Salma Hayek's Lebanese dream comes true

In an interview with An-Nahar, Salma Hayek talks about her excitement in coming to Lebanon, the country of her ancestors, and the movie that she produced, “Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet.”

al-monitor Salma Hayek attends an interview during a charity gala dinner in Beirut, April 27, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir.

Topics covered

poetry, movie, lebanon, lebanese society, lebanese actors, culture, art

Apr 30, 2015

Finally, Salma Hayek arrived in Lebanon and realized a dream that had long been on her mind. Every time, something would happen and prevent her from meeting the Lebanese people. On April 24, she arrived in Beirut, and many people were looking forward to this visit that holds much significance for her. On the personal level, she had always wanted to visit the land of her ancestors after hearing her parents talk about Lebanon profusely. And there she was for the first time. She was clearly eager to see Lebanon when we met her at her private suite at Le Gray Hotel in Beirut. On the professional level, she is proud of lending her voice to the animated movie “Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet,” which she produced with money from FFA Private Bank managed by Jean Riachi. Mohamed Fathallah was in charge of the film distribution.

Hayek’s simplicity, spontaneity and enthusiasm are striking while she talks about "The Prophet," which she dedicated herself to. When asked about what she felt as soon as she set foot in Lebanon, she answered that the visit took a lot of planning. Until the last moment before boarding the plane, she was afraid her dream would not come true.

“I have always imagined myself in Lebanon, with all its tiny details. Ever since I set foot here, I was sure that what I had imagined started to take shape, but in an even better way. The warm welcome at the airport and the people’s hearty reception made me fall in love with this country even more,” she told an-Nahar.

Salma is well-aware of the Lebanese people’s suffering and she hoped that this movie would help them think twice and see life from a different perspective. Each person sees the movie in their own way, and Gibran Kahlil Gibran’s words will have a different impact on each spectator’s life.

“Due to lack of awareness in society, women think they must race against time and achieve all the plans they aim for in their 20s before it is too late,” Hayek said.

“This is a misconception that I experienced,” she added.

When she was in her 20s, she never thought she would produce the movie "The Prophet" or that she would be the voice of the main character, and she had no idea she would have enough courage to become an actress.

Hayek wanted to transmit Gibran’s philosophy in life with all its details through this piece of work. She expressed her love for children and attachment to them and clarified that her favorite chapter in the movie was about children. Every time she watches it, she discovers new lessons in Gibran’s words. She believes his poetry takes people to uncharted territories each and every time. Hayek noted that the chapter about work was developed immediately and that the director used the one-shot technique, which amazed her.

Speaking about freedom, the core theme of the movie, Hayek said that it stems from within. Each person has to find their own freedom to be able to defend the general notion of freedom.

Al-Mustafa, the protagonist in the movie, decided to die for his ideas. Hayek said this gives the impression that when the body dies, a person’s thoughts live on and remain engraved in people’s minds. It is a different concept, but it deserves to be contemplated. Would Hayek choose to die for her ideas?

She laughed and said that she absolutely loves life and that if she had to, she would run away and keep spreading her ideas. She is a mother and has responsibilities toward her children and she has to be there for them. Most importantly, she believes that the soul cannot be locked up. Al-Mustafa might have been constrained to a place, but he was freer than any person having absolute freedom.

When asked about the challenges of preparing the movie, Hayek said, “Each production detail was tough. Many obstacles could have impeded its completion. It is normal that some people try to stand in the way of someone producing a new and unfamiliar idea. First, it was hard to find the necessary funding for the movie. I would like to thank the Lebanese people from all my heart for their crucial support.”

On the other hand, choosing the best scenario and director to take over the job was tricky. The distribution of the movie was also difficult since it is not like any other movie and trying to sell it is not easy. Not all distributors take such a risk. In Britain, for example, they are still not sure whether to show it or not. Meanwhile, in Japan and Italy, the distributors bought it 20 minutes into the movie. In France and the United States the most important distributors will handle it.

Despite the many difficulties that the movie encountered, it makes Hayek proud. She mentioned that she is ready to do it all again with great pleasure. In the end, Hayek expressed her enthusiasm for Lebanese viewers to see the long-awaited movie.

Another artist from Lebanon had the chance to participate in the movie: Gabriel Yared, the musical composer for "The Prophet." He told an-Nahar that this project brought him back to his roots. He pointed out that music is not based on material things, as is the case with the writings of Gibran, which are similar to music. Yared said that he “came out of his comfort zone” in order to compose this music. Usually, music is added to the movie after its making. However, in "The Prophet," the music came before the movie was done.

He had to imagine the music without seeing the scenes; his imagination drew the music. The chapter on marriage is the dearest to his heart. He thinks the words of Gibran were harsh and difficult for such a subject, and the director of this chapter met Yared before the filming and asked him about this idea so Yared could compose a suitable piece. They began working on the movie in March 2013.

As for the director, Roger Allers, he believes that the hardest part in directing a movie is working in a short period of time. Usually, animated movies take up to four years to be released. However, "The Prophet" took only two years and this is a record-breaking time compared with other animated movies. Allers did not mention which chapter he preferred because he does not want to influence the opinion of the viewers, but leaves them the complete freedom to choose for themselves. He carried out research on Lebanon and the Mediterranean region to be able to direct the movie. He said that he lived for a period of time on the island of Crete in Greece and was inspired by it geographically to be able to draw the landmarks in the movie. He did not have enough time to visit Lebanon before starting to work on the movie but he does not regret any scene; everything he had imagined about Lebanon was realized in the movie. He stressed that the place in which he imagined the movie should not have geographic boundaries, just like Gibran’s poetry that does not stop at the borders of any state or region. Allers, who directed major movies such as "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King" and other memorable films, said "The Prophet" is the most profound and philosophical of them all, and that this was a unique experience on all levels. Allers explained that he had to cut sections of Gibran’s poetry to respect the remaining time for the movie, and was very careful while doing so, and he asked for the help and inspiration of Gibran [who died in 1931] during this task.

Hayek began her third day in Lebanon by visiting Bcharre, Gibran’s hometown, and was received by the region’s deputy, Sethrida Geagea, Gibran’s National Committee Chairman Tarek Chidiac and Bcharre Mayor Antoine Tawk. After Hayek and the delegation that accompanied her visited Gibran’s Museum, she wrote in the guest book: “I walk through a dream to dive in the spirit of a friend that has meant a lot to me. I've never felt him as close as I do now. I know I always wanted to be here.”

On the sidelines of the visit, Geagea told an-Nahar: “Hayek’s visit to Lebanon is like a glimpse of hope and a candle that brightens up the East, especially in light of the difficult circumstances through which the region is going and since she has Lebanese origins. Her visit to Bcharre in particular brightens the region and her visit to Gibran’s Museum is of historic and cultural proportions; it is a testimony to Gibran’s international art.

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