Theeb: A Review

theeb

 

So finally today I got to see Theeb, the Jordanian movie I’ve been waiting to see for so long. Perhaps a little longer than most people as I had the pleasure of working on it (well, not exactly on it, more like on the script for translation purposes, but I like to think I had something to do with it anyway). Of course that was almost 3 years ago, which goes to say how much work has been put into this movie, and to my delight I can safely say now after watching it that it certainly paid off – as if it wasn’t enough that it won best Arabic movie at Abu Dhabi Film Festival or best director at Venice Film Festival – well, I like to act like my opinion matters too.

The film follows the journey of 10 year-old Theeb through the treacherous terrain of the Arabian desert amid the chaos of the early 1900s. The story itself is quite deep, the kind that leaves you mesmerized in your seat when the end credits start rolling on. It excites numerous questions in your mind as it deals with themes of brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal and survival trough unimaginable circumstances, where friends could turn to foes and foes could turn to friends at the pull of a trigger. But, most of all, it’s a story of a little boy’s journey into maturity, from the comfort of his tribal home and into the real world where the strong eats the weak.

Technically speaking, the movie is a visual feast. From the breath-taking scenery of the very picturesque Wadi Rum to the great cinematography that gives the scenes a certain aura of mysticism and makes them beat with life despite the shadow of eminent death that prevails throughout the movie. The perfect complement for all that was the music and sound effects, which were of utmost importance in a movie with such little dialogue, filling in the blanks, speaking unspoken thoughts.

However, I still think the winning quality of this movie was its authenticity. Not only were the actors all local Bedouins living in Wadi Rum, everything in the movie feels so real and true to reality, which is something that has been and still severely lacking in Jordanian drama and film endeavors.  The acting, by the main characters at least, was so natural, their dialect, the way they dealt with the camels, with everyday instruments, nothing felt fake or overdone, which – I daresay- is a first in the Jordanian drama and movie scene.

All in all, I’m proud to say that this is a Jordanian movie and to recommend it to everyone I know, but I think I would’ve loved it just as much if it came from any other country because, after all is said and done, it’s a beautiful peace of art, really.

The movie is showing now in cinemas in Jordan, Lebanon and UAE, so make sure you don’t miss it if you’re in any of those countries or planning a trip there. You can check the IMDB page or the facebook page
for more info.

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Ahlam: A Short Movie in The Making

  

When Fekra Initiative was first launched in 2008, there was no way anyone could foresee what was yet to come. The idea was to transform ideas into short movies, no matter how simple, and try to reach the largest number of people.

No great expectations involved. And with no professional experience whatsoever and a DV camera with a malfunctioning display monitor, Fekra produced their first movie, Dandana, which was received well by the audience and opened the door for the group to enrich their experience by collaborating with the Royal Film Commission that provided them with the equipment they needed to produce their second short movie, Blossoms of Silence. Although the group still lacked the professional experience, the movie made it to the Franco-Arab film festival in 2009 along with other 11 short movies. Both movies scored with the audience, they were also featured on a number of reputable websites such as the International Museum of Women and Global Voices Online. Moreover, Dubai-based Alaan TV dedicated an entire episode of “Al-Layla” show to discuss the movies and interview members of the group.

Today, Fekra is back in the shooting location for their latest movie, Ahlam, but this time it’s quite different from the other two movies. Professional experience came into play by collaborating not only with RFC, that was a great help, but also with people of expertise in this field who contacted the group and expressed interest in working with them. What was also impressive is the collaboration and support from the local community, with people opening their doors to use their houses and offices as filming locations and offering all the help they could, as well as the willingness of everyone involved in the movie to work for hours on end to make it happen.

The idea of the movie comes from a story that not so many people know by a great writer that everyone knows. Yet, the idea is adapted into a new story written by Ola Eliwat, directed by Mohammad Eliwat (both the founders of the group) and stars a group of young Jordanians, with the renowned Jordanian actor Mr. Dawoud Jalajel as a guest star.

This is a report done by WTV about the making of the movie Ahlam:

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: The film isn’t produced by the Royal Film Commission as the report says, but it’s done in collaboration with the Royal Film Commission

Jordanian Short Films Screening: A Brief Review

Yesterday we attended the screening of 5 short films at the Royal Film Commission. The films were done by a group of 14 apprentice movie makers, who participated in a 5-week workshop held by the Royal Film Commission in collaboration with the University of South California.

Before giving the brief review, I should note that I’m not an art critic, so this is for the most part my personal opinion as a viewer and observer.

