Al Jazeera Documentary has produced a new hard-hitting and innovative production, The Imam and the Colonel, using 2D and 3D animation. The documentary investigates the disappearance of charismatic Lebanese cleric, Imam Musa al-Sadr and its possible connection to ex-Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. BroadcastPro MEs Hayley Doyle catches up with the films producer and director, […]
Al Jazeera Documentary has produced a new hard-hitting and innovative production, The Imam and the Colonel, using 2D and 3D animation. The documentary investigates the disappearance of charismatic Lebanese cleric, Imam Musa al-Sadr and its possible connection to ex-Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. BroadcastPro MEs Hayley Doyle catches up with the films producer and director, award-winning filmmaker and investigative journalist, Abdallah El Binni
In the summer of 1978, the leader of Lebanons Shia Muslims, Imam Musa al-Sadr, went to Libya with two companions to visit Colonel Gaddafi. During this trip, the three men disappeared. Its been 30 years and no light has been shed on their whereabouts. In October 2011, when the world witnessed Gaddafis downfall, hope resurfaced for the truth to be unravelled.
Abdallah El Binni began an investigative journey involving new witnesses and evidence.
However, only one photograph of Imam Sadr and Gaddafi has been found, taken when they met back in 1975. Footage from the period of 1978 is very rare, with still shots of Imam Sadr posing with Arab leaders in Lebanon. However, there was nothing of his trip to Libya. Yet, with exclusive information found about what might have happened during the Imams journey and his meeting with the colonel, El Binni sets out to reconstruct scenes in this documentary.
El Binni wanted an alternative to repeating the same footage over a 50-minute documentary.
We wanted something to break the monotony, he says, and this why we created the animated graphics.
This is the first time that 2D and 3D animation of this kind has been used in the Arab region. According to Lebanese-born El Binni, in order to make this documentary happen, animation was a must.
Without it, there is no spirit to the film, and maybe no film, he says.
Using just one small team from Al Jazeera Network, El Binni prepared the storyboard and sketches with his colleague from the creative department, Ahmed Ezzat. Side by side, they shared the roles of designer and art director over a three-month period. Adobe CS 5.5 was used along with After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator with 90% of the scenes drawn by hand.
El Binni feels optimistic that the images complement the content.
He explains: The cameras angles and the duration of the scenes depended on the amount of information we had. We excluded many details in the script to be able to deliver concrete animation scenes.
The film makes use of a lot of still images from Al Jazeeras archives that are in an older format, while the new footage was shot using the Sony XDCAM PMW-EX3 and also the Canon 5D Mark II in some shots.
To create a balance between the two meant hours of colour corrections and grading to unify the spirit of the still images while creating a smooth transition between the scenes.
The addition of animation was not the only challenge faced in the making of The Imam and the Colonel. El Binni arrived in Libya on October 20, 2011, the day when Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed.
I had to cross many risky places on my way to Tripoli, recalls El Binni.
One mission was to go to the jail inside the military council headquarters, where one of Gadaffis high ranking advisors had been arrested. He had information on the mystery of the vanished Imam Sadr, so we tried to film secretly inside the secured compound corridors. Unfortunately, a soldier recognised what we were doing and arrested us for an hour. Our cameras were taken away for a week and all of the scenes were deleted.
Still, El Binni is no stranger to taking risks in his line of work.
His career began in 1987 as a war zone photographer with Agence France Press (AFP), moving on to Reuters, covering the Lebanese Civil War and the Israeli invasions in South Lebanon.
He also covered two Israeli wars against Lebanon in 1993 and 1996, and won the 1997 Golden Award at Cairo TV festival for his short film, Dont Forget Qana, focusing on the massacre of 100 civilians killed inside a UN base in Qana village near Israel during a military operation.
For Abu Dhabi TV, El Binni covered wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, plus numerous events and crisis globally. In 2004, he signed a contract with Al Jazeera Satellite Channel where he has produced, written and directed more than 20 films.
Shooting for The Imam and the Colonel took place in Libya, Italy, Egypt and Lebanon. For hidden scenes and those shot in sensitive security places, the small Sony HDR-SR12E handycam was used. All of the other shots including interviews were conducted with the Sony PMW-EX3 XDCAM and the Sony PDW-700 XDCAM.
Although El Binni received help with creating the animated graphics and receiving logistical assistance from Al Jazeeras bureaux in Beirut, Tripoli and Paris, he says that the making of this documentary was primarily a one-man show.
For investigative missions, you should be very careful and minimise your team, he tells us.
I was in charge of research, field coordination and production, interviewing people, directing and writing the script. All in all, I handled the main responsibilities, but without help from the other departments at Al Jazeera, this film could not have been accomplished. I am especially grateful for the help from the editing section, the creative department and our cameramen at Al Jazeeras foreign bureaux.
The documentary was first broadcast on Al Jazeera Arabic in May 2012 and on Al Jazeera English in July. Al Jazeera Documentary will screen it in November.
The response was great in Lebanon and Libya through local newspapers and politicians, El Binni says.
The controversy surrounding the mystery told in The Imam and the Colonel sparked a debate assigning a joint judiciary committee to re-open the files and start DNA investigations and forensic tests on the remains of suspected bodies found in Libya. This joint committee will also rely on the new witnesses revealed in the documentary, who spoke for the first time about their relation to this case.
El Binni admits that he is, addicted to investigative documentary production and looks forward to taking up his challenge, which is under wraps for now.