When Chems Eddine Zinoun won the role of Ibn Battuta in February 2008, he discovered that playing Ibn Battuta seemed to be his destiny for, after going on the internet to do some research, Chems discovered that before Ibn Battuta began his travels, he had the same name as his, Shams Al-Din."I'm half Berber and Ibn Battuta was a Berber. He's from my country and is a grand personage, I feel very proud," said Chems, who was playing his first lead role in a film. "It is a magnificent experience. I am very lucky," said the 27- year-old actor/dancer. "When I'm on the set, I forget present time. I discover how people lived and traveled the desert and crossed mountains, many dying en route to go to the Hajj." He added, with a mischievous smile, Ibn Battuta was a bit of a Casanova. He married in many of the cities he traveled through. He was a lover of life, that's what gave him the power to travel. We are all Ibn Battuta's. We all can go to China and discover the unknown." "I have never seen anyone in my 30 years of directing work harder in a role," recalls director Bruce Neibaur. "And with such patience, focus, wit and gentleness. He gave his all in his performance and was an absolute pleasure to work with. You don't often become friends with an actor, but Chems became a friend."
The entire production team of Journey to Mecca was deeply saddened by the death of Chems on November 12, 2008, shortly after the film was completed. He was 28 years old.Chems was born in 1980 in Casablanca to a family of distinguished professional dancers. At age six, he began piano lessons and attended his family's dance school until he was 15 when he traveled to Belgium to study classical ballet at the Royal Ballet School of Flanders. He later danced with the Royal Ballet of Flanders in such classical ballets as "Romeo and Juliet," and "The Sleeping Beauty." Chems joined the contemporary dance troupe in France, the Ballet du Nord, working with clowns and acrobats. During this time, he choreographed his first dance, "Enfants de Covers." Chems’ first professional film role was The Knights Templar, directed by Peter Flint, a two-part series shot in Sweden, Denmark and Morocco, about Saladin, who conquered Jerusalem. His second film was the sci-fi feature, The Objective, directed by Daniel Merrick (Blair Witch Project) filmed in Afghanistan and Morocco. Journey to Mecca marked Chems’ first lead role in a film.