Saturday, November 30, 2013

Something to Ponder....

Now when I read a news item online, I'm starting to take a moment and read the comments that people have posted about the article.

There was something I read about the story of the Saudi/Yemeni Romeo and Juliet. The story is amazing, but was not the thing that got my attention, it was the comments. So many negative comments about Arabs, Iranians, Islam, and the region. I mean I know it happens, but I guess because that is so FAR away from how I think, it surprised me.

I have a lot of friends and business associates from the region, and to read the comments...I felt insulted. It's that "How can you say something like that?" feeling, because it implies that people I like and associate with daily are somehow perceived in a negative light for no reason. How can someone make a negative comment when they have no experience with people from the Middle East, and to comment on Islam when they know nothing about it? The same holds true for all races and religions.

I think feeling insulted was a good thing, maybe if we all felt insulted and made that clear when someone attacks with a racial/religious slur, even though it is not aimed at you personally, those that made the comment might learn something. Most people say nothing, as they don't want to be the next one to be profiled/attacked. And the ones who still continue with nasty/negative comments, you know what they say, Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Shah the Movie Interview Young Journalists Club, Iran

Tehran, YJC. MENA CineFinance Managing Director discusses the production of a historical film about Iran’s Shah.

Lavender Pictures has said that it is going to produce a historical feature about the late Iranian Shah. YJC has made an interview with Michelle Nickelson, whose company MENA CineFinance works with the production team. 

YJC. What politically oriented motivations are likely to support the production?

M.N. I believe that film, being an art form, should not be politically supported. We as the filmmakers, are looking to tell a story, if there are political connections to the production, it could have an adverse effect. We want to tell the story of who the Shah was, as a politician, husband, father, the Shah, like most people in his position, had many facets to his personality. It does not matter if one is pro or anti Shah, the fact remains he is a historical character, and his involvement in Iran had an effect on world history.

YJC. How is the film indebted to previous production concerning Iran, including films such as Argo and 300?

M.N. With the 300, that was produced as a high concept action adventure, based on a comic series. One would take a lot of liberties in telling that kind of story, as it's a fictionalized story of a historical event, the Battle of Thermopylae. Argo was based on true events, but as a feature film, the story is done in a way that may have content that is fictionalized to grab the audience. It's my understanding the ending scene was not entirely true, but it did work to heighten the suspense of the story. With Shah, while we have in mind the story we want to tell, it is not a documentary, it is a feature film. The story will be based on true events and historical facts, but you have to consider, even with researching what happened and speaking to people who were involved, we can never say for certain what happened regarding the Shah, as we cannot speak directly to him and get his input on why he did certain things. We can surmise from the events that took place what happened, but there will always be that gray area where we really don't know. One could argue that these gray areas may be fictionalized, but we are not setting out to invent a story or events that did not actually happen.

YJC. How is Kingsley's new role in line with his previous roles as Iranian characters, keeping in mind that he has played Avecina as well as an Iranian military officer so far?

M.N. Ben Kingsley is one of those artists who can take on any role and do an amazing job. I would say that it's not so much in keeping in line with his having previously played Iranian characters as much as it's in line with his innate ability to play any character, and have the audience completely believe him. He is an immensely talented actor and we believe he will bring to the role of Shah the intensity and professionalism he brings to all his characters.

YJC. How is the production going to support the production companies' universal missions?

M.N. Our goal with Shah is to tell a story about a man who lived through an incredibly interesting and tumultuous period of time, and what happened to him during the last years of his life. Remember, in the mid to late 1970's the US was recovering from the Vietnam War and Watergate, and Margaret Thatcher had just become Prime Minister. I believe that the creative team behind the Shah film, the story subject, and the timing with what's going on internationally right now, make this the perfect opportunity for a strong interest in the story. If we execute our goal and strategy as planned, then we will achieve the mission of entertaining the audience, perhaps educating them, but ultimately let the audience decide what they feel about the character of Shah.

