‘The Theory of Everything’ Director James Marsh Sets New Feature Doc ‘Oasis, Saving The Baghdad Zoo’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Submarine and Sandpaper Films will produce the hybrid animation/documentary feature film.

Rescue of Baghdad Zoo
Brendan Whittington-Jones

Director James Marsh is set to direct a new hybrid animated documentary feature for Submarine and Sandpaper Films.

“Oasis, Saving the Baghdad Zoo” (working title), is a feature-length animated documentary partly based on “Babylon’s Ark,” the book about a year-long rescue mission of animals abandoned across Baghdad by Saddam Hussein and his son Uday.

Billed as a 21st century Noah’s Ark, the film will show how a team of American soldiers, Iraqi zookeepers, and international volunteers tended to lions, camels, bears, exotic birds, monkeys, pigs and even an ocelot in the middle of a brutal war, risking their own lives in the process.

The zoo was first abandoned during 2003’s Battle of Baghdad, when Hussein’s troops battled the U.S. military. Amid the chaos and violence, a team of compassionate volunteers set out to find the zoo’s missing inhabitants, including a pride of lions tracked down to Uday Hussein’s palace and a pack of Arabian horses located in the heart of the war zone.

Thanks to the volunteers’ commitment, the zoo continues to survive to this day.

The book was written by Graham Spence and conservationist Lawrence Anthony.

Amsterdam headquartered production outfit Submarine (“Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood”), who boast a dedicated animation studio, are working with Sandpaper Films, who originated and developed the story, on the project.

The feature will be a hybrid animation/documentary, including 2D, 3D and rotoscoped animation combined with interviews and archive footage

Oscar and Bafta-winner Marsh has previously worked across both documentary and scripted films and television, including his Oscar-winning doc “Man on the Wire” and Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything.”

Femke Wolting and Bruno Felix will executive produce the feature for Submarine while Susannah Price and Henry Singer will executive produce for Sandpaper Films. Producer Tommy Pallotta (“A Scanner Darkly”) heads up the animation.

“It’s going to be an exciting formal challenge to bring this poignant and uplifting story to life,” said Marsh. “I see the film as first and foremost a documentary, rooted in the eye witness testimony of the people who helped rescue the animals and save the zoo. The choice of animation allows us a lot of creative freedom to visualize the story and crucially, to give the animals a point of view on the human world where they witness both the best and worst of humanity.”

Submarine co-founder Femke Wolting said: “’Oasis, Saving the Baghdad Zoo’ is a special story which raises fascinating questions about the relationship between humans and animals, and how we feel compelled to show compassion towards creatures even in the face of extreme danger. We’re confident James will bring an insightful and visionary direction to this wholly unique project, and the use of completely original animation will enable us to reflect the subjective memories of the main characters in a visually compelling and striking manner.”

Susannah Price, co-founder of Sandpaper Films, added: “This extraordinary story of collaboration and self-sacrifice to rescue bears, cheetahs, camels and lions in the midst of violent conflict feels like the stuff of fiction, but is entirely true. As the world watches yet another war play out, now is the time to bring this fantastical tale to life, and I’m thrilled to have James Marsh and Submarine on board to do just that.”