By Mike O'Sullivan, VOA
LOS ANGELES - Details are slowly emerging about the filmmaker behind the anti-Muslim film that has sparked violent protests across the Muslim world. The film's producer is thought to be an Egyptian immigrant with a checkered background.
People protesting against the movie in Tabriz, Iran
The man behind the inflammatory film is widely reported to be Nikoula Basseley Nikoula, a 55-year-old immigrant from Egypt who lives in suburban Los Angeles. He was convicted of bank fraud in 2010 and remains on parole. The film, The Innocence of Muslims, was made under the name Sam Bacile, with variations used in the spelling of the surname. “Bacile” is similar to one of the many aliases that Nikoula has used.
The online video promoting the film sparked protests in Egypt and an attack in Libya Tuesday that claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three embassy employees. Since then, protests have erupted in Yemen, Iran, Tunisia, Sudan and other Muslim countries. The filmmaker, who spoke with the U.S. government-funded station Radio Sawa, says he wrote the film and posted the 14-minute video online with no regrets.
“No, I do not regret it. I am saddened for the killing of ambassador, but I do not regret making it,” the filmmaker said.
He said he felt some guilt over the mounting protests against the United States, which he said was not involved in the film.
The filmmaker who spoke in the interview did not admit that he is Nakoula, but the two are widely believed to be one and the same. Nakoula is a Coptic Christian, but Coptic Orthodox priest Joseph Boules says he is not known in southern California's Coptic community. Boules, the pastor of St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church, says Copts in Egypt and the United States have condemned the film, and feel anguish that the man behind it is Coptic Christian.
“Everyone I spoke to is disappointed that the man behind the movie could be linked to the name of the Coptic people because we've always been peaceful people. We don't believe in any kind of violence. We condemn all kinds of violence, and also the fact that this could be injurious to our brothers and sisters in Egypt,” Boules said.
The filmmaker says he is aware of the widespread condemnation in the Coptic community.
“They are free to do this and this is their right. These people have nothing to do with the subject of the film. The film was my idea alone and it only concerns me,” he said.
The actors who performed in the film say they were deceived - that they were told the story was about life in the Middle East in ancient times. The production was filmed under the name Desert Warriors in 2011. The casting call in Backstage magazine listed a character named George, and several actors say the name Master George was later overdubbed with the name Muhammad.
The filmmaker admitted to Radio Sawa that he misled the actors, but said producers have the right to change a film.
Ted Johnson, political and legal editor at the show business publication Variety, said this shows the peril for actors, who have little recourse if their work is changed in unexpected ways. He says it also demonstrates that tools for film production are widely available.
“This really does show the way the filmmaking community has expanded much beyond what I would call professional Hollywood, and the impact is really from all corners of the world right now,” Johnson said.
He says sites like YouTube have become forums for worldwide distribution, and that video - good and bad - can quickly go viral.
A stridently anti-Muslim evangelical Christian named Steve Klein was involved in the film's production, and the controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones, notorious for his threats to burn the Quran, has promoted the film. But much about the funding and production remains murky, despite the worldwide impact of the promotional video since an Arabic version was posted online this month.
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