The first film: One Day

This film shed light on a very important issue that is somehow becoming an unspoken taboo, or rather the elephant in the room that most of us are unwilling to acknowledge. Does love fade away after marriage, or is it us who have very high expectations?  I can’t say I fell in love with the film, maybe because I couldn’t relate, but my cousin said that if I was married, I would probably have liked it. After all, I trust that the writer and the creator of the movie must have had a message to deliver through the movie, and it did get across. On another subject, I think there was a serious problem with the language. Apparently, the script was written in English and then literally translated into Arabic, which sort of caused and identity crisis for the movie. It felt like watching a dubbed version of The Young and the Restless.

The second film: By the Sidewalk

This was the one I liked the most. It’s a movie that would make you laugh at the first and cry at the end. Ruba Haddad, who played the role of the homeless beggar did an awesome job and was extremely convincing. It was my favorite particularly because of the last scene, when her features softens, and all of a sudden she stops being the shrewd hobo cussing people out and calling them all kind of names. She turns out into a completely different person, and her dreamy eyes and faint smile say what you may take to mean: “I’m a human too”. The film had a strong influence on the audience, which was very obvious in the long round of applause that followed the last frame.

The third film: Yasmina

I wasn’t able to form an objective opinion on this one, since I was already familiar with the script, so I was technically waiting for the events to unfold. Honor crimes, a very important and sensitive subject, yet very complicated. Visually speaking, the film was really good, but I have more to say on the subject itself. As I said, the issue of honor crimes is very complicated. There is more to it than killing a female relative in the name of honor. It’s about the Jordanian law imposing minor punishments on those who commit such crimes, so I was hoping for at least one allusion to that point. In all fairness, the writer said she was trying to focus on Islam’s stance on this, but due to problems in sound editing some essential parts of the film were cut.

The fourth film

Well, what’s in a name! I’m really embarrassed to say I forgot the name of the film! Not that it wasn’t memorable enough, but I’m having memory issues. The film tackled a very important subject, parents and children alike complain about: teenage. What’s the best way to teach teenagers responsibility and independence at the same time? And when they make a mistake, which is bound to happen, what’s the best way to make them realize their mistake and learn from it? It reminded me of something my uncle once said, and I thought it was very true. He said: “None of us parents have an experience in raising kids, we are all experimenting.” The film tackled the subject in a funny way, which made it appeal more to the audience. The film is very realistic, and I’m pretty sire it was based on a true story. But again, the elephant in the room.

The fifth film: The Other Side of My neighborhood

I’m glad they left this one for the end; it was really something, a very professional experience on all levels. Great script, great visual effects, great editing, great music and the actors did an amazing job too. As for the audience, it was a real human experience; for the film brought to light the problem of those we all know they live amongst us, but hardly take notice of. Proper notice that is. If I talked more about it, I would probably ruin it for those who want to watch it, so I’ll just stop here.

I just want to note at the end that those guys did an awesome job and proved a high level of talent, especially given their young age and little experience. This gives hope for change in the Jordanian film industry scene, which is hoped to reflect on the society as a whole.

Originally Posted on Sunday, August 05, 2007 on http://oeliwat.jeeran.com/archive/2007/8/283337.html

Reviewing I’m in Jerusalem

As we watched Abdullah Joudeh standing inside the Dome of the Rock mosque, my brother turned to me and said: This makes you feel lucky that our roots go back to that place. In deed, that’s the way I always felt.

I’m in Jerusalem is a golden prize-winning documentary film featuring the trip of Abdullah Joudeh, a young boy from Gaza, through the city of Jerusalem. He takes you on a trip through the streets of Jerusalem, visits the holy places, the markets, talks to the people and participates in demonstrations. All the way through the trip, Abdullah keeps you glued to your seat as he explores the charms of the old city. Signs of astonishment and bewilderment keep drawing themselves on Abdualla’s face as he asks questions and gets answers he didn’t seem to expect. Perhaps the most disappointing part for him was when he ran all the way to the dome of the rock, full of excitement, and when he gets to the shrine of Al-Aqsa mosque, he is shocked to see tens of Jews praying at the western wall of the shrine, that we call The wall of Buraq, while the Jew call the wall of wailing.

Perhaps the last part of the movie is the what makes it all make sense; for the trip turns out to be a dream, and it is actually a dream, not only the dream of Abdullah, but of every one of us. After the film it struck me that at some point I wished very hard that I could go there, and when I ran the film through my head I found that it really resembled a dream.

