Jordan's first sci-fi flick faces tough crowd at home
By Gaelle Sundelin
AMMAN — The Jordanian premiere of the first local science-fiction film "When Time Becomes a Woman" did not wow the audience on Sunday night, with several movie-goers walking out halfway through the screening.
Released in 2012, the film has toured festivals across the U.S. and in Europe where it won several awards and was widely praised by industry professionals and public audiences.
The contrasting lukewarm response to the film at the Rainbow Theatre was not a surprise for its director Ahmad Alyaseer, who said his prime target was an international audience, one of the reasons behind the film's late introduction in Jordan.
"Jordanians are more keen on pure drama, comedies or films packed with action, but hopefully we can change the mentalities and the industry can develop this genre so it can become more popular," the 22-year-old director told The Jordan Times.
Some members of the audience cited the complexity of the dialogue and the themes covered in the film as the major reasons behind their lack of enthusiasm for it.
Instead of featuring the spaceships and special effects commonly associated with science-fiction, the 73-minute feature is based on the Greek theatre unities of location, theme and time, focusing in its entirety on an intense conversation between two characters on themes related to philosophy and humanity.
"We wanted to talk about freedom, in all its meanings: freedom from prisons, freedom of the soul and freedom to take our own decisions… and we wanted people to still be able to relate to their reality," the director noted.
Touching on concepts such as dogmas, trust and consciousness, the story unveils a world where civilisation is on the brink of disappearing after wars and viruses have torn two nations apart.
Numerous references to rebellion and occupation conjure up contemporary themes such as the Arab Spring and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The narration itself is about revolutions and mirrors the times we live in now. This kind of science-fiction is human and it could be anywhere, anyone, anytime. It is science-fiction, but it is about humanity," said script-writer Rana Alyaseer, who is the director's sister.
Rana admitted that she is not very keen on science-fiction, but noted that the genre itself offers more possibilities to weave in symbolism and new concepts in the dialogue.
Retelling the abundant dialogue, the ideas and themes developed through the film were not an easy task for the two main, and only, actors, for whom it was a first experience to play lead roles.
"At first, it was difficult to understand what the director wanted out of the film, but it was an experimental creation," noted male lead Zaid Baqaeen, who was also the photography director on set.
For Najwan Baqaeen, the complex script began to make sense when shooting started. "I didn't know how to act the script at the beginning, but on set, we started living the characters … and I had Sigourney Weaver's performance in "Alien" in mind to help me stick to the science-fiction genre," noted Najwan, who had a dancing career.
Her brother introduced her to his world of cinema, where he had also worked as a director of photography on "Condom Lead", the Palestinian-Jordanian film that won the Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Festival in France.
"This is a new experience for me," the actress said.
It was also a new experience for the Jordanian public, and in spite of some hesitant reactions, industry professionals saluted the director's effort and praised the team.
"There are two characters, one location only and it is all narrative, so all my respect goes to [Ahmad Alyaseer] because it is really hard to pull off, especially for a first film," said film director Mohammad Abu Nasser, also known as Arab.
The team also noted that the film had been an extreme experience with difficult conditions.
Shot in six days with barely any budget, the six-member team had to take on more than one role, an endeavour complicated by the 40-degree heat of the Dead Sea, where the film was shot during the month of Ramadan.
But neither the heat, nor criticism will keep the director from shooting more projects, and he has two scripts in progress.
One of them is a horror movie, once again a first for a local film.
"Even if Jordan might not be ready for it, I will do it."