Add the wealthy Gulf nation United Arab Emirates to the list of countries that has produced an animated feature. Bilal, made by Dubai-based Barajoun Entertainment, is an action-oriented historical epic based on the life of Bilal ibn Rabah, a slave who became a companion of the Prophet Muhammad.

The CG film, directed by Khurram H. Alavi, premiered last November at Qatar’s Ajyal Youth Film Fest, and will debut internationally next month at an event called Animation Day in Cannes, which is unaffiliated with the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, though it takes place at the same time.

Produced at a cost of $30 million, funding came from private equity investors in the Gulf region, as well as support from the Doha Film Institute.

Variety took a measured tone in its review of the film, describing Bilal as “a welcome counterbalance to the disturbingly negative depiction of Muslims in the West,” adding the caveat that “getting non-Muslims to buy tickets will be almost impossible, given the film’s well-intentioned yet rather blatant propaganda elements.”

Ayman Jamal, Bilal’s writer, producer, and co-director, disagreed with those who have labeled it a religious film, explaining to an interviewer, “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.” But even if Bilal doesn’t extend beyond its perceived Islamic market, the film will still find a significant audience, considering there are over 1.5 billion adherents of the religion.

Gulf Film is distributing Bilal in the Middle East. The producers of the film are currently in talks with global sales companies to handle theatrical distribution outside of the Gulf region.


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