Eagle, Marwa sets Jesus biopic

Production is set to begin in the summer

The first Arab feature film about Jesus Christ is about to see the light of day.

Lebanese exhibition and production shingles Eagle Pictures and the Marwa Group are making “The Resurrected,” a $2 million biopic of the life of Jesus.

Production is set to begin in the summer with a Middle Eastern theatrical release set for Easter 2010.

Lebanese helmer Samir Habchi (“Beirut Open City”) is in negotiations to direct the project, while thesp Youssef Al-Khal is set to play the Messiah.

Project will depict Jesus’ life in flashbacks and be seen from the perspective of Mary Magdelene, who will be played by Nadine Al-Rassi.

Pic will focus on the redemptive nature of Jesus’ message. The producers will be taking elements from all four Gospels.

“This is a real attempt to go back to the mutual respect which existed between Christians, Muslims and Jews in this region for centuries,” said Eagle topper Jamal Sannan. “We’ve seen films about Jesus from the West but there has never been an Arabic production about him despite the fact that he came from here.”

An Iranian telepic “Jesus, Spirit of God,” was made last year but this is the first time an Arabic project has been put together.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” was a huge hit in the Arab world when it was released, particularly in Lebanon where there is a large Christian population. Authorities in the United Arab Emirates even changed the law forbidding the depiction of prophets to allow for the film’s theatrical release there.

Producers will be lensing on location in many of the sites where Jesus is believed to have visited, including Qana and Tyre in South Lebanon. They are also hoping to lense in the towns of cities of Nazareth and Bethlehem, although that will be dependent on the political situation there.

Eagle and Marwa execs have put together a $50 million fund drawn from private Arab investors to help turn Lebanon into a production powerhouse. While the country has a long history of TV and film producing expertise, it has long been hampered by political instability.

The two companies have already started production on romantic comedy “Larita and Aziz,” featuring local stars George Khabbaz and Rita Barsoum. Eagle and Marwa also have three Ramadan TV skeins set to go into production in time for delivery this year.

Sannan is hoping “The Resurrected” can help bring Lebanon’s divided factions together. He has received the official blessing for the production from Lebanon’s Maronite Christian Patriarch, while the country’s prexy and speaker of parliament have both pledged to attend its Beirut preem next year.