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Jordanian cinema on the rise

Nadia Eliewat and Fadi G Haddad

BroadcastPro Middle East meets up with two Jordanian filmmakers as they put the final touches to their first feature film When Monaliza Smiled

Young, up-and-coming Jordanian filmmakers Nadia Eliewat and Fadi G.Haddad are gearing up for the commercial release of their first full-length feature Lamma Dehket Monaliza (When Mona Lisa Smiled) starring Tahani Salim and Shady Khalaf with Haifa Al Agha, Nadera Omran, Fuad Shomali, Suha Najjar, Haidar Kfouf in Summer 2012. The romantic comedy, which was shot entirely in Jordan, was completed with a budget of US $170,000, of which US $134,000 was provided by the Royal Film Commission (RFC) of Jordan.

“The film was sponsored under the Education Feature Film Programme of the Royal Film Commission of Jordan, which gives you a limited budget,” explains Eliewat, who took on the role of producer on this film.

“We had to create a platform to bring in more sponsorship to make this project work. People in Jordan are really willing to help, so we were able to complete the film with the limited resources we had.”

The story, scripted by Haddad, centres around a woman called Mona Lisa, who has never smiled owing to an unhappy childhood. Her life takes a turn for the better when she secures a job with the government and meets a young Egyptian man. His jolly nature and outlook on life contrasts with that of Monaliza and their relationship blossoms and allows her to see the world differently, viewing life from a new perspective.

Shot over a period of 26 days across Jordan with a Canon 5D camera, the film attempts to explore Jordan’s social and cultural norms and is claimed to be the first that looks at the life of Egyptian workers in the country. The film also attempted to engage more Jordanians in the production.

Scriptwriter Haddad says: “The film is about everyday Jordanian people, and a love story for all Arab audiences. I wanted to write something more commercial, not arty or elitist, as I want my first independent project to reach a wider audience.”

Producer Eliewat adds that they worked primarily with a Jordanian crew.

“We had a crew of about 35 people on set and we worked 12 hours most days. The crew was primarily Jordanian or trained in Jordan and RSICA was our main resource. The Royal Film Commission took care of certain production problems by providing its own executive producer and producers from its finance department as well as advisors and mentors. RSICA also provided production assistants, who were primarily first-year students. We did, however, have non-Jordanian crew members as well. Our assistant director was Iranian, and there were a few Lebanese on set as well,” she adds.

The Royal Film Commission (RFC) provided advisors in producing, and they worked with the two filmmakers on both marketing as well as distribution.

Fadi G. Haddad originally wrote When Monaliza Smiled as a short during his first year at RSICA. But after his course, he felt there was enough to flesh it out into a full feature.

A professional editor worked with Haddad as he edited the film, and the team was also provided with a screenwriting advisor.

“The script was just 30 pages,” explains Haddad.

“During my senior year, I thought that the story had more potential as a feature, and it could be my first project when I graduated. I completed the script and teamed up with Nadia.”

In February 2011, the script was accepted into the writing club of Berlinale International Film Festival. Haddad worked alongside a mentor in Germany, re-writing and locking the script in April 2011, ready to go into pre-production.

Eliewat was involved in the project with Haddad from Day 1 and they enjoyed what she calls the “perfect creative partnership.”

“He would write and share drafts with me when we were in school together. I immediately saw potential in this for a full-length feature film as it could be done with a low budget and still have commercial appeal, while at the same time being artistic and satisfying for an audience.”

The young filmmakers presently reside in Dubai, where they teach digital production and story-planning at the American University.

Although the production was completed in Jordan, the team was working in Dubai during the stage of post production and felt it ideal to work with a local post production house. Mile Studios, based in Dubai Media City, was chosen as the post-production entity as it specialises in colour correction.

“We needed a colour artist to not just create beautiful images but also help us tell the story better. It was important to find someone who was a storyteller, and not just be restricted to the technical aspect and here, the Mile Studios team was able to help us,” says Eliewat.

Post production at Mile Studios took two weeks. In a sneak preview of the film, BroadcastPro ME witnessed various filming techniques employed by the filmmakers to go back and forth in time and we were tempted to sit back and watch more.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of this production was that it was undertaken last Ramadan. This meant working around different breaks, opening and closing times and working with a team that was fasting.

“Despite that and the fact that the town Jebel al Nazeef, where we were shooting, was crowded, filming there was enjoyable. It felt good to make a Jordanian film and work with the local community to produce this project. The local people were very helpful and happy to be used as extras,” explains Eliewat.

Lamma Dehket Monaliza is due to release later this summer.

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