Sundance Institute Announces 8 Projects For The 2010 Rawi Screenwriters Lab In Jordan

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Los Angeles, CA – Artists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories and Saudi Arabia participated in the sixth annual Rawi Screenwriters Lab run by the Royal Film Commission in consultation with Sundance Institute. An initiative of the Royal Film Commission of Jordan, the Rawi Screenwriters Lab was held from October 28 to November 1, 2010, as part of Sundance Institute Feature Film Program’s International work in support of emerging filmmakers around the world.

Launched in 2005, the Rawi Screenwriters Lab provides an opportunity for filmmakers from the region to develop their work under the guidance of accomplished Creative Advisors in an environment that encourages storytelling at the highest level. The five-day Lab is held in an eco-lodge in Wadi Feynan, Southern Jordan. This year’s Lab brought together eight Fellows from the Middle East, the Gulf and North Africa with Creative Advisors from the United States, Europe, Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East.

The projects and participants selected for the 2010 Middle East Screenwriter’s Lab are:

  • Engi Wasef – The Beautiful Game (Egypt)
  • Mohamed Al Zayyat – Burying Mom (Egypt)
  • Mark Madini – Drunk (Jordan)
  • Michael Malek Najjar – Farewell Beloved (U.S./Lebanon)
  • Basil Khalil and Maha Assal – A Gaza Weekend (Palestinian Territories)
  • Karim Bensalah – Red Olive Tree (Algeria)
  • Faiza Ambah – A Reverence For Spiders (Saudi Arabia)
  • Nadia Eliewat – Where To London (Jordan)

“Sundance Institute is committed to international storytelling, and raising the awareness of the value of independent artists’ voices on a global scale,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director, Sundance Institute. “Our partnership with the Royal Jordanian Film Commission supports a talented and original group of emerging screenwriters for the 2010 Middle East Screenwriters Lab, and we look forward to hearing more from this new generation of filmmakers.”

“We had a remarkable array of talent this year with bold stories by Arab screenwriters from all over the world. Their writing explores a wide range of genres and subjects from questions of identity, social issues to deeply personal stories. These writers and their projects represent our strong belief in nurturing a new wave of Arab cinematic talent that promises to excite, touch and entertain film audiences the world over.” Said Mohannad Al-Bakri, Capacity Building Manager at the Royal Film Commission-Jordan.

Under the leadership of Reem Bader of the Royal Film Commission-Jordan and Alesia Weston of the Sundance Institute, the eight Fellows will work with nine international Creative Advisors: Tunisian Raja Amari, SATIN ROUGE; Puerto Rican Jose Rivera, MOTORCYCLE DIARIES; American William (BILL) Wheeler, THE HOAX; Lebanese Ziad Doueiri, WEST BEIRUT; Palestinian Suha Arraf, THE SYRIAN BRIDE; German Bernd Lichtenberg, GOOD BYE, LENIN!; American Greg Harrison, GROOVE; American Richard Glatzer, QUINCEANERA and Englishman Wash Westmoreland, QUINCEANERA.

The participants and projects selected for the 2010 Screenwriters Lab are:

The Beautiful Game – Enji Wassef (Writer/ Director), Egyptian

Ismail, also known as Ike, struggles to fit into two very different worlds – one is his Egyptian family’s home and the other is his hometown of South London. Although Ike loves football and shows natural raw talent, his father, a devout Muslim, refuses to support him. Ike is forced to seek out the coaching of an older Egyptian man in the neighborhood who helps him reach out to his father.

Enji Wassef was born in Cairo, Egypt and received a BA Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in government with a minor in modern standard Arabic. She left investment banking to pursue an MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where she wrote and directed award-winning short Breathtaking Views. She also wrote and directed a documentary Social Work. Her most recent film, Marina of the Zabbaleen, has screened at film festivals around the world, including Dubai International, where it won the Silver Muhr Award for Best Documentary.

Burying Mom – Mohamed El Zayyat (Writer/Director), Egypt

A young Egyptian man in New York is charged with the task of burying his divorced mother without anyone’s help or support back in his home country. What appears to be a simple task turns into a epic journey as he is met with obstacles at every turn – whether it is the Egyptian bureaucracy, the traditional culture, the desert climate, or his own ignorance and lack of social finesse.

Mohamed El Zayyat was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1980. He studied mass communication and advertising at university in Egypt and then attended a jazz performance workshop at Berklee College of Music in Boston. After working in advertising, Mohamed moved to New York to start his MA in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy. He has written and directed the short films Bolbol Wel Zabayen and East West? East West, and co-directed Waiting to Stand Up.

Drunk – Mark Mardini (Writer/Director), Jordan

A young American travels to Jordan to find a father he has not seen in over twenty years. His desire for an apology leads him to a deeper understanding of his father’s actions and ultimately on a journey of self- discovery.

Mark Mardini has been writing since 1997, when he graduated from Chapman University School of Film. In 2001, his script Visionaries was a quarter finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Competition. His award-winning short film Roadkill has screened at festivals around the country.

