62 countries have bought Infidel but Israel hasn't

RIGHT DIRECTION: The Infidel director Josh Appignanesi, second right, and producer Uzma Hasan, third left, meet audience members after the Jewish Telegraph's exclusive preview screening on Wednesday

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JOSH APPIGNANESI may be a young director but his debut feature film touches on some very adult themes.

The Infidel, released in cinemas nation-wide today, was penned by Jewish comedian David Baddiel and centres around Mahmud Nasir, a Muslim taxi driver who discovers he was adopted and was actually born Jewish.

"Of course there are always going to be individuals who are offended by controversial subject matters, such as Israel or Muslim extremism," said 35-year-old Josh, in relation to the anticipated public reaction to the film.

"But it is partly our intention to cause this reaction - by laughing at what we are afraid of, it helps normalise it.

The director added: "I wanted to show in The Infidel that we are allowed to laugh at ourselves."

Josh and film producer Uzma Hasan travelled to Manchester on Wednesday to answer questions from Jewish Telegraph readers who attended a special screening of the film.

"We have had a few ethnic screenings for Muslim and Jewish audiences and there have been some brilliant reactions," he explained to the 120-strong audience.

"For Muslims it is very rare to see themselves on the big screen and they absolutely love it."

However, the production team is hoping that the film won't just appeal to Jewish and Muslim audiences but to a wider spectrum, especially the young.

"Anyone who has a large family, an overbearing aunt and family bickering will be able to relate to this film," explained Uzma.

"And we've sold the film to 62 countries across the world."

However, Israel has yet to buy the film.

This may not come as a surprise, given that during the film audiences are made to feel that Israel is the 'elephant in the room'.

"One such moment is when Mahmud is asked to sign a petition in support of Israel," explained Josh. "I felt this needed to be spoken about."

The subtext of tensions between Jews and Muslims also appears when Mahmud, played by British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili, and Leonard, played by West Wing star Richard Schiff, are arguing over a parking space.

"The fact is, they are really arguing about the Occupied Territories," explained Josh.

The identity-swap idea for The Infidel came to David Baddiel when he first started out on the comedy circuit.

Despite being openly Jewish, he was often mistaken as being Pakistani because of his dark looks.

Josh said: "David thought this was an interesting concept, the fact that he was telling Jewish jokes and at the same time received fan-mail for being the best Indian comedian."

And some audience members found this idea helped work towards bringing peace between polarised communities.

Steve Jacobs believes the film should be shown in inner city schools, as an example of how people can live in peace.

It is clear that including a production team of both Jews and Muslims helped to strike a balance in The Infidel.

"We were able to tackle the subject matter on both sides because we fully understand it," explained Uzma.

But getting a production company's backing was no easy feat for Josh and his team, who faced many rejections from companies who saw the script.

"Oh boy, did we have trouble getting the money for this film!" he explained.

"Companies would come up with all sorts of excuses - the script wasn't right, or it was too long.

"Eventually we realised it was because the subject matter was touchy and most people who fund films aren't really interested in making a film about these two religions."

However, at Wednesday's screening the taboo subject matter provoked positive responses from individuals of all faiths - one woman proclaimed: "I'm Methodist and I found it refreshingly offensive. It was brilliant."

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