Renowned international filmmaker, Malek Akkad, is the son of the late Moustapha Akkad, the mastermind behind The Message, the legendary film on the rise of Islam, and the producer of the first of the successful Halloween film series, launched in 1995. The younger Akkad was responsible for a string of very successful sequels to Halloween, turning them into a formidable Halloween empire. eniGma’s Dahlia Messiha got the chance to sit with Akkad on his recent visit to Cairo to talk about his upcoming documentary tracing his father’s journey with The Message, and the nostalgia and happy memories it brought back to him, as well as his own recent work on the upcoming much-anticipated sequel to Halloween, twenty-three years after the release of the first of the series
What inspired you to follow in your father’s footsteps in the film industry?
Cinema is the kind of profession that you can’t really pick. You just have to have a passion for it; and I developed a very strong passion by hanging out with my father on his sets. I actually started making movies when I was around 10 years old with my super 8 camera. It wasn’t my intention to follow in his footsteps. Believe me, those are huge footsteps that I can never fill. The beautiful thing about film production is that it’s like the circus, there’s a lot of excitement and creative fulfillment.
Tell us about your upcoming documentary on your father’s film The Message.
It started when I began the restoration of the film. I had no idea what an enormous task I was undertaking. Realising it was the film’s 40th anniversary, I thought, “wouldn’t it be amazing to bring The Message back now?” especially since this kind of message is needed now more than ever. But it took so long that it will come out on its 42nd anniversary rather than the 40th!
It probably was the hardest production to complete in cinema history, with two separate casts, and because of having to shutdown midway through production because of all the controversy surrounding it. But somehow, I just had to have the perseverance to finish it. For me, the documentary started out purely to look at the film as a filmmaker, to show what my father achieved in this film and his moment in cinematic history. Along the way, it grew into something bigger, looking at the context, the way Arabs and Islam were perceived at the time, why my father wanted to do the movie, why that message is still important now, and how we are still facing similar bias in today’s media. So, it’s grown from what I originally intended and it’s also taking a little bit longer, but it should be done by this fall. The Message was finally cleared to play across the whole Middle East where it had been banned, even in Egypt. Now it’s opening in 14 countries across the region, and that’s really nice to see. It’s showing in Egypt in a couple of weeks.
Given that The Message had been met with much opposition and was banned in a number of Arab countries, do you expect any opposition to your documentary?
I’m not expecting any kind of opposition. There’s really nothing in the documentary that anybody can find objectionable. It’s a retracing of one man’s noble journey to try to bridge the gap between east and west. If just 10 percent of the world would aspire to undertake a noble mission like his, we’d be living in a much more peaceful place.
What are you hoping to achieve with this documentary?
Just to really explain the film. To me the story of how it was made is as interesting as the film itself. Another reason was to mark my father’s place in cinematic history. He had an unfortunate tragic ending and I didn’t want that to be what people remembered. The measure of a man should be the life he led. In my father’s case, he lived a fantastic life and he was such a wonderful human being. He was an example not just for me, but for people everywhere.
What has the journey retracing your father’s steps for the documentary been like?
He was a very humble man who didn’t talk a lot about himself or what he did. So, there were things that even I didn’t know, and I wanted to get those answers. I found all the letters in his old journal and flew all over the Middle East following his footsteps, interviewing anybody who was there at his time. It was absolutely wonderful, and it just confirmed to me what a special man, filmmaker, and human being he was. It was very cathartic and very rewarding.
Why did you decide to make a direct sequel to the first ever Halloween film?
I wanted to attract an A-list director, so we decided on David Gordon Green, most famously known for Pineapple Express, but his career as a director is amazing. David and his writing partners brought this idea to us. At first, I was not sure, but when you get a talent like David Gordon Green, you want to support his vision. Thankfully Jamie Lee Curtis jumped on board straight away and John Carpenter, the director of the original Halloween liked it, so it’s been really exciting to get all these people back together. It picks up after the first Halloween, and it’s as true to it as it can be 23 years later. If you’re old enough to have seen the film when it first came out, you’ll love this sequel. If you’ve never seen any of the other sequels you will also love it,and hopefully, it will encourage you to dig deeper into the series. I’m really excited because it’s probably going to be the first Halloween to be distributed in the Middle East.
What do you enjoy the most about making these Halloween films?
There’s the connection to my father who started the whole Halloween thing and took a chance on a young director at the time, John Carpenter. He had so much fun with it after his two big historical epic films, The Message and Omar Mokhtar. In the west, he’s actually much morel known for the Halloween series than for his two big movies, which is a weird irony. The fact that here I am, working with the wonderful John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, who acknowledge that my father started their careers, and we’re doing one more Halloween, possibly bigger than ever, would make him extremely proud. It’s as if he is here with us somehow.
What are your future plans moving forward?
I have several projects that include stories about the Arab region. Nothing political or heavy, just good entertainment. There are so many wonderful stories from the Middle East that should be told, and because I live in the west I want to see them done internationally, in English. I know so many fantastic filmmakers here and it would be nice to see stories from the region done by people in the region. I want to shoot them in the Middle East and I want to use actors from the region as well as international actors. It would really be an international effort. But first, after the last busy 3.5 years, I’m really looking forward to taking some time off. After Halloween comes out in October, I’ll take some time off and figure out what my next step will be.
What genre would you prefer to work on in the region?
I have some scripts for historical projects, and I have some half-historical, half fantasy ones, with some game of throne touches. There’s also a modern-day comedy that involves an Arab and an American, you know, showing their differences and similarities. The beautiful thing about cinema is its ability to elicit emotions. Movies are unique, they’re like a mirror to the human condition. While no movie can change the world, it can change people’s perspective of the world.
You were in the video for this year’s most popular Egyptian song, Talat Dakkat with Yousra. How did you get involved in that?
I was at the Gouna film festival and my dear friends, director Mariam Abou Ouf, and Yousra, both asked me if I’d like to be in the video, and I couldn’t say no. It was just a happy mistake. It was a lot of fun.