In the mid 1980's, China opened up to independent foreign tourism. Then in 1987 when Bernardo Bertolucci's, The Last Emperor came out, people were fascinated by the location, as most had not seen The Forbidden City. We have been invited to film in Iran and if we are able to put together filming in Shah's Palace, it will give the project the same opportunity to generate interest and continue the dialogue about Iran. That's the thing about a good film, it gets people talking and once that starts, things happen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Shah Article

Ben Kingsley takes on the Shah of Iran

Ben Kingsley has been signed on to play the Shah of Iran in a new feature film that will shed light on the backstory that led to the Islamic Revolution and hostage crisis at the US embassy in 1979.
Gateway Films, a UK-based production house, and Mena CineFinance, which operates out of Los Angeles and the UAE, will be working with the actor to make a US$40million (Dh147m) drama that they say will “highlight the failure of American foreign policy during that period”.
The film will probe the political competence and alliances of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last ruler in the Iranian monarchy, against the backdrop of his personal and family life.
“There is a lot of noise around, particularly with Nixon and Carter having overindulged the Shah, without being ready for the consequences of that policy and how it affected the view of Saudi Arabia,” said Chris Howard, a producer at Gateway Films.
“They were slightly imperialistic in the way they approached it and it was kind of a replacement for a more sympathetic foreign policy for the region. This will be a good political story to tell.”
The producers stress the movie will not be a lopsided account, but hope to “set the record straight” on the lead-up to the storming of the US embassy in Tehran, where 52 embassy workers were taken hostage by militant students.
“The only thing most Americans know is the aftermath of the failure of the policy when it comes to the hostage situation. What they do not appreciate is how the Shah manipulated America and how he was over-endorsed, which led to the Islamic Revolution.”
Howard said this would be a balanced reproduction of the facts that were excluded from Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo.
“It won’t be like Argo, where you have the Americans coming in and saving the hostages, but you will also see the way they worked at arming the Shah.”
He believes the Iranian government has a legitimate reason to be offended by the skewed narration of the revolution in the movie.
“Argo tells you a story in which Iran is painted in a very dark way and the Islamic Revolution has one dimension – where people were tortured.”
Argo was banned in Iran but residents managed to acquire bootleg versions of the film.
In January, the Iranian government said it would back a big- budget movie by a local movie- maker to correct the alleged misconceptions floated by Argo.
Ataollah Salmanian, a writer and filmmaker in Iran, told the local press that the proposed movie The General Staff would be about 20 American hostages who were delivered to the US by the revolutionaries.
Though unrelated to the Iranian film, the film with Kingsley may provide a larger voice to the Iranian cause.
Michelle Nicholson, a producer with Mena CineFinance, said they have been invited by the Iranian cultural ministry to shoot at the Shah’s Palace.
“To be able to shoot there will provide that authenticity and personal touch that I would like in the movie,” says Nicholson.
“His personal life interacts with his political life, so the location is very important. We also want to portray him as a family man, who was detached from his political figure.”
At the same time, Howard said, they do not want to take sides.
“We just want to make a good movie with the facts. And the relationship the Shah had with America and all the manipulation is what makes it interesting. He was an incredible diplomat and strategist. He had a vision to become the financial centre in the Middle East,” says Howard.
Terry Stone of Gateway Films said they plan to sign on an Oscar- nominated writer who has tackled historical dramas in the past.
“We need someone A-rated to work with Sir Kingsley,” said Stone, whose production house makes independent films.
“To get Gandhi to play Shah, that is great. All our other efforts need to match that,” said Stone, referring to Kingsley’s portrayal of the Indian pacifist and politician M K Gandhi in the 1982 biopic Gandhi.
“It is uncanny, but he even looks like the Shah.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shah, Starring Sir Ben Kingsley

Our first film from MENACF is Shah, starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Mohammed Reza Shah, the last Shah of Iran. The story will focus on the last two years of Shah's life, and the intrigue and events that led to his exile from Iran.

Gateway Films and Kingsley's Lavender Pictures are our co-production partners. The film is being done as an indie feature, and could best be described as a cross between The King's Speech and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

I have been invited by the Ministry of Culture in Iran, through our associate Bahran Heidari, to film in Iran. To be able to shoot some scenes in Shah's Palace would be an amazing addition to the project, we will see how this moves forward.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PSA for the Abu Dhabi Autism Center

We are very proud to have been a part of this PSA through Women in Film and Television (WIFT) UAE. It helps bring attention to Autism and the Abu Dhabi Autism Center

The brainchild of Manar al Hinai of InvestAD, the PSA has been shown before every feature at VOX Cinemas to help bring awareness to the Center, and there is an interest to show it on Etihad Airways. Manar asked us if we could support this, and the fearless team of Annette Waddington, Hana Makki, director David Moore and DOP Marcel Beck (and myself as producer) put this together. Great job guys!

Watch the ADAC PSA
We are hosting a celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Women in Film at the beautiful Paris Sorbonne, Abu Dhabi on Nov. 1st and 2nd. The schedule of events are on the event FB page

H.E. Sh. Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Youth, Culture and Social Development, will be attending the Opening Ceremony as the event's Patron.

If you are in the UAE and would like to meet the media professionals here, please stop by. The event, screenings and lectures are all free and open to the public.