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Inspired by the real-life story of Bilal Ibn Rabah, an African slave who became one of the most illustrious names in Islamic history, “Bilal” is a cinematic feat marking the most high-profile CG-animated feature to come out of the Middle East. Featuring Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Game of Thrones”) and child actor Andre Robinson (“Despicable Me 2”) as voice talents, it’s produced by Dubai-based Barajoun Studios and fully funded and produced in the Gulf. Ayman Jamal, who co-directed the film with Khurram H. Alavi, spoke with Variety during the Dubai Intl. Film Festival, where it’s making a splash.

The production values on the sculpted 3D visuals are really top-notch. How did you accomplish that?

Usually animation is more about coloring and grading. For some reason, they avoid the details of texturing that are used in CG-animated movies or gaming. So we said, ‘Let’s try to fill this gap, let’s try to get into this area of detailed texturing.’ To give as much detail as possible to all the texturing we put more than 5,000 hours of work focusing on the cloth of that era. We actually had to buy more than 940 meters of cloth to really understand the textures so the modelers could copy it as it is.

Did you have input from outside the Middle East in making ‘Bilal’?

We have a team with 22 nationalities in Dubai, people who have worked for DreamWorks, Pixar and other Hollywood companies on movies like “Shrek,” “300,” “Smurfs,” “Life of Pi,” so yes we have professionals from all over world.

What’s the budget? Was it hard to find the financing?

It’s $30 million, which makes it the largest production from this region, even though compared to Hollywood it’s a very low-budget animation movie. But it was very hard to convince people to get into it because it’s the first animated movie from the region. The money came mostly from private equity investors in the Gulf, and some smaller support from the Doha Film Institute.

Making a movie that is rooted in the history of the birth of Islam can be a challenge for many reasons. One is  different ways it can be perceived by the Shia and Sunni Muslims. Another is the connotations it can take on in the West, especially now after the Paris tragedy. What’s your take on these possible issues?

It’s not a religious movie. You won’t find a single word in it that refers to any religion. It’s the journey of Bilal who was a slave and became a master. He refused to worship these idols used by traders to fool poor people and make more money for themselves. Bilal was not convinced about these idols, he felt that there was only one God who created all of us equally. And I think that one God who created all of us equally is the same for all religions. If you are inspired by the movie “Ghandi,” does that mean it’s promoting Buddhism?

It’s a pretty violent movie, if your target audience are kids. Are you concerned about that aspect in positioning the film?

Tell me what movie isn’t violent? “Superman,” “Spider-Man,” “Hunger Games”? Violence is in a lot of movies. And it has nothing to do with religion. It’s just violence. That’s what sells video games.It’s what (young people) want. Our message is actually the opposite. In the end, when Bilal has the opportunity for revenge, he chooses not to take it. The violence is just part of the drama and the action. Also, it’s a PG-13 movie anyway. We never saw it as a kids movie. And that was done intentionally, because we wanted to have a larger audience.

What’s the state of distribution of the film?

We’ve signed with Gulf Film for the Middle East. For the rest of the world, we are in talks with a several global sales companies and expect to close a deal soon. There is plenty of interest from the U.S.

Do you have another film in the works?

Yes, it’s about a musician, who was active during the Islamic era in Spain and remains influential to this day. American screenwriter Will Csaklos, who has worked as a script doctor on films such as “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” and “The Princess and the Frog,” has just written the screenplay.