Originally published November 4, 2015. Special screening event at the TMA added January 9, 2019.
The words of Gibran are intuitive even today— over ninety years after they were written.
Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American author who passed away in 1931, remains one of the most popular figures of 20th century literature. For many, his 1923 book The Prophet, a collection of poems on a variety of subjects, holds as much fascination today as it did when it was first published. A magical and mystical meditation on love, the poetry, with illustrious metaphors, has been adapted into animation, giving a new generation access to Gibran’s words.
Like the book, the trailer for the highly anticipated film (also called “The Prophet”) is unspeakably beautiful. Lavish in color and imagery, the artistry and passion is evident throughout its running time, stirring the soul, accompanied by arresting visuals and an impressive array of A-list Hollywood talent. (Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson, Quvenzhane Walli and director Roger Allers, co-creator of The Lion King).
Further down the credits list, two names appear for the first time ever in a Hollywood film— those of Toledo residents Steve Hanson, Executive Producer, and Jenny Samson Jacob, Co-Executive Producer. If it wasn’t for those two, this spellbinding film wouldn’t exist.
“Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and nights, But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.”
It was over 40 years ago when The Prophet first entered Steve Hanson’s life. The sixties were over, but the spirits of rebellion and self-discovery were still alive, crystallized for many in the words of Kahlil Gibran. The most popular of his works, The Prophet, found a new audience during the counter-culture boom of the 60s.
“The early 70s, were a bit of a tumultuous time,” Hanson said. “There was a lot of unrest, a lot of civil disobedience going on at colleges, a lot of change. And I think The Prophet provided a bit of that backbone fiber. Because I can remember going to parties [where] people would read chapters. And we would all sit around [remarking], ‘Wow, that’s really incredible.’ The book had a profound effect on me at a very early age.”
The power of Gibran’s words would stay with Hanson throughout his adult life— growing up, raising his own family, becoming President and CEO of his own company, Hanson, Inc., a Maumee-based digital marketing firm. Despite everything, though, Hanson would never have guessed what a major role Gibran was yet to play in his life— and how Hanson would help to lead a whole new generation to Gibran’s words.
“Your friend is your needs answered.”
About a year and a half after Hanson, Inc. was founded, Jenny Jacob joined the company, and has been Hanson’s right hand ever since, with Jacob working as Chief Operating Officer. In addition, Jacob shared Hanson’s passion for The Prophet, a book she first stumbled across while in high school.
“There’s something in it for everybody — the chapters speak to individual subjects,” Jacob said. “Some [of these subjects] touch people more than others, but the language itself— it’s beautifully written, it’s esoteric, so I think different people can read into it what they want to, based on what they feel at different times in their life.”
It was about a decade ago when Hanson and Jacob began to toy with the idea of expanding into entertainment, with an emphasis on the then-brand new medium of high definition production. One day, during a meeting discussing a variety of potential projects, they checked and learned that no one had ever acquired the film rights to The Prophet.
“We were like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ That’s crazy!” Jacob said.
“I remember, just after the meeting, she and I saying, ‘I can’t believe nobody’s ever done this— and why haven’t they done it?'” Hanson added.
The two would soon find out.
On buying and selling
“It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.”
Determined to acquire the film rights to The Prophet for their production company, Hanson and Jacob began contacting attorneys representing the Gibran National Committee, a group located in the author’s hometown of Bsharri, Lebanon. After passing away in 1931, Gibran willed the rights to his work to his hometown, which led a group of Bsharri townspeople to oversee all dealings related to his canon. It’s a responsibility they take very seriously.
“The challenge we had is that a portion of the committee changes every couple of years,” Hanson said. The group was made up of ordinary residents of the town — butchers, farmers, homemakers — who would cycle off and on the committee, like a the members of a city council.
Since a unanimous committee vote was needed to allow Hanson and Jacob to secure the film rights to The Prophet, the duo began to feel like they were Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. They’d work to make a deal, think they’d made progress, seem to be on the verge… and the next thing they knew, old members would retire from the committee and new ones would come in, forcing the process to start all over again. Hanson estimated that the securing the deal for the rights took no less than five years.
On reason and passion
“Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.”
