Finding pioneering ways to portray religious figures in the Muslim faith, having the post-production rug pulled from under them as Covid-19 hit and bringing on board an Oscar winner as a creative consultant were all in a film’s work for the London-based creative producers Abdul-Malik Shlibak and Hussein Ashmere of their historical drama The Lady Of Heaven.
In an interview with Screen, the duo talk overcoming hurdles, making history relevant and why a former Jim Henson Company chief helped bring the pair’s lifelong wish to bring the story of Arabian historical holy figure Lady Fatima to 21st century audiences.
Watch the interview above.
Shlibak and Ashmere say bringing the story to the screen through their Enlightened Kingdom production company brought to fruition a lifelong ambition for them both.
The $15m historical drama interweaves two storylines set centuries apart: A young Iraqi child’s journey amid a battle-scarred country learning the power of patience and the historical story of Arabian holy legend Lady Fatima and her message of peace and non-violence.
“The Lady of Heaven is a very important character to us,” explained Shlibak. “She’s impacted my life personally. My life revolves around the Lady. We have this passion to share the story of the Lady with the world. Hopefully there is more to come.”
The story of the Lady is rich and hugely complex. Writer Sheikh Al-Habib came up with the idea to connect the modern and ancient world timelines and stories together. “We hope people can take inspiration from the Lady now and what she went through and the challenges she faced,” said Shlibak.
Patience plays a very big part in getting any film from idea to screen and The Lady Of Heaven was no different.
“It took many years to come together and to make sure we as Muslims portrayed the Lady and the holy characters and everyone else in a way to ensure no-one will find it offensive,” said Shlibak.
The film was set up as a collaborative effort: Eli King represents the collaborative effort between writer Al-Habib, the creative team of Shlibak and Ashmere, and the film’s executive producers, producer Matthew Kuipers and [Oscar winner] creative consultant John Stephenson.
Writer Al-Habib insisted from day one the film would have to be 100% historically accurate and in accordance with the Muslim faith. The team took great pains to not show a holy person represented by a human. It meant no actor could actually play the role of Lady Fatima or her father the Prophet Mohammed.
“We had to figure out a new CGI approach which has never been done before. We spent meticulous amounts of time with the VFX house to craft these holy characters as exact as the historical records tell us they looked,” Shlibak explained
Former Jim Henson Productions chief and Oscar-winning UK filmmaker Stephenson joined as creative consultant and helped with everything from framing shots, composition, even early storyboards. “The aesthetics of the film come down to his creative work,” says Shlibak.
“It’s not only an emotional film, where it’s obviously full of action and so forth, but it’s also going to be a film that’s informative, it’s going to bring about education to some people, ” said Ashmere.
The Covid-19 lockdown hit just as the film went in to post-production an work on the film was forced to come to a standstill. “That was a huge challenge and a lot of corners had to be cut,” said Ashmere. “But we got there.”
The Lady Of Heaven opened in the US on December 10 via AMC Theatres. Enlightened Kingdom has international rights to the film.