‘The Knight and the Princess’: Saudi-Egyptian animated film champions Arab voices, stories

The animation is a fictionalized account of the adventures of 7th century Basra-born warrior Mohammed Bin Alkassim. (Supplied)
Updated 06 October 2019

‘The Knight and the Princess’: Saudi-Egyptian animated film champions Arab voices, stories

  • The charming film is Egypt’s first animated feature and will screen at the Malmo Arab Film Festival
  • Alsahar Animation created the feature film, which tells the story of a 7th century Basra-born warrior

CAIRO: “The Knight and the Princess,” Egypt’s first animated feature film, created by a Saudi company, recently had its world premiere at the third edition of the El Gouna Film Festival and will soon make its way to the 9th Malmo Arab Film Festival in Sweden.

Scripted and directed by prominent screenwriter Bashir El-Deek and co-directed by Ibrahim Mousa Mostafa, with character designs by late cartoonist Mustafa Hussein, this long-awaited action-adventure animated comedy is the latest production from leading Saudi-led animation company, Alsahar Animation.

The animation is a fictionalized account of the adventures of 7th century Basra-born warrior Mohammed Bin Alkassim, who at the age of 15 sets off to save women and children abducted by pirates from merchant ships in the Indian Ocean. His heroic adventures ultimately bring him face to face with king Daher, the tyrannical ruler of North India, and his treacherous sorcerer, Gandar. 

The film features a star-studded voice cast, including Egyptian mega stars Medhat Saleh, Donia Samir Ghanem, Mohamed Henedy, Maged El-Kedwany, Abdel Rahman Abou Zahra, Abla Kamel and Lekaa Elkhamissi.

“The Knight and the Princess” was born of a dream to tell an Arab story featuring a real Arab hero and is premised on the belief that “Arab stories are better told from an Arab perspective by Arab talents,” according to the press release.

“From the start, when we decided to produce an animated feature, our aim was that the story has to come from our culture, and (be) done by Arab artists,” Alabbas Bin Alabbas, founder and president of Alsahar Animation, told Arab News.

“It is self-expression of our history and culture and artistic point of view. We felt we have something to convey to our society and the world at large. Making a decent and respectful effort to tell our story from our perspective was the right thing to do,” he added.

Telling these kinds of stories, Alabbas believes, will “naturally...face off with the stereotypes the West intentionally (pushes).”

Alabbas’s Cairo-based company has built its reputation over the past three decades producing children’s animated series.

Established by Alabbas in 1992 as the Arab region’s leading animation production company, the enterprise was inspired by a personal encounter he had years earlier.




‘The Knight and the Princess’ recently had its world premiere at the third edition of El Gouna Film Festival. (Getty)

“When I was in the US during my PhD program, my son was five-years-old, I was surprised by the great impact of the animation series he was watching,” Alabbas explained. 

“I decided to travel to Egypt to get a few Arabic TV animation series and to my surprise I discovered there was no animation in Egypt or the Arab world,” he said.

This was Alabbas’s cue to switch careers from engineering and computer science and delve into the world of animation production, establishing his production company soon after graduation.

“After eight years and many animated TV series, we felt the urge to take on a bigger challenge and be free of the restrictions and limitations requested by TV stations,” Alabbas said of why he decided to create the new film.

Growing more confident in his company’s animation abilities, Alabbas felt the time was ripe for the company’s first animated feature and approached screenwriter Bashir El-Deek with the idea.




“The Knight and the Princess” is Egypt’s first animation feature film. (Supplied)

It wasn’t smooth sailing, however.

“The quality demands of an animated feature film far exceed the limited animation styles fit for animated TV series,” Alabbas said.

“So, we had to train more talents and develop the experience of all talents to outperform themselves. I was determined not to present the film with excuses of our lack of experience.”

It was in the process of training animators that Alabbas and his crew ended up building a competent local industry.

“We meant to produce the film and ended up building the animation industry in the Arab world,” he says.

Now that the film is finally hitting the big screen, Alabbas has reason to be optimistic about the future of the Arab animation industry.

“The successful result of our production puts a lot of pressure on everyone in the Arab world — they have no excuse not to venture into this important and vital industry,” he said.

“The ball (is now in the court of) those who used to say we need to do something for our new generations that makes them proud of their heritage.”

“The Knight the Princess” is due to have its European premiere at the 9th Malmo Arab Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 4-8, and is sure to enchant international audiences.


‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging. (Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2019

‘It Must Be Heaven’: Elia Suleiman’s sardonic take on the world

MUMBAI: Elia Suleiman’s “It Must Be Heaven,” which was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival, is pure cinema. Like his earlier works, here too the Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, this time to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. Suleiman, who plays the lead role as himself, explores identity, nationality and belonging.

He says people worldwide now live in fear amid global geopolitical tensions. Today, checkpoints are just about everywhere: In airports, shopping malls, cinemas, highways — the list is endless.

“It Must Be Heaven” was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival. (Supplied) 

Suleiman’s earlier features, such as “Chronicle of a Disappearance” and “Divine Intervention,” showed us everyday life in the occupied Palestinian territories. This time, it is Paris and New York. 

The first scene is hilarious, with a bishop trying to enter a church with his followers. The gatekeeper on the other side of the heavy wooden door is probably too intoxicated and refuses to let the priest in, leading to a comical situation. Suleiman’s life in Nazareth is filled with such incidents — snippets that have been strung together to tell us of tension in society. Neighbors turn out to be selfish, and only generous when they know they are being watched. 

The Palestinian director uses wit, sarcasm and minimalism, to present a series of vignettes that are funny but also a powerful lambast of the world we live in. (Supplied)

In Paris, the cafes along the grand boulevards, and the young women who pass by, are typical of France’s capital. But a cut to Bastille Day, with tanks rolling by in a show of strength, jolts us back to harsh reality. In New York, Suleiman’s cab driver is excited at driving a Palestinian. 

The film has an interesting way of storytelling. The scenes begin as observational shots, but the camera quickly changes positions to show Suleiman watching from the other side of the room or a street. The camera then returns to where it first stood, and this back-and-forth movement is delightfully engaging.

The framing is so perfect, and the colors so bright and beautiful, that each scene looks magical. And as the director looks on at all this with his usual deadpan expression, a sardonic twitch at the corner of his mouth, we know all this is but illusion. There is bitter truth ahead!