From the Jordanian Desert to the Oscars: "Theeb"

Nov 18, 2015 2:31:34 PM

Samer Abu Taleb

While Jordan and its expansive deserts have long been known as a prime filming location for blockblusters like "Lawrence of Arabia" and the more recent hit "The Martian," it has struggled to produce any great films to call it's own — until now. 

"Theeb" has brought not just the landscapes but Jordanian cinema itself to center stage, receiving praise from The Wall Street JournalThe New York Times (warning: major spoilers in the NYT review!) and many other media outlets in the US and around the world. The film, submitted for the 2016 foreign-language film Oscar and recipient of the award for best director at the Venice International Film Festival along with 13 additional awards and special mentions from various international festivals, is a truly unique feat. A compilation of firsts, "Theeb" marks not only Naji Abu Nowar's directorial debut for a feature film but also the first time that every member of the cast, with the sole exception of actor Jack Fox, had acted in or even seen a movie. The filmmakers opted to use Bedouin tribespeople to capture this moment in their history and actually spent a year living with them, studying their culture and preparing them to act before the cameras began to roll, lending the film an authenticity that could not be manufactured.  

Set in 1916 Jordan during the Arab Revolt and the beginning of the decline of Beduoin culture, the story centers around a young Beduoin boy named Theeb, or "wolf" in Arabic. Theeb is the third son in a family of desert guides and when a strange British Officer appears wanting someone to lead himself and his Arab companian to a well along the Ottoman railroad tracks, Theeb's older brother accepts the task.  Although he is instructed to stay behind, Theeb defys his brother and follows, and so his journey and what the New York Times called an "extraordinary performace" by Jacir Eid begins. 

Like many movies before, "Theeb" is filmed in the beautiful Wadi Rum desert, but this time it is something different. No longer the mystical home of Lawrence of Arabia or the otherworldly red planet, we see the desert as it is — raw, beautiful, rough and truly home to the Bedouin actors who shape this film. In a film that is at times both beautifully and brutally honest, we are haunted by the warning voice of his recently deceased father, "He who swims in the Red Sea cannot know its true depth. And not just any man, Theeb, can reach the seabed my son... And if the wolves offer friendship, do not count on success. They will not stand beside you when you are facing death."

Watch the trailer here.

To see it on the big screen, check out this list of showings across the U.S. here.

Samer Abu Taleb

Written by Samer Abu Taleb

Samer manages Jordan Tourism Board's trade partnerships & consumer marketing in both the North American and Latin American markets. Enjoys travel, writing, photography and a big sports fan. Born and raised in Jordan, currently lives in Washington, DC.

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