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First Gulf Region Animation Feature ‘Bilal’ To Launch From Doha Film Institute’s Ajyal Fest

The Doha Film Institute’s Ajyal Youth Festival has secured the world premiere of high-profile Middle Eastern action adventure toon “Bilal,” inspired by the real-life story of Bilal Ibn Rabah, an African slave who became one of the most illustrious names in Islamic history.

Touted as the first CG-animated feature to be fully funded and produced in the Gulf, “Bilal” features Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Game of Thrones”) and child actor Andre Robinson (“Despicable Me 2”) as voice talents.

Robinson and Akinnouye-Agbaje, who voiced the young and adult Bilal respectively, will be in attendance for the Doha launch of the toon which involved creative talents from 22 countries and is expected to raise the bar for animation production in the region.

Co-directed by Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal, “Bilali” was partly funded by the Doha Film Institute and produced by Dubai-based Barajoun Studios. Bilal Ibn Rabah was a slave who fought for his freedom and after converting became a companion of the Prophet Mohammed. The toon is being described as an inspiring adventure story of faith, hope and self discovery as he breaks out of slavery.

“Bilal” will be the closer of the Ajyal fest on December 5.

Ajyal’s previously announced opener is Oscar-nommed Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s buzz pic “The Idol,” about how Palestinian pop singer Mohammed Assaf went from being a kid in a refugee camp in Gaza to winning the second season of “Arab Idol” in 2013. “The Idol” will launch into the Middle East launch from the fest, which is youth-oriented but broad in scope, on November 29 with Abu-Assad and Assaf attending. They will both also hold an onstage conversation.

The third edition of the fest, which is conceptually similar to Italy’s Giffoni youth fest and has more than 500 hundred kids and adolescents as jurors, will also feature the Middle East premiere of Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur,” Studio Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There,” and also a special screening of locally produced animated short “Hero and the Message,” about a Qatari brother and sister who travel back in time to witness the founding events of the State of Qatar in the 19th century.

Other standout pics launching from Ajyal into the Middle East include Jafar Panahi’s “Taxi,” which won this year’s Berlin Golden Bear; Danis Tanovic’s “Tigers,” about corporate greed and wrongdoing in the developing world; Nanni Moretti’s bereavement drama “My Mother”; Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Wolf Totem,” which is China foreign Oscar candidate; and Lebanese dark comedy “Very Big Shot” by first time director Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, who is a DFI grantee.

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