Politics

Does the Anti-Mohammed Film Exist? Does the Producer Exist?

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In a gentler world the man on the right would be playing Jesus and the ambassador to Libya would still be alive.

Apparently I'm not the only one who finds the film Innocence of Muslims a little too bad to be true. It's unclear that the film — which was the cover for apparently coordinated attacks on the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya that left four peope dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens — even exists. The film's alleged maker may also be an invention. 

At The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg looks for the real "Sam Bacile" and finds bupkes. He does, however, get an interview with Steve Klein, a Riverside, California, insurance salesman and consultant on the purported film:

Klein told me that Bacile, the producer of the film, is not Israeli, and most likely not Jewish, as has been reported, and that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym. He said he did not know "Bacile"'s real name. He said Bacile contacted him because he leads anti-Islam protests outside of mosques and schools, and because, he said, he is a Vietnam veteran and an expert on uncovering al Qaeda cells in California. "After 9/11 I went out to look for terror cells in California and found them, piece of cake. Sam found out about me. The Middle East Christian and Jewish communities trust me."

He said the man who identified himself as Bacile asked him to help make the anti-Muhammad film. When I asked him to describe Bacile, he said: "I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved, Terry Jones (the radical Christian Quran-burning pastor) is not involved. His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign."

At ReligionsDispatches.org, Sarah Posner notes discrepancies in the reporting of Bacile's age and background, as well as conflicting stories of the movie's provenance:

But before the July 2012 upload of the film trailer to YouTube, under the user name Sam Bacile, you'd be hard pressed to find evidence of the existence a California real estate developer online. What's more, if whoever made the film actually spent $5 million on it, the expenditure hardly shows in the content, acting, or production values. Amateurish doesn't even begin to describe the 13-minute trailer on YouTube.

Something notable about the production value is that it doesn't just appear amateurish but suggests the trailer is a collection of scenes cobbled together from different sources. Some of the ADR clearly changes the dialogue rather than just looping it. At one point a character writes "BT" twice as an abbreviation for "Islamic terrorist." The obvious green screen is actually the least jarring thing about the trailer, because it at least suggests a straightup religious satire made at a level of production comparable to, say, an episode of Kingsley's Meadow. My first impression of the trailer was that it was a Rickroll by somebody who noticed that "anti-Muslim film" was trending. The lack of any opening information, title, credits, or indication that there even is a complete film is not helping me walk back that impression.

It's bad enough that people think this is worth committing murder over. For me the real outrage is that in two days Innocence of Muslims has gotten a million times more publicity than Home Run Showdown will get until the end of time. But both of these injustices will be more infuriating if the film doesn't even exist.

Update: Buzzfeed also speculates that the film doesn't exist and puts together a highlight reel of the stuff I described above. CNN has some details on a possible U.S. response

Update 2: Gawker's Adrian Chen tracks down a cast member who says big chunks of dialogue were overdubbed. (For example, the script apparently reads "Master George" whenever "Mohammed" is dubbed.) There's also a statement from the "entire cast and crew" that reads, "The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."