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Jordan Wrap-Up: Sharing Stories Half a World Away

Meredith Lavitt (middle) tours a village in Madaba, Jordan.

Meredith Lavitt, Director, Film Forward

In FILM FORWARD’S first trip to the Arab World, Jordan proved to be a great location. Filmmakers Ligiah Villalobos (screenwriter for La Misma Luna) and Laura Nix (co-director of The Light In Her Eyes) traveled to Jordan to participate in the program by screening their films and hosting Q&A’s and discussions throughout the week.  

Team FILM FORWARD was based in Amman and held programs throughout the city and also took day trips to other rural communities within the area including Salt, Madaba and Karak. We reached students in high school and university (general students and film students), filmmakers, high school-aged Palestinian refugee girls, recently displaced Syrian refugees, and the general public. The program was held in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Amman and the Royal Film Commission, a longtime partner of Sundance Institute and our Feature Film Program. Venues included the only art house theatre in Amman, the Rainbow Theatre, which reaches a diverse public audience, and schools, cultural centers and a refugee camp.

The themes and subjects of the two films were well matched for Jordan, especially in light of the long history of Palestinian and Iraqi refugee communities in Jordan and the current conflict in Syria, which has resulted in an additional influx of refugees. Jordan is a country of 6 million people of which approximately 1.5 million are Palestinian refugees and 1 million are Syrian refugees. With a country comprised of so many immigrants and refugees who, like the majority of Jordanians, are predominantly Muslim, The Light In Her Eyes and La Misma Luna proved incredibly relevant and generated many fascinating conversations.

We also hosted a handful of workshops and participated in feedback sessions with youth using film and media as a vehicle to learn to express themselves. Ligiah presented a case study with Anne Lai on the screenwriting process and the structure of the script for La Misma Luna at the Royal Film Commission and then conducted a smaller version at SAE University for film students of the school and of the Red Sea Institute (they share a facility). There is a passionate and burgeoning film community in Jordan, and the artists, like most independent filmmakers around the world, are frustrated with the lack of opportunities for financial support, but eager to get their stories produced and disseminated.  We were thrilled to learn that one of our hosts at the Royal Film Commission, Darin Sallam, has just had her second short film accepted into Cannes and another Jordanian filmmaker will also show his film at Cannes.

In addition to Light and La Misma Luna we screened Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Town Of Runners at the Rainbow Theatre. Beasts opened the Film Forward program with a packed audience at the Rainbow Theatre,  and audience members connected to the plight of survival and responded to the tumultuous father/daughter relationship.  (Interesting side note – many of the youth films we watched focused on family violence – while separate motives are behind the violence in Beasts and the Jordanian youth films – it did provide a link). After the Town Of Runners screening I led a discussion on the film and the status of the Ethiopian subjects today.  The Jordanian audience was much more informed about Ethiopia than some of our audience members in Imperial Valley and Mexicali, and unlike those locations, audience members did not share a similar desire to leave Jordan for the promise of opportunity.  Jordanian people have a strong love for their country and fierce patriotism. They were impressed with the drive of the young girls and connected with the struggle of life and the girls’ work ethic. The rest of the Film Forward films will be screened in May for university and high school students and the Embassy will provide a report on audience attendance and the post-screening discussion aided by discussion guides developed by FILM FORWARD staff and each film’s filmmaker.

Read more stories and browse photos from FILM FORWARD Jordan here.

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A man in a beige shirt and with medium-length dark hair kneels in the dirt and looks over his right shoulder at the camera

Who Was… Mark Silverman?

Mark Silverman allied himself with the Coen brothers early in his and their careers. Here, he works as co-producer on the set of “Raising Arizona.”

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