Lebanese fans have gone crazy with the arrival of Salma Hayek in Beirut for the release of her animated production of Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet." Speaking to the press following a screening Monday morning, Hayek said, "For me this is a love letter to my heritage."
"I have been dreaming of coming to Lebanon, and every time I try to come, something terrible happens."
The world premiere of the film is schedule for Thursday, April 30, in Beirut while the American premiere is set for Aug. 7. Hayek explained that this was her first time visiting Lebanon but insisted that she had always been raised as Lebanese by her family.
"I had a thorn in my heart that I had traveled the world but I had never been able to come here. And I have to say that, I feel so much better today that I have been here."
"I don't speak Arabic [well], but I was raised Lebanese. I was raised my whole life [as] Lebanese. And as you know, we are always raised with the pride of brotherhood."
Hayek is normally identified as a Mexican-American actress, however, her paternal grandfather was Lebanese. She began her acting career in Mexico in 1988 in the telenovela "Teresa."
In addition to producing "The Prophet," Hayek also voices one of the characters. Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Frank Langella, Alfred Molina and Quvenzhane Wallis also provide voice talent for the film. Nine different directors were involved in the production.
Regional talent involved with the production included Emirati animator Mohammed Saeed Harib ("Freej") and Iranian-French author and director Marjane Satrapi ("Persepolis"). The Doha Film Institute also co-financed the production with Participant Media, MyGroup Lebanon, FFA Private Bank, JRW Entertainment and Code Red Productions.
The film has already made the film festival circuit. It opened to high praise at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada last September, receiving applause from the audience throughout the screening. It was also an “Official Selection” at the annual Cannes Festival in France. During the Ajyal Film Festival in Qatar last December, the film screened for the first time in the Middle East.
From a musuem in his hometown of Bsharre to a garden in downtown Beirut, the internationally acclaimed author Kahlil Gibran is celebrated throughout Lebanon. Gibran's "The Prophet" has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. And now, through Hayek's animated adaption, his writings will be made accessible to a whole new generation.
Roger Allers, the lead writer and director for the film and the visionary behind Disney's classic "The Lion King," spoke at the American University of Beirut following the press conference. He joked to students that a large part of the production was done via Skype as the film brought together a team hailing from all over the world.
Hayek stressed the unifying value of Gibran's classic story, emphasizing its importance both to the Middle East region right now and the world as a whole. Allers and Hayek both explained that the film was very intentionally created in a way to cater to the family audience, for both young and old.
While the film has earned widespread praise, Hayek's presence at the premiere in Beirut has drawn as much attention as the movie itself.
She repeatedly stressed her connection to her Lebanese ancestry. She commented that when some locals asked her if she liked Lebanese food, she wanted to respond by saying, "Its not like I am discovering it for the first time. I have been eating it in my house since I was born. I probably ate kibbeh before tacos!"
The actress also emphasized the support the project has received from Middle Eastern funding partners, the Gibran National Committee, and the Lebanese people as a whole.
"From the beginning, this film could not have been made without the support of the Lebanese."
And of course, it couldn't have been made without you either Salma. We love you. What else can we say?