British producer John Heyman's next movie epic, about the
love affair between pharaonic Queen Nefertiti and the Biblical
Prophet Moses is based on Ahmed's 1990 book "Moses
Secret History of Egypt at the Time of the Exodus." Production
crews will soon to begin shooting in Egypt. Heyman
is no stranger to religious-themed films, having produced
the 1979 motion picture "Jesus," filmed on location in biblical
settings in Israel.
history is greatly ignored by the film industry besides 'Cleopatra'
and 'The Ten Commandments' and that's it," said Heyman, referring
to the two epic Hollywood blockbusters released more than
40 years ago.
director Hugh Hudson, the acclaimed director of "Chariots
of Fire", will direct the movie.
shoot will begin in early 2006 and locations will be in studios
and along the Nile in Upper Egypt,"
and Nefertiti - Film Production early 2006
of : Variety Internationa l Sunday, May 1, 2005
is about to be resurrected, writes Gamal Nkrumah, and together
with the Egyptian Media Production City, producer John Heyman
holds the key
began with an indescribably beautiful woman falling for a
chivalrous and powerfully-built beau. But everything went
so horribly wrong so soon. She was to be betrothed to another
a poet, the proverbial philosopher-king. (He was unique
among the Pharaohs of Egypt the man credited with introducing
the very notion of monotheism to the world. A pathetically
forlorn figure, he set out to destroy all traces of the religion
of his ancestors. He moved the country's capital, made his
favourite queen his equal and systematically razed the temples
of the fearful gods to the consternation of the hitherto
impossible task lay ahead for Nefertiti, for her dashing paramour
was none other than the Pharaoh's own commander-in-chief.
The king, not quite as physically appealing as the head of
his army, may have had big ideas of his own. But, so much
to Nefertiti's distaste, perhaps, he was not the least interested
in military matters.
the kings of the 18th Dynasty of ancient Egypt were most remarkable,
but Akhenaton was arguably the most remarkable of them all.
Branded as the heretical king of antiquity, he was much maligned
after his death. This is the tale that Ahmed Osman, the Egyptian-born
London-based writer, spun. And a top Hollywood producer and
owner of the worldwide distribution company Black Rain,
Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Star Treck (Paramount); Greystoke,
The Legend of Tarzan (Warner); Home Alone, The Rocky Horror
Picture Show (Fox); The Trail of the Pink Panther (MGM); and
The Odessa File (Columbia) was ready to buy the idea.
on Osman's controversial best-seller Moses and Akhenaten,
this is to be the latest of John Heyman's projects. The characters
are time-tested stereotypes, hot box-office attractions, sexy,
larger-than-life, with a fighting spirit and an intellect
to match. And there is plenty of political intrigue and romantic
escapades to spice up the plot. This new film promises to
be a blockbuster of huge proportions.
also the movie that may finally put the Egyptian Media Production
City (EMPC) on the map of international cinema production.
Since its inauguration some 10 years ago, many have described
the multi-million dollar project as a "white elephant" incapable
of drawing international film production such as the Moroccan's
have and remaining basically confined to limited budget
on holiday in Cyprus, Heyman decided to embark on a historical
detour to Egypt to inspect the facilities at the EMPC, to
discuss production options for the film, Nefertiti, and to
enjoy. Nor was he disappointed with the EMPC's infrastructure
and state-of-the-art facilities, after all.
fun. It's big and it's a statement," Heyman told Al- Ahram
Weekly. "It's a wonderful exercise in roots," he chuckled.
With a lined brow, the septuagenarian looks more severe than
avuncular. However, it is obvious that he has a genius for
box-office hits. Nefertiti was firmly ensconced in popular
mythology not only in Egypt, but around the world. She
is upheld as the most beautiful woman in history, and her
glamorous depiction is bound to prove profitable.
sits down and begins telling the story of Nefertiti, some
of the old fire can be heard crackling again. All things considered,
in fact, the viewer is compelled to ponder Nefertiti's relevance
to contemporary questions. "This is a deep movie," Heyman
noted. He had first read the script on a flight from London
to New York, he recounts. No sooner did he land in JFK international
airport, New York, than he phoned scriptwriter Michael Austin
to tell him he was won over: "Nefertiti was no loser."
of the contemporary world's fascination with Akhenaten was
that he rejected virtually every ancient Egyptian tradition.
