Connect to share and comment

Jordan: not just a pretty film set

Spielberg saw its potential early: Now a new Hollywood generation is turning up in Amman.

AMMAN, Jordan — In its quest to attract international filmmakers, Jordan likes to emphasize the freedom it offers directors by not interfering with the content of their films, like some Arab nations do.

Asked the limits of this openness, Linda Mutawi, production services supervisor at the country’s Royal Film Commission, is upfront: “No hardcore porn.”

Her colleague Nada Doumani, communication and culture manager at the RFC, interjects, saying that to date Jordan has never stopped a movie because of its content.

"Whatever is being filmed here, we don’t have any say in the content … unless there is something completely, blatantly defamatory to religion or human dignity,” Doumani says, adding that something filmed in Jordan may not necessarily be allowed to be screened here.

For years, the tiny desert kingdom of Jordan has sought to make itself a destination for international film makers. As a liberal Middle Eastern country that remains one of the most politically stable in the region, Jordan offers a safe destination for filmmakers with landscapes that can and have served as substitutes on the big screen for a wide variety of Middle Eastern countries.

While the film industry in Jordan is not likely to significantly boost the country’s GDP anytime soon, major features passing through the country can create hundreds of well paying, temporary jobs for locals. Local officials also hope it will raise the country’s profile overseas.

King Abdullah II has long been a proponent of the film industry. Before he was king, he personally flew Stephen Spielberg around Petra by helicopter as the director scouted locations for the third Indiana Jones movie. Almost a decade later, Jordanians still boast that the Treasury, a monument in the ancient city of Petra, served as the fictional home of the "Holy Grail" in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."

More recently the royal family, has helped oversee the creation of the Royal Film Commission that removes the layers of bureaucracy and red tape producers often encounter working overseas. It also founded the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts (RSICA), the first graduate film program in the Arab world, with help from the University of Southern California’s world-renowned film school.

“Jordan is a very unusual country. It is the most progressive, the most open, and the most secular,” says James Hindman, dean of RSICA and a Hollywood veteran. “It doesn’t have oil and because it doesn’t have oil it has to rely on intellectual capital.”

The film school has just started its second year, and already one of its students was accepted into a prestigious Sundance screenwriters’ workshop and another student spent the summer interning with the American actor and producer John Malkovich. Hindman says that by the time the first class receives their diplomas this spring, they will be able to compete with graduates from any film school in the world.