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Amr Salama, the award-winning Egyptian director who is bringing his latest film Sheikh Jackson to Toronto next month, is developing a feature aimed squarely at one of the biggest war movies of all time.
Iraqi Sniper (working title), will tell the “other side of the story of American Sniper, the story about the villain,” Salama tells THR.
In Clint Eastwood’s 2014 box-office smash American Sniper, Bradley Cooper starred as top U.S. marksman Chris Kyle. His chief antagonist in the film was a mysterious sniper on the side of the Iraqi insurgents who went by the name of Mustafa.
“He’s the hero in my film,” says Salama, who says he was spurred to make the film after he first saw American Sniper. “I hated it. That was my inspiration — I hated it so much that I wanted to work on a different version of that story.”
There was indeed a real-life top sniper fighting for the Iraqis, given the nickname Juba, whose exploits — thought by some to be hundreds of kills — were touted in a number of videos released between 2005 and 2007. There were rumors that he had even been an Olympic athlete at one point.
“But I’m trying to make an antiwar film,” says Salama. “Whereas American Sniper was pro-war.”
And to make his project — which is currently at the script stage — Salama is working with two of the region’s biggest names. Prolific Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy, with whom Salama collaborated on both Sheikh Jackson and his 2014 hit Excuse My French, is producing, alongside Hany Abu-Assad, the Palestinian director who earned Oscar nominations for both Paradise Now and Omar (and has the Kate Winslet and Idris Elba-starring Mountain Between Us bowing at TIFF), and Abu-Assad’s wife, Amira Diab.
“This story merits to be told even if American Sniper hadn’t come out,” Hefzy tells THR. “He’s a very interesting character, a complex character. Amr did a lot of research and we’re trying to get his evolution right.” Hefzy added that he thought the film would have “international appeal.”
While Iraqi Sniper is still in the early stages of development (although Salama says he hopes it is the next project of his that goes into production), the filmmaker looks like he’s lined up someone already well versed in the central role. “The same actor who played the sniper in American Sniper — Sammy Sheik (Tyrant, Homeland, Sand Castle) — is attached to my film.”
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