I don’t have the space to get into a discussion of whether the wave of violent protests spreading across the Middle East (today to Afghanistan and Indonesia) was really “caused” by Nakoula B. Nakoula‘s (aka Sam Bacile) anti-Islamic film, “Innocence of Muslims,” or whether it was just a convenient excuse, but I think we can all agree that upon seeing the film’s extended trailer, one of the first thoughts that came to mind (once all the thoughts about how crappy it looked passed) was, “wow, those poor actors are f*cked.”
That’s true for most bad, low-budget indies, but the effect is multiplied a thousand fold when the film becomes a flash point for psychotic, angry Muslims, and your performance has been dubbed to say mean things about Muhammad. Anna Gurji, an immigrant from the republic of Georgia struggling to get acting parts, has been there. She’s done a few interviews about her experience on Innocence of Muslims, and most recently, contacted Neil Gaiman in the hopes of getting her story out. Gurji’s letter comes to us from Gaiman’s site:
Last summer I auditioned for an indie low budget feature movie and I landed a supporting role. The movie was about a comet falling into a desert and ancient tribes fighting over it for they thought that the comet had some magical powers.
A year later, the movie was dubbed (without the actors’ permission), the lines were changed drastically and the movie was morphed into an Anti-Islam film. Even the names of the characters were changed. And the character I had scenes with GEORGE became MUHAMMAD.
If Bacile had a sense of humor, he would’ve told them the main character’s name was “CASSIUS” before changing it to MUHAMMAD.
I really need your advice right now? How can I have my voice shown to the world so that I can tell them the real story.
All these media people that keep calling me are using my real story and then chopping or manipulating the interview the way they want to.
I don’t know what to do. It’s very scary, Neil.
Everyone who wishes to find out the truth about the movie now known as the Innocence of Muslims, please read the letter below. I, Anna Gurji, as one of the supporting actresses in the film will share with you what really happened.
A year ago, in the summer of 2011, I submitted my materials to various projects on the Explore Talent web-site. I received a call from the casting director of the movie “Desert Warrior”, and my audition date was scheduled. I auditioned for the role of Hilary. Several days later, I was informed that I got a callback. I did the callback. Several days later, I was informed that I landed the role of Hilary in the movie called “Desert Warrior”.
The filming of the movie was done in August of 2011. We were filming the movie in a studio warehouse with a green screen in Duarte, CA. The project was a low budget, independent feature movie.
The filming of the movie was beginning soon after the day I was told I got a role. The script was not sent to me. When I got to the set, I was merely provided with the scenes my character was in.
I did not consider this to be an unusual thing, seeing as I have had an experience with something like this before. I did a movie once where the script was written in a foreign language and only my parts were translated into English and accordingly, I was provided with my scenes only. Having experienced that, I thought the same thing was happening with “Desert Warrior”. Aware of the fact that the supposed producer and the script-writer of the movie (known as Sam Bassil) was a foreigner (thanks to his accent), I thought that the original script was written in his native tongue and that not all scenes were translated into English. Also, the filming dates of the movie had to be rescheduled last minute to fit my schedule (I had other films to do right after the “Desert Warrior” outside CA). Because of this rushed rearrangements, I thought that the production first forgot and then did not consider it necessary to send me the script, and again – I did not find this unusual, since I knew what role I had, I knew about my character and I knew about the story of the film.
My character Hilary was a young girl who is sold (against her own free will) by her parents to a tribe leader known as GEORGE. She is one of his (most likely, the youngest) brides in the movie.
The film was about a comet falling into a desert and different tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it for they deemed that the comet possessed some supernatural powers.
The movie that we were doing in Duarte was called “Desert Warrior” and it was a fictional adventure drama. The character GEORGE was a leader of one of those tribes fighting for the comet.
There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set. I am hundred percent certain nobody in the cast and nobody in the US artistic side of the crew knew what was really planned for this “Desert Warrior”.
The atmosphere at the set was as friendly as possible. We all knew that we were doing an adventure drama for a very low budget financing. The director Alan Roberts even had plans that with this low budget product he would be able to get some more money to make a good quality version (by shooting it in the real desert and having better product in every category) of the “Desert Warrior”.
I had interactions with the man known as Sam Bassil on the set. He was very amiable, respectful, soft-spoken, always making sure that the filming was running smoothly and everyone was satisfied. He even told me the premiere of the movie was going to happen sometime soon and I would get a good amount of tickets to invite my friends and family.
I have never been informed about the premiere after that (if it ever happened) and have not seen the final product (if there is any, except for the short one that is uploaded online).
People ask what’s my reaction after seeing that.
Two hours after I found out everything that had happened I gave Inside Edition an interview, the duration of which I could not stop crying.
I feel shattered.
People who were tricked into believing that we were making an adventure drama about a comet falling into a desert did nothing but take part in a low budget indie feature film called the “Desert Warrior” that WAS about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it.
It’s painful to see how our faces were used to create something so atrocious without us knowing anything about it at all. It’s painful to see people being offended with the movie that used our faces to deliver lines (it’s obvious the movie was dubbed) that we were never informed of, it is painful to see people getting killed for this same movie, it is painful to hear people blame us when we did nothing but perform our art in the fictional adventure movie that was about a comet falling into a desert and tribes in ancient Egypt fighting to acquire it, it’s painful to be thought to be someone else when you are a completely different person.
There’s a bit more of the letter, about Anna’s refusal to go into hiding and her experience growing up in an oppressed Soviet republic, that you can read over on Gaiman’s site. But the gist of it is that Borat really went too far with this latest stunt.
Let this be a lesson to all the struggling young actresses out there: if you drive out to east LA county to do some low-budget film financed by a sketchy-sounding foreigner, and when you get there, they don’t try to convince you to do porn, get the hell out of there, something is wrong.