The first time I went home to Canada after living in France for a year I experienced what can only be described as culture shock. There were many things that I had become accustomed to expect or act like while in Paris that just didn’t translate well to Toronto life. For instance, pushing doesn’t exist on the Toronto metro line and unfortunately, smoking in the city is virtually non-existent as well.
One of the biggest shocks I found, was the cinema. In Paris, not only can you find a cinema on every corner, but a Russian film about a puppeteer will be screening next to The Dark Night Rises. In Toronto, cinemas mainly show Hollywood blockbusters and if you want to see your Russian flick, you go to an art house. France’s unmistakable passion for cinema makes it the third largest in the World regarding revenue and overall most successful in Europe. With more than 260 films produced in France yearly, movie making here dates back to its debatable Lyonnais birth during the late 19th century.
Although the French seem to be the best at it, the act of going to the cinema can be translated to most of the World. Watching independent films in particular, is a way that our cultures can be individually presented and often, connected. That’s why when researching Jordan I was shocked to find only one Jordanian film that had any sort of international recognition.
Captain Abu Raed was the first and only Jordanian film to be submitted to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008. Written and directed by Amin Matalqa, Captain Abu Raed was the first Jordanian feature film made in over fifty years. Although it did not make the Oscar shortlist, Matalqa created an Arabic story that portrays modern Jordanian society through the life of an elderly janitor at Amman’s International Airport. In an hour, Jordan’s landscape is captured with affection, as a discarded hat allows Abu Raed to take on a role of a pilot to several children. Having become Captain Abu Raed, the old man begins to form a relationship with some of the local kids through his fictional stories and their very real life problems.
Captain Abu Raed won several awards at independent film festivals around the World including the Sundance festival in Utah, and festivals in Dubai and Jerusalem. As many independent films strive to offer a message or paint a picture of current social issues, Captain Abu Raed illustrates the class inequality and gender pressure that Jordan is faced with. As the country is labeled with a medium level in human development, and ranked 141 out of 196 countries as being “Not Free” by Freedom House, films that depict these relative problems are important to not only art, but World humanity. Although unemployment and the mistreatment of women are currently undergoing major reforms in Jordan, Captain Abu Raed brings job disproportion in gender and shortage of economic opportunity in the country to the eyes of the World.
With an often clouded media and source untrustworthy Internet, how else can we understand a country so far away if not through the presentation of film.
More feature films are in the works in Jordan this year. With the rise of their film industry, we can look forward to other stories that this country has to tell.
by Catherine Chapman