'Spirit of God' sees Jesus through Muslim eyes

LONDON — Fresh from tackling World War II and the Holocaust in local blockbuster “Zero Degree Turn,” (Variety, June 6, 2007), Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) is turning to religion as the subject of a pair of big budget skeins.

First up is the $5 million “Jesus, Spirit of God,” helmed by Nader Talebzadeh, which recounts the life of Jesus Christ through Muslim eyes.

Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet and the spirit of God, as the pic’s title states, although not the son of God as stated in Christian theocracy.

IRIB’s production and sales arm Cima Media Intl. (CMI) is handling the project, which will be released as both a 100-minute feature and a 20-episode TV skein to be aired later this year.

The abridged theatrical version of the project bowed in Tehran cinemas last year, where it garnered a moderate reception from Iranian auds more used to commercial laffers, romances and war pics.

Talebzadeh even hand-delivered a copy of the film to Mel Gibson’s mansion in Malibu last year. The Iranian was met by the security guards who promised to deliver the film to “The Passion of the Christ” helmer although Talebzadeh never heard back from Gibson.

“It is important to show our history before the Islamic revolution,” said CMI managing director Mohammed Reza Abbasian. “These episodes of religious history and Iranian history are very popular with Iranian audiences. We want to show the opinions of Islam toward the prophet. This story came from the Koran without any changes. You could call it Jesus through Islam’s lens.”

Talebzadeh’s film is a faithful adaptation of the life of Jesus — who is depicted with flowing blond hair and fair skin — familiar to Western auds with one notable exception. Where films such as “The Passion” went to great lengths to re-create the crucifixion of Jesus, Talebzadeh’s film sees Jesus saved from the cross by God and taken straight to heaven.

Also missing is the ultra-violence which characterized Gibson’s version.

CMI execs have even bigger plans for their follow-up skein, a $20 million version of the life of Joseph and his multi-colored coat, helmed by Farajollah Salahshoor, that is set to be one of Iran’s biggest-budget productions ever.

The costly skein could be described as a passion project for its producers, as they will have little chance to ever recoup their money back from foreign sales.

“We have tried to sell it to Arab TV stations, but they say that they cannot show the face of the prophets, and, at the same time, it’s not good for European TV,” said Abbasian. “The Iranian government is spending its money on the project, but it wasn’t supposed to cost this much.

“When you start a project you say it will cost $2 million, but we wanted to film this on 35mm not video so it’s become more expensive. We can’t stop the project now. We have to spend more money so we can save the money we already spent. Next time, though, we will film with HD or Digi-Beta.”

There’s no word yet on how much of the budget was spent recreating Joseph’s Technicolor dreamcoat.

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