He worshipped the god that had no image, that could not be
depicted in stone. Aten, as Akhenaten called his god, was
the creative force of the universe and as such was symbolised
by the sun disc with rays radiating outward. Aten was not
the sun, which was merely the symbol of divine energy, might
had so angered the priesthood in Thebes, the traditional capital
of ancient Egypt, that he had to relocate to his own capital.
In the fourth year of his reign, Akhenaten gathered his courtiers
and moved 370km north of Luxor, where he found the perfect
piece of land; nobody claimed it, and the peasants who lived
there owed allegiance to no particular god. The cliff-encircled
plain was soon transformed into a most elegant city with sumptuous
palaces, impressive temples and broad boulevards. And he called
his new capital Akhetaten The Horizon of Aten.
was christened Amenhotep, the Beloved of Amun, chief god of
Thebes, when he ascended the Egyptian throne. He promptly
proceeded to change his name to Akhenaten in the fourth year
of his reign. And he had, if not a revulsion towards the pagan
priesthood, then a fear of them and their devotion to their
heathen religion. He was the first of the monotheists. For
a subject to publicly admit his adherence to the old faith
would have cast doubt on his allegiance to the Amarna monarch.
also discarded the rigid art forms of his forefathers. His
artists experimented with romanticism and expressionism. The
famous bust of Nefertiti and the funerary regalia of Tutankhamun
are testament to the beauty of the art of the Amarna period.
Akhenaten's artists were given free reign while he was in
power. And he too recited poetry in honour of the new god.
In exile, he composed the sad, sweet songs of home, perhaps
forerunners of the Psalms.
is conceived of more as a guide to Nefertiti's inner life
than as an exploration of a lost city. "People are fascinated
by conflict. The script is focussed on conflict a battle
of wills, a conflict of interests and conflicts of the mind,"
Osman noted. In death Akhenaten has achieved what he failed
to achieve in life. His reign was marked by intrigue and espionage,
as the Amarna letters clearly indicate. But the reverie of
high politics and diplomatic play was suffused with the melancholy
of private grief and unrequited love. Austin, who collaborated
with Osman to produce the script in an attempt to construct
the characters in the spirit of their times, is eager to highlight
the historical importance not only of the characters but the
spiritual and cultural roots of Western civilisation are found
in Egypt. People in Egypt do not always understand why tourists
visit the country, why they find it so fascinating," Osman
points out. "It is because they are returning to their cultural
and spiritual roots. Their visits are actually pilgrimages,"
he explains. "In Egypt we come to the roots of our common
cultural heritage. Egypt brings us all together. Books," he
added, "have a limited mass impact. Films are different. The
appeal of film is on an entirely different scale."
begins poring over a pile of computer printouts. After picking
up a call on his mobile phone, he glances at his watch. "Akhenaten's
trajectory demonstrates an unswerving determination to defend
one's beliefs. Egypt was the original Holy Land," he stresses.
"In the fourth century AD, Palestine was arbitrarily chosen
as a new, make-believe Holy Land. It was a deliberate political
that as it may, it was in Thebes that Horemheb's iron fist
began to show, following Akhenaten's exile to the Sinai wilderness.
Horemheb's velvet glove was all very well in itself, but the
iron hand inside was considerably stronger and nastier than
Nefertiti could imagine. He murdered Tutankhamun, her son,
and the scales fell off her eyes: she now saw him the way
he was a ruthless and power-hungry despot.
was caught up in political corruption of the highest order.
Tutankhamun's death fuelled a residual anger that only revenge
could appease. The film capitalises on this cycle of abuse
and rage. But all's well that ends well. They planned to marry,
but this treacherous murder cuts across any permanent liaison.
She flees the Nile Valley and ends up in the desolate wastes
of Sinai, where her husband went into hiding. And in the utter
desolation of the desert, Akhenaten declares his unfettered
he surveyed the facilities at the EMPC, Heyman was concerned
that Egypt might not have the necessary technical expertise
to handle a film of such a scale. He also feared that red
tape might ruin his venture. "I was terribly concerned. What
the Americans have, nobody else has. They are the only people
who can afford to make a movie of that scale and nature,"
he shrugged his shoulders and pulled a face. "They command
70 per cent of the box office throughout the world," he noted.
