By Sylvia Westall
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Mexican actress Salma Hayek says her new film "The Prophet" was a labor of love that helped her explore her relationship with her late Lebanese grandfather, who adored the book that inspired it.
The animated film, which draws on the 1923 book by Lebanese-born writer Kahlil Gibran, tells the story of Almitra, a headstrong girl who forms a friendship with imprisoned poet Mustafa.
Hayek co-produced the film and does the voiceover for Almitra's mother, Kamila. The story explores the themes of love and spirituality.
"Through this book I got to know my grandfather, through this book I got to have my grandfather teaching me about life," she said in Beirut where she was launching the film.
"For me this is a love letter to my heritage."
Hayek and father visited her grandfather's village Baabdat, in what she described as an emotional journey.
"Between all the connections of our ancestors and the memories of the ones that are no longer with us, I hope they are proud of this film because I did it also for them," she said.
Hayek also visited Gibran's birthplace, Bcharre village, on Sunday to pay tribute to the writer and his book, a series of poetic essays written in English which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.
In the film, written and directed by Lion King director Roger Allers, Mustafa is locked away for his poetry which is deemed dangerous and rebellious.
He explains to Almitra how he escapes his imprisonment through his mind.
"My words are my wings," he says.
Mustafa is voiced by Liam Neeson, who was easily drawn to the small-budget film, Hayek said.
"He loves the book, he knew the poems by heart."
Hayek says she was personally inspired by Gibran's mother who shares the name of her character Kamila. After an unhappy marriage Kamila moved to the United States and worked selling cloth to provide for her four children.
"Because of her courage Kahlil Gibran was inspired to be the man that he became," Hayek said.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)