Charles Burnett is returning to the African continent to, once again, tackle the story of a historic political figure on film.
You'll recall his 2007 3-hour drama, Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, which tells the story of Sam Nujoma, the first president of Namibia, from his political awakening, to his part in the country’s fight for freedom from occupation by South Africa. It covers 60 years of history and was financed entirely by the Namibian government. Carl Lumbly and Danny Glover starred, along with Chrisjan Appollus, Obed Emvula, and Joel Haikali.
This time however, Burnett is heading north, to Algeria, to bring the extraordinary biography of the Algerian warrior and Sufi saint, who unified the resistance and fought French colonization while building the modern Algerian State, Emir Abd el-Kader (1807-1883), to the screen, in a project backed by an initiative of the Algerian Ministry of Culture, the state agency in charge of promoting Algerian culture, AARC and the Los Angeles-based Cinema Libre Studio (an American company).
The news was announced via press release over the weekend, as the trio have signed an agreement to co-produce the epic story of Algeria’s greatest leader, Emir Abd El-Kader, with principal photography scheduled to being in November, in Algeria.
“Making this movie is both an honor and a challenge because of the importance of this extraordinary man and his contribution to mankind. It’s essential that the West finally knows such a hero comes from this part of the world,” said Burnett in a statement.
Burnett will direct from a screenplay penned by Algerian anthropologist Zaïm Khenchelaoui, a specialist on the Emir’s life and also considered one of the top experts in Sufism (Algeria: In The Heart of Sufism) and the film’s producer, Philippe Diaz (Mauvais Sang, Bengali Night).
From his idyllic early years, to his first battles against the colonizing French Africa Army, ending at last with his exile in Syria, in Damascus, where he rescued some 12,000 Christians who were being massacred, in an act that brought universal acclaim from such men as Abraham Lincoln and Pope Pius IX, and by many heads of states, The Emir lived quite an involved, even tumultuous life.
In 1846, the town of Elkader, Iowa was named in his honor, to give some scope of his universal appreciation.
The producers promise a movie that will convey a political and universal critical message about the exploitation of a people by another, as well as the need for religious tolerance, a vital principle for the Emir.
It's a timely project, in light of current world events, as producer Philippe Diaz of Cinema Libre Studio notes: “Due to what is happening in the world right now, I can’t see any movie that is more important to be made today. Abd El- Kader believed the world would inevitably slide towards its end if men couldn’t understand that the three religions say the same thing and that the conflicts in this world are always essentially economical…and he was right."
The 3 religions referred to being, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all of which be believed to be very similar.
The multi-continental film's crew will comprise of American, French and Algerian professionals, and will include mentorship of young Algerian artists and technicians.
Madame Khalida Toumi, the Algerian Minister of Culture, says: "The Emir Abd el-Kader's story is the foundation of the story of modern Algeria as a State, a nation and a society. The same way his story is the foundation of humanity’s fight for a less cynical, more just and more tolerant world, that is respectful of others. Therefore, there are many movies that could be made about this great figure and today's world really needs them. I am proud that the Algerian Ministry of Culture is participating in the birth of the first one."
Promo poster below: