A look into Amman`s growing cultural scene

Today I was out in Amman and had the opportunity to breathe the city`s growing cultural scene. Jordan is certainly not the most well known Arab country when it comes to cinema production. Nevertheless, since some years ago a group of very energetic and passionate people at the Royal Film Commission (RFC) silently started  building up a film infrastructure in the country. When I first visited RFC two years ago, I had the feeling that the place was plenty of good vibes. Hard working people, young people who are the real resources of this “non-oil” country, were restoring an old Ammani house in the beautiful area of Jabal Amman, building up a library and fulling it up with international and regional film titles. Local artists designed the screening room with talent and originality, and students were starting going there for workshops on filming, editing, scriptwriting.

Today I saw their first fully in-house produced movie “Transit cities” by Mohamed Huski (his first long feature film) starring Sama Mubarak (which I am quite familiar with because of her acting in Syrian musalsalat). I was happily surprised to see that the premiere was held at Cinema Rainbow, one of the oldest Amman`s movie theatres that they have recently restored. The restoration is beautifully done, and the cinema has an “arty European” kind of touch. Old cinema projectors are displayed and on the walls a brief history of the beginning of movie theatres in Amman is told. I am quite familiar with the history of movie theatres in Damascus or Cairo, but this is the first time I read about Amman and I was impressed by the number of screens that you could have access to in the Amman of the 50s. Unfortunately later on, in Jordan as much as in many other Arab capitals, cinema culture has decreased and almost disappeared for a number of reasons (mostly political). What reigns in the Arab world now is the TV, home screen culture, and musalsalat.. private consumption over public social opportunities to screen a movie.

I think RFC proved today that they are seriously trying to build a cinema culture in the country, both on the consumption and the production sides. There are two other Jordanian RFC produced films to be out soon, and this is the signal that something is happening in the country. Young people who are doing this deserve appreciation for the efforts and passion they are putting in it.

After the screening Eman Jaradat, one of the leads of Creative Commons growing community in Jordan, took me at the Amman stand up comedy festival, which is running these days for the third time in the country. Tonight it was the “Arabian night” with stand up comedians from the Arab region, mostly Egyptians and Jordanians.

Again, I was happily surprised by the talent and the passion of those youngsters. Ola Rushdy from Egypt delighted the audience with the irony of being a pregnant woman in the Arab world and with all the expectations that  one “who is expecting” generates -she is herself expecting a baby, performing on stage with quite a big belly-. Many different Jordanians stand up comedians have mocked the “Jordanian type”, his attitude towards food, guests , family and the Parliament. Facebook, of course, was part of the jokes, as much as TV, videoclips and pop cultures in the Arab world.

My favourite was a young Saudi -whose name unfortunately seems not to be written in the program- who delighted the audience by performing in various Arab dialects, from Jordanian to Lebanese to Kuwaiti to Sudanese, and linking every local dialect to a certain social “attitude” and behaviour. The joke started from the decision to dub the “Godfather” into Syrian dialect, as to give the American masterpiece a sort of “Bab al hara” touch.

Television is so predominant in the Arab world and dialect spoken musalsalat so widespread that there is now a kind of common background and a sort of “mood” related to each local variety of Arabic.

For me, it was very interesting to see how we can laugh about jokes made in different dialects, conveying different ideas of culture and social behaviour. Stand up comedy is a new language in the Arab world but, judging from the audience`s reactions today, quite promising in the Region.

If Amman continues to build on these activities and motivate its young crowd, it is very likely we`ll hear about “Ammani nights” again and again even more in the next few years. The Arab world needs to strengthen a cultural industry made up of local made original products, made by Arabs and in Arabic, I believe.

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