I do feel ultimately luck and grateful that, of all people, Allah made me not only a Palestinian, but also from Jerusalem, and what this film did is that it intensified this sentiment all the more, and revived a tender dream, hopefully not too distant, of being there sometime on a trip of my own.

I didn’t find much about it on the net, since the movie is relatively new, but I found this interview with the creator of the film, Muna Jraidy, you can read it to find more about the movie: http://www.alwatanvoice.com/arabic/news.php?go=show&id=94518

Originally Posted on Saturday, July 28, 2007 http://oeliwat.jeeran.com/archive/2007/7/277951.html

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Shunker

The other day I went to see Die Hard 4 with a friend. I’m not big on action movies, but my friend was in the mood for something where cars crashed and people beat the crap out of each other. As it turned out, she hadn’t seen any of the previous parts of Die Hard, so she was actually afraid Bruce Willis would die by the end of the movie. I was like: Relax! He won’t die, that’s the point! It’s “HARD”

The movie wasn’t bad for an action movie raging with violence and negative energy. Yet, I thought there was something different in this one; because it reminded me of an Indian movie I saw some while ago…

To begin with, I don’t think that anything you’d ever seen was something like the Great Adventures of Shunker. Yes, that was the name of our protagonist, Shunker. I didn’t know how to start telling this timeless legend, so I thought the best way is to introduce it the way another legend was introduced, and say…

In a certain corner of India, the name of which I don’t choose to remember, there lately lived a deaf-mute handsome young man, who bore the name of Shunker.

Shunker was no Don Quixote, no Samson, no William Wallas, but he possessed certain bravery and nobility of heart as no man in his village ever had. One day, Shunker’s heart started to beat with an unfamiliar feeling, his forehead began to sweat, and his eyes twinkled like two stars in a cloudless night. He was falling in love.

But of course, love doesn’t come for free, there’s always a price tag attached, and for Shunker, there was the Devil to pay. He decided to stand up for the Girl he loved, whose name doesn’t matter;for she was the love object of Shunker, who decided to fight the evil forces, incarnated in the form of horrible men trying to steal his beloved one. You know those well, they are present in every Indian movie, err, in every timeless legend.

The evil men wouldn’t leave the love birds alone, they insisted on taking Shunker’s sweetheart and put her in a whorehouse (Don’t ask me why). But it was against the will of Shunker they did of course, for if it was in his power, he would never let them do it. So, as what happens every time a hero stands up for his honor, a melee ensued. They all ended up on the top of a mountain, the name of which also doesn’t matter; for above that very mountain stood Shunker, fighting the forces of evil, trying to save his love.

Then, there on that very mountain, happened what no one had expected (Or had they?) Shunker was held by the arms, and then one of the horrible men, who was probably a pimp, came forward and slashed his throat [gasp] then threw him over the edge of the mountain, into a deep abyss…

Now, what do you think would happen to an average human being if his throat was cut and then he was thrown from above a mountain? Most probably, he would die at once. But no, we’re not talking about an average human being here, we’re talking about Shunker!

Down at the lower edge of the mountain, there was passing a shepherd, whose name doesn’t matter, and as he was passing, he saw trickles of blood dripping form above. When he looked upward, he saw something he wasn’t expecting to see. It was Shunker dangling from a tree branch, and to his surprise, he was still alive.

The good shepherd took Shunker home and took good care of him. He didn’t only treat his wounds, but also operated on him. Yes, our shepherd was not only a shepherd. He was a surgeon too! He opened Shunker’s voice box and tampered with his vocal cords, so when Shunker woke up, he was not only safe and sound, he could talk as well!

Then, one night when Shunker was lying in bed, his wounds still fresh, the shephered, who was also a singer, was playing some music and singing his heart-felt songs. In the same time, Shunker’s woman was trapped in a room in the whorehouse miles away,  panicked and lonely. She let out a cry: Shunkaaaaaaar! And, to everyone’s surprise, Shunker rose from his sleep, and I can’t tell if he felt his sweetheart was in danger or that he actually heard it, since the surgical operation probably improved his hearing to a great extent. He got up from his bed, with his fresh wounds, and ran, yes, he didn’t ride, he ran all the way to the cathouse where his beloved was, and beat the crap out of everyone who was there to be beaten, and saved his sugar muffin, who was dumbfounded as he not only came back to her alive, but also able to talk, to tell her what he always wanted to say.

