Highly regarded Iranian auteur Majid Majidi is lining up the historical epic Mohammad, which at $30m is by far the most expensive and ambitious project ever to be assembled out of Iran.

Pre-production is under way and Majidi and producer Mehdi Heidarian are aiming for worldwide distribution by mid-2011.

Majidi, whose Children Of Heaven earned Iran’s first Oscar nomination in 1999 and who most recently directed the comedy The Song Of Sparrows, co-wrote the screenplay with Kabuzia Partouvi, the writer of Border Café and The Circle.

It is understood the focus will be on what sources describe as a “visually rich and sensitive” account of the childhood years of Mohammad up to the age of 12, well before he became the Prophet of Islam.

Majidi and Partouvi spent three years writing the first draft and pored over historical detail. Sources claim the project has the support of an extensive team of highly qualified international historians and researchers, although any visual depiction of Mohammed by an actor is likely to spark controversy.

The film-makers are targeting a wide multi-faith global audience. Majidi is conducting extensive pre-production to recreate exact locations and intends to shoot in several countries. The plan is for pre-production to be at an advanced stage by July in time for the shoot and extensive post-production and visual effects work ahead of the mid-2011 target release date.

Late last year Doha-based Al Noor Holdings announced plans to commence film production with a $150m project on the life of Mohammed.

Majidi’s credits include The Color Of Paradise and Baran.