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Lights, camera, lockdown: Jordan’s film industry, on pause, focuses on revival

By Maria Weldali - Jun 10,2020 - Last updated at Jun 10,2020

Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud (left) and American actor Will Smith (right) on the Wadi Rum set of the Disney film ‘Aladdin’, which premiered regionally in Jordan in May of 2019 (Photo courtesy of the Royal Film Commission)

AMMAN — As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to substantially impact industries across various sectors, Jordan’s film and entertainment industry faces a sudden recession, having faced its fair share of unprecedented disruption amid the outbreak.

“A lot is done before a movie or show is out. It involves a wide variety of people and takes a whole lot of time to put together and pick up all the elements,” Jordanian film producer Sari Saad Silawi told The Jordan Times on Tuesday. 

The process of shooting a TV show, movie or series is “no easy feat”. Some take months, while others require years to develop, Silawi said. 

“There is no doubt” that the movie industry has been negatively affected as the COVID-19 crisis has caused many shows and films that were being prepared for shooting or distribution to grind to a halt, leaving employees’ livelihoods “on thin ice”, Silawi said.

For many TV shows and films, deposits have already been paid and filming locations have been set, and now, intensifying safety precautions tops the industry’s considerations as it takes next steps amid the pandemic. 

Currently, safety guidelines are being developed for Jordan’s entertainment sector. According to Silawi, these guidelines include requiring a health and safety department to be on-set throughout the filming process, installing a colour-coding system to organise the set and enforce physical distancing to the greatest extent possible, minimising the number of crew members on set and requiring proof of negative COVID-19 test results.

“Jordan was among the countries with the best reputations in regards to managing the ongoing crisis, so I believe that this will benefit the Kingdom, as foreign producers and directors will trust the country’s measures and will feel safe to make Jordan the backdrop of world-class movies,” Silawi noted.

Director of Karama Human Rights Film Festival Sawsan Darwaza, however, is concerned that Jordan’s film industry may not recover from the crisis. The Kingdom’s filming industry “is still young and cannot bear the burden of the pandemic”, she said.

“There is a big army behind the scenes, most of whom are freelancers and who do not have other sources of income,” she added.

According to Darwaza, many producers and directors cannot take the chance to start filming at this point, as they risk their capital and must consider the safety of the crew first. All projects, festivals and film releases that were scheduled to happen were either cancelled or postponed and “what is yet to come is uncertain and unknown”.

“Some sort of freeze has happened; festivals and major projects are pending,” the director noted. 

However, the industry has been able to adapt to some extent to the restraints posed by the crisis. Towards the beginning, virtual screenings were popular as people have had access to streaming sites and platforms, “away from the high degree of formality that is required during theatrical releases”, Darwaza continued.

The pandemic has also shone a spotlight on the need to establish a union or a link for those working in the film and entertainment industry to provide a source of support during crises like the one the industry is facing now, she added.

In the past 10 years, film-related activities in Jordan have raked in an estimated JD264 million, creating approximately 106,000 jobs in the Kingdom. In the last quarter of 2019, there were 18 productions being filmed simultaneously in the Kingdom with a combined budget of around $50 million, according to a statement from the Royal Film Commission (RFC) shared with The Jordan Times on Wednesday.

In May and June 2019, there were 20 Jordanian productions being filmed in the Kingdom, including short films, documentaries, TV series, music videos, commercials and videos, the statement added.

In 2020 and 2021, the number of productions in Jordan was expected to double, but many of them have been postponed due to the unprecedented crisis. Many movies and series were halted due to the global health situation, only some of which managed to complete filming during the lockdown after obtaining permits from the Crisis Management Unit.

This sudden halt also led to the cancellation of major regional and international film markets and festivals, which are “crucial platforms for promoting Jordan’s strong infrastructure for the film and television industry”, the RFC said.

Amid dire predictions for the industry, however, there are several regional and international productions that are still planning scout visits to Jordan, which may not only revive the film industry, but also the tourism sector.            

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