The directorial debut film from Naji Abu Nowar, THEEB, is now one of the five films nominated for the 2016 Academy Awards Best Foreign Lanuage Film. Click through for our interview with Naji about the film, his connetion to the Bedouin community, the beauty of Jordan and much more.
"1916. While war rages in the Ottoman Empire, Hussein raises his younger brother Theeb (“Wolf”) in a traditional Bedouin community that is isolated by the vast, unforgiving desert. The brothers’ quiet existence is suddenly interrupted when a British Army officer and his guide ask Hussein to escort them to a water well located along the old pilgrimage route to Mecca. So as not to dishonor his recently deceased father, Hussein agrees to lead them on the long and treacherous journey. The young, mischievous Theeb secretly chases after his brother, but the group soon find themselves trapped amidst threatening terrain riddled with Ottoman mercenaries, Arab revolutionaries, and outcast Bedouin raiders. Naji Abu Nowar’s powerful and assured directorial debut, set in the land of Lawrence of Arabia, is a wondrous “Bedouin Western” about a boy who, in order to survive, must become a man and live up to the name his father gave him." From THEEB website.
Interview with Director & Co-Writer – Naji Abu Nowar:
1. The film has garnered awards for Direction, Cinematography, and the screenplay writing. Can you tell us about building such a talented team around your debut feature and how each member of the team is getting wonderful recognition for y'all's incredible work on the film? In particular working with your Co-Writer – Bassel Ghandour, DP – Wolfgang Thaler & editor Rupert Lloyd. I also was blown away by the subtle yet moving score by Jerry Lane!
Filmmaking is a collaborative art. Despite the usual focus on the Director or Actor/Star to market the film, the process is very much a team sport. Like any successful team you need a breadth and depth to your squad. You need star established players like the amazing Wolfgang Thaler and you need young rookies with something to prove like the incredible Jerry Lane. They all contribute their own unique talents to this seemingly magical process. I take casting every member of the crew as seriously as I take casting the actors. To my mind that is a key factor in making a successful film. The creative process of working with such talented people is the main reason why I love making films, rather than just being a film fan.
2. I once was able to spend two nights at a Bedouin camp while vacationing in Israel. I was blown away by the hospitality and comfortable nature of the people. Also the amazing TEA!!! What personal experiences have you had with the Bedouin community that helped inspire you to make this film?
The inspiration from the film came more from the bed time stories my father used to tell me about Bedouin chivalry as a child. I think that is what attracted me so much to Bassel Ghandou’rs short film script. Then living with the community for a year in preparation for the film was a very special experience. They were so incredibly hospitable and kind. They made me feel so welcome and fed me so much that over the year I became fat. I loved listening to the old men’s stories, their poetry and watching them sing. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I am eternally grateful to them.
3. The Jordanian landscape is so rich and beautiful, what was the scouting location process like and what factors helped you pick some of the amazing locations seen in the film?
It was a real joy hunting for the locations. We had a wonderful location scout called Saeb Abu Ragheb who hunted far and wide to bring us some of the most unique and beautiful locations in the film. Locations are always picked according to the requirements of the script and your own emotional and instinctual response to place itself. Does it give you the feeling or mood you desire. Lastly logistics, especially in the desert, makes an important determining factor. There are some truly mind boggling locations in the wadi rum region, but you can’t get to some of them in even though most resilient off road vehicle. And so that makes filming unlikely unless you have a lot of time and money to carry everything up by hand.
4. The duality of the "Wolf" name is so wonderfully reflected in the film. Can you explain how this duality effected your choices in the film process?
It helped focus my ear when listening to the Bedouin and allow me to direct their attention to the subject. They then gave me the wonderful poetry and sayings that you hear in the film connected to their wolf mythology. The poem is actually a very famous one from the Hejaz region from several hundred years ago. It fit perfectly into the story. The Bedouin really were the co-authors of the film.
5. The bold choice to cast actual Bedouins in the film really makes watching it seem all the more authentic and honest. What was it like directing these young actors and seeing them blossom in front of your eyes? What were the most challenging elements of working with the cast?
It was extremely fun to work with such talented actors. By the time we came to shoot we had workshopped them for eight months in the lead up to the film and they were pretty much professional. The tough thing was to convince them to give acting a try. They don’t watch films and so didn’t have the awe of acting and movie magic that urbanised people do. So there was no allure there. We just had to make the workshops as fun as we possibly could and hope they come back.
6. What does it mean to you professionally and personally to have Jordan pick THEEB as the Academy Award Nominee?
It is an incredible honour and one of the highlights of my life. I am very proud that our film will represent Jordan and that the Bedouin will be on the red carpet of the Academy Awards. It shows you what cinema can do.
7. What films have inspired your direction on this project? Also what are some of your favorite films or filmmakers and why?
John Ford, The Searchers, Kurosawa and Japanese Chanbara films in general, Sam Peckinpah, Straw Dogs, the disney fairy tale cartoons like Pinocchio, Bambi, Jungle Book.
8. This film has literally travelled the globe, what does it mean to showcase this beautiful community to people from Austin, Toronto, Venice and across the planet?
It is a great honour and to me demonstrates the power of our shared humanity through storytelling. Any film from any country can reach across the world to touch an audience member in a different country, culture and language through the power of cinema. I have travelled all over the world and it has been a joy to see the consistency of the audiences responses wherever I have been. In affirms my faith in humanity.
9. What has it been like working with Film Movement on the US distribution? Where does the film go from here?
It has been great working with the team at Film Movement. I hope the film continues its success and reach further across America and the planet.
10. Lastly, Naji can you give us a hint at what is next for you?
I will probably make a sequel set 10 years later. It is my answer to films like Seven Samurai and Zulu.
The film currently showing at Angelika Film Center Dallas.