Sometimes it helps to get a rave review from the right person.
Novelist Anne Rice loved the haunting 2010 film “The Stoning of Soraya M.” and asked her agent to see if he had seen the movie and, better yet, knew the filmmaker behind it – “the Path to 9/11” director Cyrus Nowrasteh.
Turns out her agent also represented Nowrasteh, and a connection was made. Nowrasteh told the agent he’d love to work with Rice some day, and soon the director had a copy of Rice’s 2005 book “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” in hand.
A few conversations later, and both sides decided to bring “Christ the Lord,” the diligently researched account of Jesus’ childhood, to the big screen.
What happened next is like the fast-forward version of modern movie making.
“The issue then became, ‘how can we set this up as a movie? Where can we take this?” he asks. “I had had worked with 1492 Pictures before. They looked at it and responded enthusiastically.”
Tensions can often flare between authors and filmmakers, but Nowrasteh reports a fluid give-and-take between his creative team, which includes his co-screenwriter and wife Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh. and Rice.
“Once we had a draft that everyone was excited about, we kicked it back to her. We wanted her detailed input and participation,” he says. “We felt a responsibility to her. We didn’t want to go out with the script until she put her stamp on it.”
It certainly helped that Rice is no stranger to films inspired by her texts.
“Anne understands the challenges inherent to adapting a novel to the screen,” he says, referring to Rice-inspired productions like “Interview with a Vampire” and “Queen of the Damned.”
“Christ the Lord,” is currently in pre-production, is what Nowrasteh calls a “work of informed fiction.”
“There’s a great chapter at the end of the book where she talks about her sources, what she worked from,” he says, including the New Testamanet, the Apocrypha and early legends pertaining to the life of Christ. “It’s not as if she sat down and made a story. She really did her research.”
This won’t be the first time Nowrasteh dealt with a religiously infused film. “Stoning” dealt with a cruel interpretation of faith in which an Iranian woman is condemned to death for defying the will of her husband.
“It was a small miracle that that movie got made,” the director recalls. “It was a territory where no one has gone before … something as barbaric and terrifying as stoning.”
The film earned its fair share of raves, but one critical reaction still wrankles Nowrasteh. The New York Times referred to the film’s grueling final act as “torture porn.”
“I found that really offensive,” he says, adding other critics contended the practice shown in the film is a thing of the past. Sadly, news of a fresh stoning case following the film’s U.K. release proved that to be a lie.
“If anything, our movie confirmed a lot of the things that were happening in Iran,” he says.
He expects “Christ the Lord” to get a far different reception, and he hopes the film won’t be pidgeonholed strictly as a “religious” film.
“This is a movie for religious poepe as well as for the masses,” he says. We want this movie to appeal to as abroad an audience as possible … it’s a beautiful story told with a great sort of understanding of the times and the period.”