Theeb's director on settling down with the Bedouins and his Oscars journey
While Theeb didn’t win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, it won a BAFTA this year and a prize at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. (File photo)
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This week, the Oscars were graced by the first Bedouins ever to rock the Academy Awards’ red carpet. #Represent. Jordanian movie Theeb is making the Arab World proud with its nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. As director Naji Abu Nowar reminds us, though, we ain’t need nobody to give us no Oscar to be proud.
The movie itself is a reminder of the Jordanian desert’s beauty and the noble values of Bedouins. Set during the First World War, the film is a journey that follows a young Bedouin, Theeb, played exquisitely by Jacir Eid Al Hwietat, and his tribe. The presence of an English man throughout the excursion gives it a “Western movie” flair, reflecting Arab identity as threatened by external culture. Yes, it’s a must-see if you haven’t already.
While Theeb didn’t win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, it won a BAFTA this year and a prize at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. It also made it to Cannes and Abu Nowar won Variety’s 2014 Arab Director of the Year. He also presented the film at the London Film Festival, where the movie was largely acclaimed.
Abu Nowar doesn’t seem to be done with Bedouins, as he told The Guardian he was working on film projects about the imposition of national boundaries by Western powers and even maybe one about Bedouin women, so watch out for more. In the meantime, here is what Abu Nowar told us back in L.A., where he attended the Oscars with some of the cast and crew:
The thought of prodigy Jacir Eid AlHwietat being in L.A., at the Oscars, representing “Arabia” as it used to be called, is simply a joy. Given what we know of him and his performance, I couldn’t think of anyone who could better portray all the qualities we want the movie industry and the world to associate with us Arabs. How does it make you feel having made that possible and how was it working with him?
It was pure joy working with Jacir and all the actors on the film. We didn’t prepare the actors by giving special treatment to any one individual. They were developed as a group, like a theatre company. So it was very much a team atmosphere when shooting the film.
In truth, though, Jacir is the most purely talented of them all. He just has the natural gift that a person is born with. It is amazing to work with someone of that high calibre. I was basically sitting back and being entertained every day. Now it is up to Jacir to decide what to do with his gift.
The important thing now, though, is that he does well in school and graduates with good enough marks to prepare himself for whatever direction he decides to take in life. I am very proud to have worked with him and am honoured that he will be the first Bedouin on the red carpet of the Oscars seen by millions of people all over the world.
I always thought I could easily fall in love with a Bedouin one day and spend my life in the desert, would you? (Spend a lifetime in the desert, at least.) What was the best thing about shooting there?
I did consider remaining in the desert and living there for a while because I did greatly enjoy the life there. It is such a peaceful, simple existence and you get the best night’s sleep you will ever have in your life. But, in the end, you realise that theirs is not your world. That they have their own serious social problems and issues and that, ultimately, you do not belong there. So as much as I love and respect them, I don’t think I would settle there.
The movie is full of important morals and inspiring ways of seeing life, which one resonates the most with you?
I think it’s the debate between the Englishman and Marji in the cave. Those are two different ways of looking at the world and I think all humans are caught between the two philosophies at some points in their life.
What did you look forward to the most about Oscars’ night? (Apart from hearing your name for Foreign Film, because you’re already a winner for us)
Celebrating the completion of my journey with this film. I have been working on this film since 2010 and Feb. 28 represented my last working day on the film. After that, I have officially retired and will move onto my next project. What a wonderful way to finish a project — at the very peak of its success at the Oscars. It makes me incredibly proud and feel very privileged.
Any recommendations for upcoming Arab directors who would kill to be in your shoes?
If you love what you do, then no matter what your level of success you will be happy. I don’t need an Oscar or any awards or success to be happy, because making films does that for me. This is just icing on the cake.
Anything else that you’ve never told anyone and would like the world to know about you/this movie? Or any upcoming project/film we can long for?
I look forward to sharing my next film with you whenever that will be. Until then thank you for your support for Theeb and see you with the next one.