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Happenstance...

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/10/2015 Barry Levinson
ROCK THE KASBAH MOVIE POSTER © Scott Roth/Invision/AP ROCK THE KASBAH MOVIE POSTER

How does an idea for a film come about? A number of years ago I attended the Marrakech Film Festival in Morocco. That year I was the head of the jury. It was a terrific two weeks in a lively, exciting country. Friendly, vivacious people, who happen to be Muslim. I say this because in the times we live in, we view people of this faith as too devout, humorless, and lacking in vivacious personalities. And in many cases there are those who see the Muslim world with a degree of fear and suspicion.
In Marrakech, I enjoyed my stay making friends and participating in fascinating discussions. Each night of the festival there was a party to celebrate filmmakers and their work. On one night, a very unusual moment happened. A band was playing, the singer singing, and the song was John Lennon's "Imagine." The lyrics struck me, they stood out. Here I was in a Muslim country and the singer's voice floats above the crowd: "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to die for, and no religion too, Imagine all the people living in peace..."
The moment stayed with me long afterwards. I began to wonder about writing a film that addresses that part of the world without making it a political piece. Without doing a heavy drama. A people piece. A film that allows for the contradictions of life in the Muslim world. I couldn't figure it out, and to be honest when I mentioned it, no one seemed to understand what I was trying to do... frustration followed and I let it go. And then...
Months later, I received a script from Mitch Glazer called Rock The Kasbah and there it was. The idea I couldn't write. A humanistic, dramatic comedy that dealt with the Muslim world in Afghanistan. He based his script on many of the issues that were happening in Afghanistan and the stories he had been collecting from people like Tom Freston who have been going there for decades. One was about a female contestant who sang and danced on Afghan Star, Afghanistan's version of American Idol. That young woman faced many issues of resentment and even death threats. This was the center of Mitch Glazer's story, a young female who wanted to fulfill her dream, that struggle... and a washed up American Rock promoter who finds his soul in a land far away.
It turns out that Mitch wrote the script seven years earlier, but he and Steve Bing couldn't get anyone to make it. It was too foreign some said. Too much about that part of the world, not enough action, not a war film, too much about people, and in whispers, too much about Muslims. They had Bill Murray attached but still the resistance remained. The other negative, some said, was that because it had humor the film would not be perceived as important enough. It was a funny script, with a dramatic spine, and eventually we were able to get it made on a small budget of 15 million with a number of talented names who believed in the piece. And here was the surprise -- the "Imagine" moment was in Mitch's script. But it was a Cat Stevens song. A young girl singing "Peace Train" to a war torn nation. Happenstance...

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