"These days they don't shoot in studios except for TV. The
old studios were cumbersome and the infrastructure huge and
ungainly. But I was very impressed with the facilities at
the Sixth of October City. We're in the business of illusion,"
he went on, "and the Media City won't let our imagination
down. The mobility and convenience of its facilities are very
seductive. It has something of the compact nature of old studios.
I could even smell the atmosphere of the big screen."
was wronged in ancient times," Osman, who is involved in the
production as a historical advisor, explains. "His name was
erased from king lists, his image and reputation tarnished.
In modern times, too, he was accused of preposterous and unqualified
outrages heresy and homosexuality. He is sometimes depicted
as a sun-worshipper and called the False Prophet of Egypt,"
he went on, adding that Austin is currently busy "sexing up"
the script, and that he is working with him to ensure historical
accuracy. "Hollywood often changes historical facts. Hollywood
concentrates on action. Action is the selling point. We need
a delicate balance of action, physical conflict, and intellectual
or philosophical conflict. And we have a message: we all share
a common cultural heritage, and the roots of our monotheistic
faiths are to be found in Egypt, in Akhenaten's creed."
concur. "The film is played out against the backdrop of the
so-called clash of civilisations," Nabil Osman, former State
Information Service (SIS) chairman and currently the head
of international relations at the EMPC told the Weekly. "The
film proves that Western and Eastern cultures have the same
roots. Akhenaten was the first man in recorded history to
worship one god. He instituted a monotheistic doctrine as
the state religion."
does not prevent the story from retaining all the attributes
of a box-office hit: the private melancholy of a failed marriage,
the romantic fetishisation of ruin and solitude, the melodrama
of unrequited love, the pomp and ceremony of royalty, and
the rage of revenge. It demonstrates the collective yearning
for the divine and the bittersweet recognition of spiritual
lack among the followers of all monotheistic religions Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. And the film's biggest star of all,
Egypt, is as old as art itself.
has the most advanced digital film editing technologies in
the Middle East, Osman goes on to say; its printing facilities
are unparalleled throughout the region. The cameras, for example,
are Arriflex 535 Bs, working at a three-shot speed. "Our outdoor
shooting spaces are ideal for filming a movie like Nefertiti."
that part of Media City designated as the Pharaonic Area is
perhaps the most beautiful. It covers some 165,000 sq m and
is an exact replica of Tel Al-Amarna, the city built by Akhenaten
as his new capital and destroyed after his death by the priests
of the Amun Temple. It includes military barracks, an avenue
of sphinxes and royal palaces.
of the Cleopatra movies were filmed in Egypt," Osman points
out. "With Nefertiti, the producer was looking for authenticity,
for historical accuracy. And the genuineness of the geographical
settings was important.
is especially designed to provide that much sought after authenticity."
Osman stressed that the EMPC has an unmatched team of set
decorators, set designers, painters and other craftsmen and
technicians. He took Heyman to see the carpenters, painters
and upholsters at work. "The EMPC even has its own power generators.
And these pre-production facilities are the backbone of any
film production. This visit by an internationally-acclaimed
producer of the calibre of John Heyman is testament to the
potential of the EMPC. This is a breakthrough. Up till now
we've had no major international movie filmed in our studios.
With Nefertiti we are finally and hopefully irrevocably breaking
the barrier of fear that prevents people from working here."
excellent dubbing and translating divisions. The EMPC has
dubbed many Latin American productions before selling them
to Arab, African and East Asian countries." In fact this lightening-speed
tour of Media City was something of an eye-opener for Heyman.
"The Media City is a free trade zone," Osman noted. "My main
goal is that world cinema returns to Egypt. We want the standards
set by Omar Sharif," he noted, recounting that Heyman met
Egyptian actors like Hani Salama, Mona Zaki, Dalia El-Beheiri
and Khaled El-Nabawi: "He met them because he wants Egyptian
actors to play dynamic supporting roles in the movie." The
lead roles in Nefertiti are reserved for Hollywood stars,
yet, the careers of individual Egyptian actors notwithstanding,
"this remains the greatest publicity exercise for Egypt."