ayman Jamal @ 69th Cannes Film Festival


“Bilal: A New Breed of Hero” is a 3D computer-animated action-adventure drama about the real life epic story of Bilal ibn Rabah, a young African slave boy who was abducted by Arabian slave-drivers and raised in slavery 1,400 years ago. An inspiring story of freedom and survival in the face of great adversity, Bilal found his freedom after forty years of slavery. Ayman Jamal is writer/director/producer of “Bilal”, which premiered in the film market and Animation Day at 69th Cannes Film Festival. Jamal runs Dubai based Barajoun Entertainment, which is the first animation CGI studio in the whole Emirates region. They produce animation, CGI and VFX productions.

I interviewed Ayman during the Cannes Film Festival in the Dubai pavilion. Here is what he had to say:


Can you tell us about your animation film Bilal?

AYMAN: Bilal is inspired by a true African hero who lived in the Oxen Empire 1,400 years ago. He was born and raised as a slave and brought to Arabia, went through a lot of challenges to ask for equality and freedom and became a master by the end of his life.

What made you decide to tell this story as an animation?

AYMAN: I was targeting the youth. As mainly children and youth watch animation movies that are fictional heroes, my idea was, “What if we fill the gap and make an animation films about real heroes with inspiring stories full of fantasy at the same time?”

What do you think about the state of animation today?

AYMAN: I think the audience is growing. Animation is not just for kids anymore. Many others watch animation movies, including game lovers who are addicted to animation too. Yes, it's dominated by two or three companies worldwide but there are some great new studios coming into the picture and hopefully we will see more nice productions with great stories to tell.

Will you be doing ancillary marketing on this film, like with dolls, books, etc.?

AYMAN: Yes, actually we will. There's going to be a novel book, a full merchandise line and actually a full soundtrack of music and songs created for the film.

Can you tell us about the crew?

AYMAN: Yes, when we started the production in Dubai, which is a new market for this kind of production, it was lacking in many talents. We actually created a big team and moved them to Dubai. The total team that worked on Bilal was 360 and took 3 ½ years. We hired people who had worked on big blockbuster films like 300, Harry Potter, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Life of Pie. We have a very good team that lives in Dubai now who created the pipeline for the project of the studio itself. Now we are starting on the second project.

Did you get any inspiration from the film Lord of the Rings by chance?

AYMAN: Yes, Lord of the Rings and the story of the hero for the feel of the film and the way it was developed. We were trying to bridge the gap. We saw many action films about big heroes such as Ghandi, Mad Max, Braveheart so our model was, “What if we take an epic story based on a true story and turn it into animation?” Not many people have done this yet so we are looking to see if it will be successful.

Speaking of epic, can you tell us about the big moment of the movie, the battle scene?

AYMAN: There was a battle where Bilal faced his master for the first time after he was freed, which was an epic moment. In animation it's very challenging to create a battle scene but we made the decision to make it. Up to now, it's a record 11'40'' full battle scene with thousands of soldiers, horses, camels. That's a movie by itself just to develop this 11 minutes.

According to you, what is the underlying big message of the film?

AYMAN: It's an inspiring story of a slave becoming a master. He was an African slave boy who was taken to Arabia and it took him 40 years to take his freedom. Also, it has a lot of drama in it. I like the connection and the bond between the brother and the sister because when Bilal was freed, his family was still living with the master who owned them. He tried several times to free his sister also, so there is a great bond between them. That's another thing I would love to show to kids and youth today, which is the family bond.

How long did the film take to make?

AYMAN: It took us 3 ½ years to make. Usually for animation that is a reasonable amount of time to produce a feature film.

Tell us about being in Cannes to receive a prize called: 'Animation that Matters'. Can you tell us about that?

AYMAN: We entered the industry because we wanted to create animation that matters and stories that inspire kids and youth. We are very excited to be in that category. Our vision in the industry today is to actually create animation movies about heroes that history has forgotten. So we are doing research of heroes from all over the world that are still only read about in books and trying to reproduce their story in an inspiring way through animation.

I realize you can't reveal too much but what is your next project?

AYMAN: Our second project is about a hero who has been forgotten. He is a musician who lived in Spain 700-800 years ago. We are working on the research and development now. We have hired the script writer and we are almost 50% done with the script. I believe in 6-8 months the whole story will be ready to start production.

Why did you pick this new story?

AYMAN: I think we all love music. He was one of the beginners of Spanish music so we just wanted to tell his story.

How has your experience in Cannes been so far and your first day walking the red carpet?

AYMAN: It was a great experience. It is my first time to Cannes so it was very nice and I loved the opening film!


Genre : Animation, Action/Adventure, Family Countries : UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, USA Languages : ENGLISH Duration : 105 mn Directors : Ayman JAMAL, Khurram ALAVI Writers : Alex KRONEMER , Michael WOLFE, Khurram ALAVI, Yassin KAMEL Cast (voices) : Adewale AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE, Ian MCSHANE, Jacob LATIMORE, China ANNE MCCLAIN Producer : Ayman JAMAL (Barajoun )

Pictured: Michel Abouchahla, Animation Day in Cannes Partner, (who bought Ecran Total in 2013) with Ayman Jamal and Bruno Chatelin co founder of ADIC and (2016) at 69th Cannes FIlm Festival

Interview by Vanessa McMahon at 69th Cannes Film Festival

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