Oscar-nominated Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki (“Of Fathers and Sons”) is developing an epic fantasy series set in ancient Mesopotamia that marks the acclaimed documentarian’s first foray into episodic content.
“Shemesh Kingdom” takes place in the cradle of civilization five thousand years ago, where a prophecy foretells a great catastrophe that will wipe mankind from the face of the Earth. Only one nation will survive, led by a chosen man – the Master of the Crossing – who will usher them into the eternal Kingdom of Shemesh.
Derki, who is planning four seasons of the English-language series, described “Shemesh Kingdom” as “new blood” for audiences, adding: “It’s a different point of view about this type of fantasy [series].”
The series begins at a time of peace between the three kingdoms that rule over the ancient world: the kingdom of the East, Gergana; of the West, Lukiana; and of Middle Earth, Azaria. These three civilizations were built by the descendants of Ottonebeshtem, the second father of humanity who saved it from the Great Flood.
Season 1 takes place in the Middle Kingdom, as a horrified shepherd enters the city of Uruk – the greatest metropolis of its time – with a warning to the gathering crowd: the Master of Evil, a demon recognized by his telltale stigmata, has appeared in the kingdom, signalling that the end times are near.
The shepherd’s warning triggers unrest in the once peaceful city, setting the storyline in motion. Season 1 will follow Gemish – the king of kings of his era, and the first engineer of human civilization – as he grapples with the consequences of this prophecy for his kingdom. A second storyline revolves around the conflict between Gemish and the Queen of the West, Armin, a power struggle that dates back to a romance between the two leaders that was dashed by a betrayal, setting off a series of wars between the great civilizations.
“[‘Shemesh Kingdom’] is about doomsday and the end of the world, and the first fight between nations in the ancient world,” Derki told Variety. The series draws on historical sources to provide a map of ancient Mesopotamia and is inspired by religious texts about the end of days, as well as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is widely considered to be the first written text on earth.
The series, however, is a work of imagination that its creator believes will strike a chord. “It’s really something unusual. People get tired of [shows] based on Christianity or the Vikings. All the culture, all the background, all the atmosphere [of this] is totally new,” said Derki. “It’s not ancient Egypt, it’s not ancient Greece. Nobody has seen it in a series. It’s a new culture that’s never been filmed before.”
A story bible for Season 1 has been written by Heba Khaled, who is currently developing her feature directorial debut, “Azel,” with Derki attached to produce. The psychological horror is set in a conservative household in 1930s Damascus and centers on an honor killing. Principal photography is expected to begin this summer.
Derki is also in the editing room with “A Song for Summer and Winter,” the last film in his acclaimed Syrian war trilogy that includes “Return to Homs,” a ground-level look at the Syrian civil war which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, and “Of Fathers and Sons,” a portrait of a radical close-knit Islamist family which won the same prize at Sundance in 2018 and was nominated for an Academy Award.
The director is also developing a top-secret documentary, “Hollywood Gate,” whose details are being kept under wraps.