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'Theeb' stars awaiting Oscars, worried about what's next

By Muath Freij - Feb 25,2016 - Last updated at Feb 25,2016

Hassan Maraaiah (right), Jacir Eid (centre) and Hussein Suweilheen pose for a photo in one of the locations where ‘Theeb’ was filmed in Wadi Rum, some 328km south of Amman, recently (Photo by Muath Freij)

AMMAN — As the cast members of the Oscar-nominated Jordanian film "Theeb" anxiously await the 88th Academy Award ceremony on Sunday night, some of them have started thinking about their future after a wild ride that has taken them around the world.

Hassan Maraaiah and Jacir Eid, who played the titular character, plan to travel to the US on Thursday morning to attend the Oscars ceremony, where they hope the film will clinch the award for best foreign language picture.

However, the main concern for Maraaiah is what he will be doing after this "fame journey" ends.

"We will be back to our normal lives and the difficulties we have always faced. This movie has provided new opportunities, a training conducted by the Royal Film Commission, but job opportunities in the area are severely limited," he told The Jordan Times at a hotel in Amman on Wednesday. 

Maraaiah, a resident of the Southern Badia, claimed that most of the cast members became unemployed as soon as they finished work on the film, which was shot in the Southern Badia, with amateur actors all from the region, except for British actor Jack Fox.

"Most Wadi Rum residents depend on tourism, and it has been negatively affected by instability in the region," he noted, calling for "a new kind of tourism". 

"We can create 'cinema tourism' and I would rather have Wadi Rum promoted as a filming destination rather than a tourism destination in the future, because movies will attract people to the area." 

Maraaiah said films like the 2015 blockbuster "The Martian", which was partly shot in Wadi Rum, some 328km south of Amman, created many job opportunities in the area. 

Hussein Suweilheen, who played Theeb’s brother, said the relevant authorities can incorporate film locations in a new map for visitors. 

"Many tourists don't know about these locations because they were not promoted as destinations to visit," he told The Jordan Times over the phone. 

Eid Suweilheen, Jacir's father, said tours can be organised to these locations.

"We can hold a 'Theeb' tour which includes the areas where the film was shot. More than 20 people can benefit from new job opportunities," noted Eid, who has been working in the tourism sector in the area for 20 years and who started working as a location guide for filmmakers in 2006.

Maraaiah said after the movie was screened all over the world, many fans visited the area because of it. 

Since its release in international film festivals in August 2014, “Theeb”, directed and co-scripted by Naji Abu Nowar, has been screened in 25 countries, won 18 awards, including Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, according to the movie’s distributor, MAD Solutions.

"Many audience members contacted us and visited us, and this is an example of how effective movies can be," Maraaiah added. 

Earlier this month, Abu Nowar shared the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for Outstanding Debut by British Writer, Director or Producer with producer Robert Lloyd.

The film, a coming-of-age tale co-scripted with Bassel Ghandour and set in the Arabian Desert of 1916, follows Theeb, a young bedouin boy, and his brother Hussein as they leave the safety of their tribe to venture on a treacherous journey at the dawn of the Great Arab Revolt. 

Maraaiah said many of his neighbours are now interested in working in the film industry after witnessing the success of "Theeb".

"Also, the difficult situation drives them to think about new options. Many people have closed down camps because the number of visitors declined," he added.  

But Attayeq Zalabiah, a tourism camp owner in Wadi Rum, argued that cinema will not be profitable in the area because it will be beneficial for a limited number of people. 

"I suggest having an office to coordinate these projects and make sure that everyone in Wadi Rum benefits from them," he told The Jordan Times.

Nasser Kalaji, one of the producers of "Theeb", said there are three Oscar-nominated films this year that were shot in Wadi Rum — "Theeb", the Danish feature "A War" and "The Martian", adding that this indicates how attractive the area is.

"There has to be some kind of coordination between government agencies to further facilitate the procedures for filmmakers to shoot in Jordan and this will help attract more to film in the Kingdom," he added. 

Far from these concerns about the future, Jacir was sitting peacefully at the hotel, savouring the moment and thinking about the film's Oscar chances.

 

"I used to hear about the Oscars but I have never imagined that one day I would visit the US and attend the ceremony. I am so proud and excited!" 

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