Arab Filmmaking is nothing new. I hear Egypt in particular has had a rich film culture for many decades. But my attention was first drawn to this industry when I attended the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (October 2011). The experience opened my eyes to the budding film industry in the Emirates and later compelled me to seek out other recent Arab film making initiatives. That being said, in the latter part of this year, I saw three movies relating to the Arab region: Sea Shadow, Black Gold, and Where Do We Go Now.
Mansoor (Omar Al Mulla) is a teenage boy living in a coastal town in the United Arab Emirates. While he reflects on the effects of first love he is unaware that the object of his attentions, local girl Kaltham (Neven Madi), is suffering a darker preoccupation.
Sea Shadow is a simple character driven story and anyone who has read my reviews knows how much of a sucker I am for these. The relationships between the players and their interactions kept my attention riveted. All the actors were quite charming and a natural fit for their roles. Abrar Al Hamad as Mansoor’s best friend Sultan provides much of the film’s humor, as do Bilal Abdullah and Aisha Abdulrahman, who play Mansoor’s father and mother respectively. Ahmad Iraj’s portrayal as Kaltham’s concerned brother was also quite effective.
But perhaps the tone is the best aspect of the film. If I could use one word to describe Sea Shadow it would be nostalgia. Other words would be understated, bittersweet, and stirring. Director Nawaf Al-Janahi is a clever storyteller. Using his camera as the narrator, he brings viewers attention to seemingly innocuous elements which will later prove to be significant. The setting and music are also lovely and serve to set the voice of the movie. One scene in particular, a beach barbeque was gorgeously moody; like poetry. Finally, the ending was absolutely perfect and consists of a single symbolic act to cap off this delightful experience.
Subtle film making stirs me and I was stirred plenty by Sea Shadow. I’ve seen it twice on the big screen and I can’t wait to own it on DVD. I also strongly recommend it as an enjoyable cultural experience for those wishing a different yet realistic portrayal of life in the Arab world. Director Al-Janahi said as much in one of his interviews. Choosing the location of Ras-al Khamiah was crucial to show that not all Arabs are as rich as made out to be. There are less glamorous areas which have their own problems, their own stories to tell.
Speaking of which I had the honor and pleasure of meeting director Al-Janahi at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. It was during the first day of panel discussions. I had been in the lounge at the Fairmont waiting for the panel to start when I saw a youngish looking man sitting across from me working with someone else on a laptop. He looked familiar but I didn’t give the matter another thought and left to get a drink. It occurred to me on my way back that he looked very similar to the Emirati director I had read about in a magazine at my hotel. But then, I am terrible with faces and really, what were the odds that I’d run into Emirates rising star director my first year here?
Apparently, they were very good. When I heard someone call him by name I mustered up the courage to approach him. He was extremely generous with his time and we had quite a long talk about local television and film making efforts in which he mentioned that there was a great need to utilize and manage local film making talent. Nawaf also spoke of how he had had to multi-task on every single of his films, as producer, writer, director and actor and that this was not how the process should be. “I’m a director and an actor,” he explained, “I can play the part of a producer and writer, but I hate it.” Al Janahi added that Sea Shadow was the first film he didn’t have to finance when Image Nation (The Help, Contagion) picked up the project. He then added that there was a need to for film makers in the Gulf to specialize in individual fields and that while “everyone wants to be a director” there was a greater need for screenwriters. Unfortunately, that was all I was able to extract from him as he quickly turned the conversation onto me and to what my goals were. I explained that I was a reviewer and aspiring screenwriter but have also had some production forays and was interested in the entire film making process. At my zeal, he was extremely helpful and said the most important thing was to know what your goal is, to be very specific, then work towards that goal. Simple yet elegant pearls of wisdom.
Unfortunately, I was unable to reach writer Mohammad Hassan Ahmad for an interview but those who have seen the film can express their appreciation for it at his twitter account (@Mohammadonoff). Al-Janahi can also be found on twitter. A friend of al Janahi’s, he had originally written the script as a short film but Al-Janahi thought it more fitting, deep enough, to be a full feature.
Finally, Sea Shadow was officially selected for the Palm Springs International Film Festival (5th-16th January 2012). Those attending the festival, it is a must see. Here is the movie’s trailer. You can also track the film’s news at it’s twitter account.
Next post: Arabs “Spring” on International Theaters (part two): Black Gold and Where Do We Go Now Film Reviews