MovieMaker has exclusive coverage on the latest project from iconoclastic director Charles Burnett—an Algerian epic called The Emir Abd El-Kader.

Charles Burnett, who was born in Mississippi and grew up in the Watts area of Los Angeles, has long been considered one of America’s greatest moviemakers. His first film, Killer of Sheep, was made in the 1970s for less than $10K of mostly grant money, but nevertheless won the Critics’ Award at the Berlin Film Festival and was acclaimed at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was chosen by the National Society of Film Critics as one of the “100 Essential Films of all time,” and, in 1990, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Burnett’s work has been compared to that of the compassionate, humanistic style of the Italian neorealists. In recent years he has made several documentaries and has worked extensively in television. His new film is a big-budget departure for Burnett; the epic feature about “Algeria’s George Washington” is slated to begin shooting in November.

Upon an initiative of the Algerian Ministry of Culture, the state agency in charge of promoting Algerian culture, AARC and the Los Angeles-based American company Cinema Libre Studio, have signed an agreement to co-produce a major motion picture on the epic story of Algeria’s greatest leader, the Emir Abd El-Kader. Principal photography will start in November 2013 in Algeria.

—Tim Rhys

The fiction feature will be directed by Charles Burnett, the politically-engaged African-American director acclaimed by international critics for his such films as Killer of Sheep and Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation. Charles Burnett says, “Making this movie is both an honor and a challenge because of the importance of this extraordinary man and his contribution to mankind. It’s essential that the West finally knows such a hero comes from this part of the world.”


Abd El-Kader (1808-1883) unified the resistance and fought the French colonization while building the modern Algerian State. After fifteen years of fighting, he had to accept exile in order to stop the slaughter of his people by the French.

The screenplay is penned by Algerian anthropologist Zaïm Khenchelaoui, a specialist on the Emir’s life and also considered one of the top experts in Sufism (Algeria: In The Heart of Sufism) and the film’s producer, Philippe Diaz (Mauvais Sang, Bengali Night). The movie will convey a critical message both political and universal; on the one hand about the exploitation of a people by another and on the other, the need for religious tolerance, a vital principle for the Emir.

A Muslim, Abd El- Kader considered the three main religions of the Book—Islam, Judaism and Christiantiy—to be very similar and, therefore, all of their practitioners to be brothers.

The movie tells the main events of The Emir’s life. Built in flashbacks, it begins with Abd El-Kader’s actions in 1860 Syria when he raised a second army to save the more than 12,000 Christians who were being massacred. This act was acknowledged by many heads of states including Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria, which created universal recognition for the Emir.

The movie is being produced by Philippe Diaz, founder of Cinema Libre Studio and Mustapha Orif, AARC’s general manager. Says Diaz, “Due to what is happening in the world right now, I can’t see any movie that is more important to be made today. Abd El- Kader believed the world would inevitably slide towards its end if men couldn’t understand that the three religions say the same thing and that the conflicts in this world are always essentially economical… and he was right.”

Expected for many years, this film on the Emir Abd El- Kader’s life, strives to deliver a corrected vision of the Algerian’s resistance against the French and to share with an international audience this man’s message of peace and tolerance.

The artistic and technical crew, consisting of some of the most important American, French and Algerian professionals, will utilize this production to mentor young Algerian artists and technicians. The young generation of filmmakers will be given access and introduced to the most sophisticated techniques of modern cinema while participating to the revival of the national movie industry. Madame Khalida Toumi, the Minister of Culture, says: “The Emir Abd el-Kader’s story is the foundation of the story of modern Algeria as a State, a nation and a society. The same way his story is the foundation of humanity’s fight for a less cynical, more just and more tolerant world, that is respectful of others. Therefore, there are many movies that could be made about this great figure and today’s world really needs them. I am proud that the Algerian Ministry of Culture is participating in the birth of the first one.”