By Edward A. Price
The Gate: Dawn of the Bahá’í Faith was a complex documentary. It featured expert interviews, historically accurate reenactments, on-screen and off-screen narration, archival images, illustrations, animations, maps, CGI special effects, sound engineering, and originally composed music. Under the expert direction of Peabody Award winning Director, Bob Hercules, these elements were brought together seamlessly, to produce the first-ever documentary film about the life of the Báb. Using state of the art photography, our lead photographers were Keith Walker, Director of Photography, and Mike Swanson, both of whom are brilliant at what they do. I played diverse roles in the making of this film, but primarily I was a Co-writer and Producer of the film. We had an excellent team of professionals in all departments: art and set construction, costumes, make-up, casting, props, crew, script management, editing and so forth. It was my job to help compose and assure the historical accuracy of the script, to help select locations for shooting, and to perform other essential behind-the-scenes functions. And, every step of the way, we engaged in loving consultation with the Bahá’í Institutions, seeking their guidance and always collaborating to achieve the best outcomes for the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh and the project. All in all, it was a phenomenal team effort. We hope audiences – Bahá’ís and friends of the Faith alike – are pleased with the result.
The film was shot in multiple locations. Interviews were shot in the US and the UK, in Chicago, Los Angeles, and London. All the narration was shot in Haifa, at the Bahá’í World Center. And, of course, the reenactments were shot in southern Spain. We were in wilderness locations, coastal areas, world-famous historical areas, castles (one of them 1200 years old), winding, narrow and ancient streets, and at a famous palace. We were in cities like Seville, Grenada and Almeria.
One question people ask is, “Why did you shoot in Spain?”
Most of the story of the Báb takes place in 19th century Persia, so naturally it would have been our first choice to shoot the film at the real locations where the events occurred. But this was quite obviously not possible given the severe repression and persecution of the current Iranian government against the Bahá’ís. There is no way we could even get permission to enter the country to do a project about the Bahá’í Faith, and the cast and crew, and the local Bahá’ís, would not have been safe even if we could get in. So that was off the table from the beginning. (Hopefully, in the future, conditions will change, and a future filmmaker can come along and do a superior film at the original locations.)
We considered other Islamic countries around the world (I won’t list their names here), especially some that are friendly to filmmakers from around the world. It was true that some other Islamic countries do not actively repress the Bahá’ís to the extent of the Iranian regime, but there are no Islamic countries without an extremist segment of society. We were concerned that, even if welcomed by the government, that some others might endanger our cast and crew. Remember: at the time we were making these decisions no one had ever attempted a Bahá’í project like ours before. So, with so many unknowns, we chose to be cautious.
Next, we considered Spain because, although European today, the country was in the past under Islamic rule for nearly 800 years. We knew that there were many Islamic architectural and cultural remnants from that time, so we thought we would be able to find many good shooting locations and be able to do our business there safely. We reached out to some terrific film companies in Spain to see what was possible. And we found receptivity and a welcoming spirit. In addition, we found that one company – the best of the best – was willing and eager to work with us. That company, Fresco Films, is the same company that handles all of the on-location work for Game of Thrones when shooting in Spain. Everyone on the team was thrilled with this amazing opportunity.
Read more about our location scout in Spain in the next post!