As I finished this post, I came across an interview with an actress who appears in some of the footage given to Gawker. It goes a long way to clearing up some of the mystery, though not entirely.
Cindy Lee Garcia tells the website that she was hired last summer for a small part in a movie she was told would be called "Desert Warriors," about life in Egypt 2,000 years ago (Islam is about 1,400 years old).
She told Gawker "It wasn't based on anything to do with religion, it was just on how things were run in Egypt. There wasn't anything about Muhammed or Muslims or anything and that, according to Gawker, "In the script and during the shooting, nothing indicated the controversial nature of the final product. Muhammed wasn't even called Muhammed; he was "Master George," Garcia said. The words Muhammed were dubbed over in post-production, as were essentially all other offensive references to Islam and Muhammed. Garcia said that there was a man who identified as "Bacile" on set, but that he was Egyptian and frequently spoke Arabic.
The online 14-minute clip of a purportedly anti-Islamic movie that sparked protests at the US embassy in Cairo and and the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya is now looking like it could have been ginned up by someone sitting a basement with cheap dubbing software.
Full credit goes to Sarah Abdurrahman at On the Media and Rosie Grey at Buzzfed who appear to be the first to highlight (there may be others, but they're the ones who caught my eye) the fact that almost every instance of language referring to Islam or Muhammad in the film has been dubbed in. That is, mouths are mouthing but the words you're hearing don't match.
There have already been a bunch of lies associated with the alleged film. A man named "Sam Bacile" was identified as being the writer and producer. He claimed to be an Israeli citizen. The Israelis say they have no record of him. He claimed to have spent $5 million on the movie. The clip online doesn't look like even $100,000 was spent. There is no record of a "Sam Bacile" living in California, and his strange insistence on the fact that he was Jewish and that he had exclusively Jewish funders for his film in an interview with the Associated Press now looks like something of a red flag.
The one verifiable person involved in this strange tale so far is Steve Klein, an evangelical Christian and anti-Islamic activist with ties to militia groups and a Coptic Christian satellite TV station based in California. Klein told Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic earlier today that he was a consultant on the film, that "Sam Bacile," was a pseudonym, that the person behind the name probably isn't Jewish, and he didn't know the real name of the man. He doesn't know the name of someone he worked on a movie with? Yet another strange, credulity-stretching claim.
Now comes the part with the compelling case of no movie at all.
If you watch closely, you can see that when the actors are reading parts of the script that do not contain Islam-specific language, the audio from the sound stage is used (the audio that was recorded as the actors were simultaneously being filmed). But anytime the actors are referring to something specific to the religion (the Prophet Muhammed, the Quran, etc.) the audio recorded during filming is replaced with a poorly executed post-production dub. And if you look EVEN closer, you can see that the actors’ mouths are saying something other than what the dub is saying.
For example, at 2:53, the voiceover says “His name is Muhammed. And we can call him The Father Unknown.” In this case, the whole line is dubbed, and it appears the actor is actually saying, “His name is George (?). And we can call him The Father Unknown.” I assume the filmmakers thought they were being slick, thinking that dubbing the whole line instead of just the name would make it more seamless and less noticeable to the viewer. But once you start to look for these dubs, it’s hard to see anything else.
And Grey writes:
As the video above — cut from the YouTube video tied to a global controversy — shows, nearly all of the names in the movie's "trailer" — is a compilation of the most clumsily overdubbed moments from what is in reality an incoherent, haphazardly-edited set of scenes. Among the overdubbed words is "Mohammed," suggesting that the footage was taken from a film about something else entirely. The footage also suggests multiple video sources — there are obvious and jarring discrepancies among actors and locations... whoever made (it) may well have made use of little more than the standard editing software Final Cut Pro — far from a cast and crew of over 100 and millions of dollars.
Both make very, very convincing points (read their full posts) and if you watch the footage carefully, it's hard to escape their conclusions. In one scene a man is apparently teaching his daughter about the evils of Islam and writes on a blackboard that "Man + X = BT" as he explains to her that "Man + X = Islamic terrorist." Then he writes the equation in reverse, again intoning "Islamic terrorist" as he writes "BT."
If suspicions are right, the low-quality footage has been re-purposed from somewhere, and you'd expect someone to come forward and explain soon (since a lot of actors are involved).
What's really going on here? I have no idea.