Bedouin drama is first Oscar contender of Jordan's nascent film industry

AL-SHAKRIYEH, Jordan -- A coming-of-age drama set among Bedouin tribesmen roaming the desert emerged as the first potential Oscar contender produced by Jordan's nascent film industry.

See Full Article

"Theeb" (Wolf), set in 1916, tells the story of a playful 11-year-old Bedouin boy of the same name who gets caught up in his tribe's alliance with the British against Ottoman rulers during the era's Arab Revolt.

Billed as a "Bedouin Western" and an authentic portrayal of Bedouin culture, Theeb is one of nine movies short-listed for best foreign language film nominations. The final five will be announced Thursday.

For the amateur cast from a Bedouin clan and for two young Jordanians writing and directing their first feature film, making Theeb has already been a wild ride, climaxing in the 2014 world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. That marked the first time the actors left Jordan or saw the entire film.

"They got a 10-minute standing ovation," said director Naji Abu Nowar, who won for best director in the "Orrizonti" (Horizons) category in Venice.

"The Bedouins, it's a very macho culture, and you never see anyone cry, even the children ... and to see tears coming out of some of their eyes (during the premiere) was a really powerful moment," he said, speaking from the Palm Springs International Film Festival, a last pre-Oscar opportunity to promote foreign films.

The actors have since resumed their lives in al-Shakriyeh, a small Bedouin village nestled among striking rock formations rising from the desert floor of Wadi Rum, a protected landscape just north of the Red Sea and one of Jordan's main tourist attractions.

Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, who played Theeb, is now 15, attends 10th grade and has revised his career plans, from police officer to actor. "I'm a celebrity among my friends now," said Jacir, who has morphed from a boy with a sweet smile into a guarded teen.

His cousin, Hussein Salameh al-Sweilhiyeen, who played Theeb's brother Hussein, is back to racing camels and working as a tourist guide. Since Theeb, he has appeared in a German TV documentary about Wadi Rum and a Jordanian tourism commercial, and said he would like to do more acting.

Al-Sweilhiyeen said being involved in Theeb made him aware of the need to protect traditions. Bedouin lifestyles in the area have changed dramatically in the last few decades, with nomads settling down, trading their camels for pickup trucks and living off tourists instead of goat herds.

"Sometimes I say the old life was better," said al-Sweilhiyeen, sitting on the floor of the carpeted family diwan, or traditional reception area for guests. "The desert teaches you how to depend on yourself. Now we have good services, but we need to protect some old customs."

Jacir's father, 42-year-old Eid, still remembers the old ways; he was born in a tent and as a boy rode camels over long distances as his family wandered the desert before settling down about 30 years ago. He dropped out of school as a 15-year-old, taught himself English, began guiding tourists and recently sold his last camels, saying he doesn't have the time and space to care for them properly.

Al-Hwietat became the local point man for the filmmakers, Abu Nowar and Bassel Ghandour, who produced the film and co-wrote the script. The pair lived in al-Shakriyeh for most of 2012, soaking up Bedouin culture, rewriting the script and holding acting workshops for the local cast.

Theeb was filmed over five weeks by veteran Austrian cinematographer Wolfgang Thaler, the most experienced crew member and praised by all involved as the bedrock of the production.

Ghandour said Thaler used super-16mm film in part because it gave greater depth to the stunning desert vistas than digital images. Theeb, also released commercially, was "definitely low-budget," Ghandour said, but wouldn't reveal how much it cost to make.

Half a century before Theeb, scenes of the Oscar-winning epic "Lawrence of Arabia" about maverick British army officer T. E. Lawrence were filmed in Wadi Rum, just minutes from where Jacir and his family live.

Jacir's grandfather was part of the local support staff for "Lawrence," also set during the Arab Revolt, and the tradition continues. Jacir's father, Eid, has worked on international productions, most recently as a location manager for "The Martian," a 2015 science fiction film starring Matt Damon, which just won a Golden Globe Award for Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture.

Damon was unpretentious during the shoot, greeting everyone at the start of each day, said al-Hwietat.

Providing locations and crew for foreign films remains an important part of Jordan's film work, said George David, general manager of the Royal Film Commission. Major films shot in Jordan also include "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989) and "The Hurt Locker" (2008).

At a time of growing conflict in the region, urban centres in Jordan, seen as relatively safe, are standing in for Baghdad or Beirut, he said, adding that "we have also become the go-to location for Mars and the moon."