Armed with “conditional approval,” Hanson and Jacob began shopping the project around to potential Hollywood partners, without a solid concept for the movie version of The Prophet.
Hanson took their project to a “pitch fest” in California, an event where producers sell their wares to studios and production companies. Most people showed up with a script, costumes— the works. Hanson basically just had an idea, but one that he wasn’t going to trust to just anybody.
“We would sit down with somebody who said, ‘Well, I’ve never heard of the book…'” Hanson said. “I would literally go, ‘Next!’ And they were like, ‘No, no, no, that’s what we say.” And I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, [but] if you haven’t heard of the book, the idea that we have isn’t going to resonate.”
The pitch fest yielded some encouragement, but no solid business partnerships. Emboldened, Hanson and Jacob sent their associate, Ron Senkowski (Vice President of Entertainment and Brands for Hanson Inc) to California in an effort to get the project moving.
“Ron had made a couple of very small independent films, so he knew the process,” Hanson said. “So we moved him to L.A. to really help push this through. He called up a producer he had worked with before, Clark Peterson, [who] had actually received an Academy Award before.”
It was one night over dinner where Peterson sold Hanson on the idea of The Prophet coming to life as an animated film. “Ron [said], ‘Clark has a really interesting idea,'” Hanson said. “He laid it out— and right then and there, I [thought it was] the solution. I called [Jenny] and I said, ‘I think this is going to be amazing.’ She said, ‘That’s it.'”
Working with Peterson gave Hanson and Jacob another connection that would prove invaluable to The Prophet becoming a reality: He knew Salma Hayek.
“It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
Oscar-nominated for her work in “Frida,” Hayek has been a star of the big screen for over two decades. She is also a passionate lover of Gibran’s work. Once Peterson talked to Hayek about the efforts to bring The Prophet to life, she immediately wanted to be a part of it.
“Once she was involved, the project took on the life that it became. It was important to her that [The Prophet] would reach children,” Jacob said.
After it was officially announced in 2011 that Hayek would join the project— as both performer and producer— more pieces began to fall into place. Senkowski connected with famed animation director Roger Alles, co-creator of Disney classic “The Lion King.” “[Alles] was really touched by the book, too— probably when he was in college,” Jacob said. “So, he was passionate about this. To him, this was a passion play.”
“…let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.”
A clear concept for the film soon took shape: Instead of having just one director overseeing the entire movie, a group of eight filmmakers would each take responsibility for one poem from the book, supervised by Alles (who would also direct the framing story which gives the film structure). Not only would this help keep the budget down, but the fact that nine different micro-productions were going on at once meant that production was finished in a mere 18 months — a stunningly short time for feature-length animation.
“Every single artist took this on as a tribute to this book,” Hanson said. “and for a very reasonable budget. We couldn’t afford to go to a single director and say, ‘do the whole thing,’ because the budget would have been much greater. So they all did [a small part] and everyone who worked on this film did it with a great deal of passion. The money that was raised was literally all put onto the screen, with only a small amount paid to staff.
“And as the budget increased from time to time, there would be options for the producers to make more [money], but everybody inside decided to do it for the lowest amount so that we could do the most amount with the people, the voices, the music.”
“Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.”
The finished product— officially entitled “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet”— debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2014. The movie saw limited release in Los Angeles and New York beginning on August 7 of this year. For Hanson and Jacob, the most exciting premiere is yet to come: The movie will debut in Toledo with a week-long run at the Maumee Indoor Theatre beginning on November 27.
“It’s been a tremendous personal accomplishment, [to] start out with an idea that this could be something and to take the journey,” Hanson said. “The journey has been extraordinarily significant. I have been lucky to meet so many people in the process, and to learn so much about how an industry like [moviemaking] works.”
Though the pair has no plans for any further entertainment projects, they both clearly share pride and passion in what they have created, and for what this process has brought them. It took a decade to see The Prophet evolve from a dream to reality.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Jacob said. “It was so fun and interesting and challenging, the people that we met along the way, all the producers, the talent, the attorneys, everybody— that was the best part of it, all the connections that we made, and the people that joined, and the things we got to do. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
For more information on the film, visit gibransprophetmovie.com.