Hirsi faced death threats after debut 'Old Sana'a'

The sophomore jinx is a common affliction for young helmers, but British-Yemeni helmer Bader Ben Hirsi is happy just to have made it to his second pic alive.

While lensing Yemen’s first-ever feature, “A New Day in Old Sana’a,” on location in the country, he faced death threats from Islamists unhappy at his cultural endeavors, accusations he was a member of the CIA and even had to replace one cast member after he was stabbed by extremists.

Ben Hirsi is thankful his follow-up pic, “Arabian Sands,” about the life of British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, is proving a much easier sell.

“Pitching it has just been so amazing. As soon as I tell people the story, they become interested,” Ben Hirsi says.

“Arabian Sands” follows the explorer’s journey into the Empty Quarter of Arabia in the 1940s. The film will be based on Thesinger’s book of the same name, a tome published in 1959 that is still considered to be one of the greatest works of travel writing.

Ben Hirsi is raising a $12 million budget — a far cry from the modest $1 million sum that “Sana’a” cost. The helmer struggled to raise the coin for his debut, eventually convincing local Yemeni businessmen to invest. He has taken a more pan-Arabic approach the second time around.

“People want to show another side to the Middle East than the one portrayed in the news,” say Ben Hirsi. “It’s still a struggle, but Arab filmmaking is here to stay.”

 One shingle in the United Arab Emirates has offered to match any sum Bin Hirsi raises elsewhere, up to a potential investment of $6 million. Reason for local interest comes from Thesinger’s real-life encounter and friendship with U.A.E. founder and prexy Sheikh Zayed during his travails.

The helmer hopes to begin lensing as soon as the second half of 2007. The project will be shot in London, U.A.E., Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

“Thesinger has a huge following in the Arab World and the U.K.,” Ben Hirsi says. “He was Eton-educated but became very tribal during his travels at a time when the Emirates was still little more than desert and mud huts.”

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