Meanwhile, the success of Theeb signals the development of domestic film production.

Over the past decade, the commission has offered workshops on all aspects of film-making, including an annual screenwriters' lab in consultation with the Sundance Institute. It also helped promote 25 feature films and documentaries made in Jordan between 2010 and 2015.

However, budget cuts have forced the closure of a film school and the commission had to reduce training. "If we, as an industry, tackle the funding issue, I think we will be seeing more Theebs," said David. "Whether it wins or not, we are already very proud of what it has already achieved."

Back in al-Shakriyeh, the Theeb cast members play it cool, despite what appears to be a mild case of Oscar fever. If Theeb is nominated, four of them plan to travel to the awards ceremony in Hollywood -- Jacir, his father Eid, cousin Hussein and the film's villain, played by local resident Hassan Mutlaq al-Maraiyeh.

Like others in the film industry, they have already thought about what to wear for the big night -- black robes, the Bedouin version of formal attire, instead of the beige ones for every day, said Jacir's father.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • ‘They don’t let me read anything’: Tom Holland says Marvel won’t let him read Avengers: Infinity War script [Photos]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK – If you want to tell Tom Holland something that’s just between the two of you, you should probably hold that thought. He has a hard time keeping secrets. The Spider-Man: Homecoming star is currently filming his part as Peter Parker/Spider-Man for Avengers: Infinity War with Robert Downey, Jr. Source
  • Homegrown love: Bieber praises Drake in Instagram post

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Justin Bieber took to Instagram to praise rapper Drake in a heartfelt post. The Sorry singer had nothing but good words to say about the 'Hotline Bling' singer in a post on the social media site on Monday in which he labelled the rapper a “legend” and declared he was “the best of our generation”. Source
  • British model Kate Moss immortalized in mannequin-style sculpture

    Entertainment CBC News
    British supermodel Kate Moss has been stripped down and immortalized as a naked, armless mannequin in an advant-garde sculpture titled MILF, which has gone on display in London. The silicone sculpture of an expressionless Moss and her torso was unveiled last Thursday at the Opera Gallery, with the life-like piece priced at £25,000 pounds ($42,000 Cdn). Source
  • Johnny Depp in hot water again for possible dog smuggling

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Johnny Depp could face a perjury investigation in Australia after his ex-managers alleged he lied about not knowing his dogs were brought into the country illegally. Depp’s then wife Amber Heard escaped conviction in April of last year after admitting she brought the couple’s pet terriers Pistol and Boo into the country with false documentation. Source
  • Canadian enjoys homecoming as Carole King in ‘Beautiful’

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    TORONTO - Canadian theatre star Chilina Kennedy admits she was a little starstruck during the early days of portraying Carole King on Broadway — especially when she got her first email from the legendary American singer-songwriter. Source
  • Serena Williams' latest shot: pregnant and nude on magazine cover

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK -- Serena Williams is showing off her pregnancy with a nude photo on the cover of the August issue of Vanity Fair. The tennis superstar is seen in profile with her right arm covering her breasts and her pregnant stomach prominently on display. Source
  • ‘Big Brother’ host Julie Chen promises a season you won’t be able to resist

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    “Temptation is the fire that brings up the scum of the heart.” -William Shakespeare Depressed that Big Brother Canada was cancelled after airing its best season yet? Disgusted by the chaotic and over-the-line mess that is BB U.K. Source
  • Alec Baldwin will return to 'SNL' next season with his Donald Trump impersonation

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    He's getting another term - Alec Baldwin will bring his pursed lips and blonde wig back to the "Saturday Night Live" stage next season, the actor told CNN. "We're going to fit that in. I think people have enjoyed it," Baldwin said in an interview. Source
  • 'Baby Driver' review: Edgar Wright takes Ansel Elgort on an entertaining thrill ride

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Smack-dab in the middle of a really lousy summer for cinema comes something wild: a crime drama/romance/coming-of-age cocktail called Baby Driver. If you know the films of Edgar Wright — Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End — you’ll want to see this. Source
  • 'Okja' review: Heartwarming fable of girl and her pet delivers powerful message

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    Okja is a giant pig. To the little girl who has raised her, Okja is the family pet. To the multi-national conglomerate that genetically engineered her, Okja is dinner for the masses. You can see the problem. Source