Last year at Sheffield International Documentary Festival I met Jordan filmmaker Abdelsalam, who happens to run the Jordan Film Commission Centre, and Alaa, officer for British Council in Amman. We talked about the possibility of SDI running our Stories workshop with up and coming Jordanian film talent. So, in the first week of 2016, we did. We arrived in Amman on New Years day with negative temperatures and a snowstorm. Thank goodness for lovely coffee bars with delicious ginger and lemon hot drinks!
As usual, we had 7 days to deliver the workshop and make sure our 12 participants produced 4 x 3 minute films telling us something different about Amman. The Royal Film Commission (RFC) was established to develop the Jordanian film industry and reflects King Abdullah II's commitment to having Jordan play a leading cultural and economic role, regionally and internationally. The RFC is housed in a beautiful old Ammani villa, built in one of the oldest parts of the city, and they turned it into Jordan’s first film centre. A few years ago the British Film Institute helped turn the space into a hub for filmmakers to host educational workshops with the latest equipment, an editing lab, as well as a book and video library. They run weekly screenings and in the summer they have an outdoor screening, set in lovely gardens with views over the old city. To die for!
But the Stories workshop was run from their second and latest film centre in another beautiful city, Salt - up in the mountains. We hoped that more stories would be based there but, in the end, it was only one. All the other three characters were based in Amman. This meant that we all spent a lot of time on the road, caught in traffic, going between Amman and Salt. Mahmoud, our project manager, was our driver. That gave us the time to squeeze out as much information as possible about Jordan from him, giving us an insight into a country that first became the refuge for Palestinians, and now Syrians.
The workshop ran smoothly. We had 12 participants – most of them very keen to engage with creative documentary. I wished I had more time to feed them more clips of international documentaries. It is always fascinating to see participants’ reactions when faced with different forms of storytelling. Many interesting ideas were pitched but we had to select the four most feasible in such a short time. You can get a taster of the stories by checking out the trailers below. The four films feel very much like life-affirming stories and, for me, in many ways reflect my impression of Jordan as a strong cultural confident identity. An oasis of peace in a dysfunctional neighbourhood.