This, my friends, is the story of Shunker. Moral of the story:

1- Indian movies suck even worse than Arabic ones

2- Hollywood movies can be so Bollywood sometimes

3- Love triumphs over evil

Have I ever mentioned I love Finding Nemo?

Originally posted on Thursday, July 19, 2007 on http://oeliwat.jeeran.com/archive/2007/7/271463.html

Palestinian movies: a different experience

From yesterday to this evening, I’ve watched 2 documentary films about Palestine, or more precisely: about the palestinian people and their cause.
The two documentaries succeeded in viewing the conflict in occupied Palestine from a humanistic perspective. Something that brings a lump to your throat, and makes you realize that the palestinians are no super creatures living on patriotic mottos, they are nomal people, like us, who want to practice their most basic right: Life.
The first documentary, Goals & Dreams, sheds light on the Palestinian diaspora national team, if I may call it so. Young men, all have from a palestinian origin, come from different countries to play for the play for the Palestinian national team, preparing for their upcoming big match, in the road to World Cup.
The film shows how hard it was for them to get all the players to Cairo, where the training camp took place. Players who live in Gaza were not allowed to cross Rafah border, and they were returned from where they came several times, after hours of waiting, before they were finally allowed to join the team in Cairo.
Then it shows how the coach tried to get FIFA to postpone the game; because there were not enough players, but they refused, saying that they don’t want to get involved in political matters. Sadly, sports and politics were insaperable in that case, whatever they said to justify their position.
It also highlights the difficulties of communication between the players; being a mix of English, Arabic and Spanish speaking people. It was not only about the language, but also about the cultural differences between them.
One of the players, a Palestinian-American, said at the beginning of the movie that he had no problem being an American and a Palestinian at the same time. However, after having that trying experience with the Palestinian National Team, he said that he didn’t feel the harmony he used to feel between his two identities, and that he then felt more Palestinian than ever.
In another scene, they show a stand-up comedian who seems to be a Palestinian-American, who says: “They ask me: where are you from? and when I say Palestine they go like: Pagastine? What’s Pagastine? Where’s that? I say: No! it’s not Pagastine it’s Palestine, you don’t know it because we are technically a part of Israel… so they say: Isreal, Ah! so you’re Jewish! I say: No! I’m not Jewish, I’m Plaestinain! We are the ones who do bombings, how many places do we have to bomb before you start to recognise us as people!
What’s so special about the film is that it showed no blood, no destruction, but yet managed to convey a very strong message: Those people are living under unbearable circumstances.
Moving to the second movie, Arna’s Children, the tone changes 180 degrees. A movie that makes you smile, and even laugh for a moment, and makes you choke with tears the next. It’s about an Israeli woman, Arna, who gets married to a Palestinian man, and then devotes her life to support the Palestinian cause.
First,, they show some Palestinian kids, normal kids with ambitions and dreams for the future. Then, it shocks you when they show you what happened to them after some years. Four of them were killed by the Israeli occupation forces.
Ashraf was a very talented kid. He loved theater. He said that he’d like to be the Palestinian Romeo, and when they asked him who would his Juliet be, He said: wa7deh men el mokhayyam, qarabetna (A girl from the refuge camp, a relative of mine) His answer was so innocent that it made us laugh for a moment, but that laughter was soon interrupted by the next scene, in which Ashraf was wrapped in white sheets, smeared with his blood.
A mesmerizing movie that shows how, even some Israelis, who choose to see the reality as it should be seen, turn
agaisnt their government for its brutal and descriminating acts against the Palestinians.
But, the more important point I could see is that how the atrocities of the occupation turn the Palestinian people from ordinary citizens into militants. Normal people who, after facing the unimaginable from the occupation forces, decided that the best thing they could do than joining the armed conflict against the occupation. I know many people would argue about how Palestinians are terrorists and some such crap, but the point is: Who started it all? Before you jugde someone for carrying out a boming, you have to first put yourself in his shoes, and picture yourself carrying a 10 year-old bleeding, lifeless girl.
One of the things that stuck in my head is something Arna said at the beginning: There’s no peace without freedom. No peace without freedom.
Both films stressed a very important idea: You have a just cause. It makes you believe that hoever small the contribution, you can do something. It makes you realize how grave the situation is, and how hard it’s getting everyday for the people who are living it.
Here’s Arna’ chilren…

Originally posted on Saturday, December 02, 2006 on  http://oeliwat.jeeran.com/archive/2006/12/125184.html