21 - 27 April 2005 Issue No. 739 Features
Nefertiti is about to be
resurrected, writes Gamal Nkrumah, and together with the
(Left) producer John Heyman; the head of history's most beautiful queen Nefertiti
It all began with an indescribably beautiful woman falling for a chivalrous and powerfully-built beau. But everything went so horribly wrong so soon. She was to be betrothed to another -- a poet, the proverbial philosopher-king. (He was unique among the Pharaohs of Egypt -- the man credited with introducing the very notion of monotheism to the world. A pathetically forlorn figure, he set out to destroy all traces of the religion of his ancestors. He moved the country's capital, made his favourite queen his equal and systematically razed the temples of the fearful gods -- to the consternation of the hitherto powerful priesthood).
An almost impossible task lay ahead for Nefertiti, for her dashing paramour was none other than the Pharaoh's own commander-in-chief. The king, not quite as physically appealing as the head of his army, may have had big ideas of his own. But, so much to Nefertiti's distaste, perhaps, he was not the least interested in military matters.
Many of the kings of the 18th Dynasty of
Based on Othman's controversial best-seller Moses and Akhenaten, this is to be the latest of John Heyman's projects. The characters are time-tested stereotypes, hot box-office attractions, sexy, larger-than-life, with a fighting spirit and an intellect to match. And there is plenty of political intrigue and romantic escapades to spice up the plot. This new film promises to be a blockbuster of huge proportions.
It is also the movie that may finally put the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) on the map of international cinema production. Since its inauguration some 10 years ago, many have described the multi-million dollar project as a "white elephant" incapable of drawing international film production -- such as the Moroccan's have -- and remaining basically confined to limited budget local production.
While on holiday in
"It's fun. It's big and it's a
statement," Heyman told Al- Ahram Weekly. "It's a wonderful exercise in
roots," he chuckled. With a lined brow, the septuagenarian looks more
severe than avuncular. However, it is obvious that he has a genius for
box-office hits. Nefertiti was firmly ensconced in
popular mythology -- not only in
As Heyman sits
down and begins telling the story of Nefertiti, some
of the old fire can be heard crackling again. All things considered, in fact,
the viewer is compelled to ponder Nefertiti's
relevance to contemporary questions. "This is a deep movie," Heyman noted. He had first read the script on a flight from
The secret of the contemporary world's fascination with Akhenaten was that he rejected virtually every ancient Egyptian tradition. He worshipped the god that had no image, that could not be depicted in stone. Aten, as Akhenaten called his god, was the creative force of the universe and as such was symbolised by the sun disc with rays radiating outward. Aten was not the sun, which was merely the symbol of divine energy, might and power.
Akhenaten had so angered the priesthood in
Akhenaten was christened Amenhotep,
the Beloved of Amun, chief god of
Akhenaten also discarded the rigid art forms of his forefathers. His artists experimented with romanticism and expressionism. The famous bust of Nefertiti and the funerary regalia of Tutankhamun are testament to the beauty of the art of the Amarna period. Akhenaten's artists were given free reign while he was in power. And he too recited poetry in honour of the new god. In exile, he composed the sad, sweet songs of home, perhaps forerunners of the Psalms.
The film is conceived of more as a guide to Nefertiti's inner life than as an exploration of a lost city. "People are fascinated by conflict. The script is focussed on conflict -- a battle of wills, a conflict of interests and conflicts of the mind," Othman noted. In death Akhenaten has achieved what he failed to achieve in life. His reign was marked by intrigue and espionage, as the Amarna letters clearly indicate. But the reverie of high politics and diplomatic play was suffused with the melancholy of private grief and unrequited love. Austin, who collaborated with Othman to produce the script in an attempt to construct the characters in the spirit of their times, is eager to highlight the historical importance not only of the characters but the period.
QUEEN ON SCREEN: The royal couple, Akhenaten and his Queen Nefertiti, resplendent in their distinctive regalia and unique physiognomy, perform in dignified obeisance an act of adoration to the Aten -- the one god they worshipped. Aten was represented as a sun-disc with bountiful rays that dominate the scene.
credit Akhenaten with being the first recorded man
in history to initiate a monotheistic religion. His legacy, in the words of
writer Ahmed Othman, whose controversial best-seller Moses and Akhenaten is the basis of the new Hollywood
mega-production, Nefertiti, soon to be
filmed on location at the
"The spiritual and cultural roots
of Western civilisation are found in
Othman begins poring over a pile of
computer printouts. After picking up a call on his mobile phone, he glances at
his watch. "Akhenaten's trajectory demonstrates
an unswerving determination to defend one's beliefs.
And be that as it may, it was in
The queen was caught up in political
corruption of the highest order. Tutankhamun's death
fuelled a residual anger that only revenge could appease. The film capitalises on this cycle of abuse and rage. But all's well
that ends well. They planned to marry, but this treacherous murder cuts across
any permanent liaison. She flees the
Before he surveyed the facilities at the
EMPC, Heyman was concerned that
was wronged in ancient times," Othman, who is involved in the production
as a historical advisor, explains. "His name was erased from king lists,
his image and reputation tarnished. In modern times, too, he was accused of
preposterous and unqualified outrages -- heresy and homosexuality. He is
sometimes depicted as a sun-worshipper and called the False Prophet of
Egypt," he went on, adding that
Others concur. "The film is played out against the backdrop of the so-called clash of civilisations," Nabil Othman, former State Information Service (SIS) chairman and currently the head of international relations at the EMPC told the Weekly. "The film proves that Western and Eastern cultures have the same roots. Akhenaten was the first man in recorded history to worship one god. He instituted a monotheistic doctrine as the state religion."
But this does not prevent the story from
retaining all the attributes of a box-office hit: the private melancholy of a
failed marriage, the romantic fetishisation of ruin
and solitude, the melodrama of unrequited love, the pomp and ceremony of
royalty, and the rage of revenge. It demonstrates the collective yearning for
the divine and the bittersweet recognition of spiritual lack among the
followers of all monotheistic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And
the film's biggest star of all,
The EMPC has the most advanced digital
film editing technologies in the
Indeed that part of
"None of the Cleopatra movies were
The EMPC is especially designed to provide that much sought after authenticity." Othman stressed that the EMPC has an unmatched team of set decorators, set designers, painters and other craftsmen and technicians. He took Heyman to see the carpenters, painters and upholsters at work. "The EMPC even has its own power generators. And these pre-production facilities are the backbone of any film production. This visit by an internationally-acclaimed producer of the calibre of John Heyman is testament to the potential of the EMPC. This is a breakthrough. Up till now we've had no major international movie filmed in our studios. With Nefertiti we are finally and hopefully irrevocably breaking the barrier of fear that prevents people from working here."
"We have excellent dubbing and
translating divisions. The EMPC has dubbed many Latin American productions
before selling them to Arab, African and East Asian countries." In fact
this lightening-speed tour of