Farewell Beloved – Michael Najjar (Writer/ Director), U.S./Lebanon

Farewell Beloved is the story of the relationship between Mary Elizabeth Haskell and famous poet Gibran Kahlil Gibran as told through the eyes of Haskell, his longtime benefactor, editor, and lover. An invitation to Gibran’s funeral starts her on a journey of remembering her extraordinary relationship with him and the lessons that he taught her.

Michael Najjar is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles focusing on Arab American theatre and performance. He holds an MFA in directing from York University in Toronto and a BA in Theater from the University of New Mexico. In Summer 2010, he directed a staged reading of his new play Talib with Silk Road Theatre Project in Chicago. He is currently co-editing the first anthology of Arab American and Arab Canadian Drama.

A Gaza Weekend – Basil Khalil(Writer/ Director), Palestinian Territories/U.S. and Maha Assal (Writer) Palestinian Territories

An outbreak of a mutant virus in Israel forces a quarantine from the international community. The only way out is through Gaza. New York businessman David Rubenstein hires local Waleed to help him escape on a boat out of the port of Gaza, but complications arise when the boat is delayed and Waleed must hide David and his Israeli family in the basement of his own crowded house.

Basil Khalil was born and raised in Nazareth, to a Palestinian father and an English-Irish mother. He has an MA in producing and script development from the Screen Academy Scotland in Edinburgh. Basil produced feature documentary Replay Revenge and a number of shorts, including the award-winning film Shooter. He currently lives in London, where he co-wrote a kids TV series for Al-Jazeera children’s channel and freelances on television production.

Maha Assal graduated from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a double MA in Arabic and English literature. She wrote the screenplay for the post-apocalyptic feature film Existence that is to shoot in Palestine, and has also directed a number of shorts, including the award-winning film Oranges. Maha lives with her two children and husband in Nazareth, where she also lectures in screenwriting and works as a script editor.

Red Olive Tree – Karim Bensalah (Writer/ Director), Algeria

Ahmed Belmaki is a harki, an Algerian who served on the French side during the Algerian Independence War, living in France. When he is killed in a car accident, his restless soul causes him to come back from the dead to find his mother in Algeria. His deadbeat family is forced to confront the painful secrets of his past as they help him navigate the world of the living to find his long lost mother.

Karim Bensalah was born in Algeria in 1976. After spending his childhood in Algeria, Brazil, Haiti and Senegal, he went to study social sciences and philosophy in France. In 1998 Karim entered the London Film School, where he directed his first short Constant Flow. He then made his short film Fatima’s Secret. In 2005 he directed a segment of Paris La Metisse with 15 other young directors. Karim has also directed short films with the group Collectif Tribudom, and created his own installation work..

A Reverence for Spiders – Faiza Ambah (Writer/ Director), Saudi Arabia

Omar Metwally, an Egyptian cleric on a three-year assignment to run a mosque in Brooklyn, NY, faces multiple challenges to his beliefs, including a battle over the remains of a homeless young man he was kind enough to bury. His own wife and daughters’ rebel against Islamic prejudice and restrictions placed on women . He must discover if he’s capable of making the journey from religion to faith, and whether he can be both a good imam and a good father.

Faiza Saleh Ambah is a Saudi filmmaker with a background in journalism based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. She left her job as Gulf Correspondent for The Washington Post in 2009 to focus on filmmaking. She has recently completed a summer filmmaking program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and is currently developing a comedy script.

Where to London – Nadia Eliewat (Writer/Director), Jordan

When Saba, a 26 year old Jordanian designer, travels to London to realize the perfect romantic relationship with a handsome young Jordanian surgeon, she discovers that his love is a sham. Feeling abandoned, Saba befriends a young Egyptian woman who challenges her to let go of her fears and embrace her true self.

Nadia Eliewat is a filmmaker and producer. She produced the award-winning short film High Heels. She has an MFA from the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts and a BFA in visual arts from Jordan University. She currently teaches screenwriting and producing at the MBRSC School/American University in Dubai.

Immediately following the Lab, the Fellows and select other alumni were invited to attend a one-day seminar, Carry on as a Filmmaker through the Rawi Alumni Support Program. The seminar provides Rawi Fellows and alumni with strategic guidance on pursuing the next stages of the post-lab process. Speakers include: Sundance Institute and Rawi alumnus filmmaker Cherien Dabis, AMREEKA; and renowned Egyptian screenwriter and producer Mohamed Hefzy (PRIVATE ALEXANDRIA.)

About the Royal Film Commission

The Royal Film Commission was established in July 2003 with a mandate to promote for and contribute to the development of an internationally competitive Jordanian audio-visual industry through the advancement of human, technical, and financial capacities. In addition, it aims to provide comprehensive production support services to local, regional, and international productions.

For more information about the Royal Film Commission, visit:

Sundance Institute

Sundance Institute is a global nonprofit organization founded by Robert Redford in 1981. Through its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and playwrights, the Institute seeks to discover, support, and inspire independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to inform, inspire, and unite diverse populations around the globe. Internationally recognized for its annual Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Son of Babylon, Amreeka, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, Light in the Piazza and Angels in America.

Royal Film Commission-Jordan
Tel: 06-4642266 ext. 17

Amy McGee

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