Royal Film Commissionn
Site Administrator: Mohannad Al-Bakri & Rula Nasser
Text and movie by Wendy Milette
After twenty-four hours of travel and a ten-hour time-zone change we arrived in Amman, Jordan where we were met with immediate hospitality. We felt welcome and respected on our visit to the Royal Film Commission where the MY HERO Filmmaking workshops were to take place. Mohannad, Rula, Yousef, and Rama were excellent hosts while showing us around the historic building that is home to the media center. The building was a gift from His Royal Highness Prince Ali bin Al Hussein. The RFC has been working tirelessly for a few years to get it ready for media education & production. While the old architecture creates an enchanting mood - the building has gone through a complete electrical overhaul bringing it up to speed to be a center of technological advancement.
We greeted our first group of participants as they filed into the screening room for our orientation meeting. The air was filled with excitement and anticipation. I was particularly anticipating whether this group was going to understand English. We soon found out that our TA's Mohammad and Dina were not only going to be essential with production support - but they were to double as translators for about 1/3 of the group of 20 teachers and students.
I started the training with an introduction to MY HERO and the concept of Hero-based storytelling. We watched a few effective hero movies and discussed the elements of a good film. Included in the group of hero films was the film Valentina, which was created in the Global Exchange workshop in Bosnia last year. I made this choice because one of the groups had listed a teacher as a potential hero story.
The Royal Film Commission had conducted a phase one workshop with the participants prior to our arrival to introduce them to the idea of MY HERO and get them thinking about what hero story they would choose to tell in our workshop.
This prior work on the part of the RFC was beneficial to the success of these workshops. Participants came with good ideas already thought out. They proceeded to work as teams in the creation and execution of these ideas.
I introduced the concept of "the pitch" and allowed the groups to work in small groups to develop their story ideas and prepare to "pitch" them to the large group for feedback. The pitch process helps people clarify their story as they attempt to communicate verbally to a group. It also allowed for us to work individually with the teams before they pitched their ideas to the large group. These small groups sessions also served as Pre-Production meetings for logistics.
Some of the groups needed help with English and our hardworking TA'S Mohammad and Dina proved crucial with their bi-lingual support.
We completed the first night with Chris Cain giving an entertaining introduction to the camera and sound production equipment. They were so excited that they wanted to take the cameras home with them right away to practice. The conclusion of the evening was the opportunity for the groups to interview each other with the question "who is your hero and why?"
They arrived the next day eager to get started. A visit to the Global Exchange website reminded them of the cultural community they are now a part of - they got a kick of seeing their own pictures in the Forum. We encouraged them to register and upload pictures and bios to the Global Exchange.
We then proceeded with a presentation in Camera Composition and Cinematic Language. I used scenes from Francis Ford Copolla's film the Black Stallion in the background as I discussed the use of the frame in the telling of a story. I covered many uses of cinematic language including depth of field, variation of shots, camera angles and use of color in storytelling.
We then divided the group into two groups. One had the choice between street interviews or preproduction & storyboards (depending on the needs) and the other was introduced to the AVID Express Pro editing system. The groups then switched after the break. In the AVID lab we captured the footage from the previous nights interviews and went over AVID basics. The class concluded with pre-production meetings in preparation for the big SHOOT DAY on the following day.
These five-day workshops were scheduled after school from 3 - 8 PM everyday. On the third day they took off from school and had the entire day from 9 am to 9 pm to shoot and upload footage. They showed up early and checked out equipment. Some of them even needed to get location permits. The filmmakers started returning from their shoots at various hours in the afternoon and the very small AVID lab was in a bustling frenzy from then on.
On day four we let them edit like crazy for a few hours. Then Chris Cain taught his stimulating sound design lecture. He starts out with a fun example of the difference of picture without sound and sound without picture - emphasizing the importance of sound in films. We invite the participants to have some fun to break up all of the hard work and we gave them all shakers to play along with the upbeat music video.
Chris then demonstrates how professional filmmakers build and layer a sound design using layered scenes from Jurassic Park. The students were mesmerized. We then had a video Skype conference call with our partners who were in Senegal conducting a workshop! It was exciting for our group to recognize Skip and Tony from the pictures in the forum and now meet them via Skype. They also got to meet Cheikh from Senegal and I think the interconnectedness of this Global Exchange started becoming more real for everybody!
The students got the rest of the evening to edit. Many stayed as late as they could. We came early and stayed late everyday
The final days were full on editing frenzies in the AVID lab. We also set up a sound room with our own Mac computers in which the participants could work on Garage Band and score original music for their films! This was a big hit - and they really created some beautiful music under the supervision of Chris Cain.
At the end of the final day they screened their cuts for each other and gave each other written feedback. They were given extra time after the workshop to come in and fine-tune their edits, complete translations, subtitles, titles and music.
As part of the hero-based storytelling introduction with the second group I played the film Laughing Yoga, which highlights one of my heroes Dorothy Meyers. The film was well received and I was reminded of the power of this kind of storytelling to introduce people to the heroes in our lives. Dorothy is heroic in her creative approach to dealing with grief in her life as well as her positive hope for humanity to find peace through laughter. On this warm afternoon in Amman, Jordan ripples of laughter echoed in the screening room, melting away cultural differences. In this small moment a piece of Dorothy's larger dream was realized Ho-Ho Ha-Ha-Ha.
I will say that the short films that were created through the workshops are very touching and the filmmakers really got the value of celebrating heroes. Giving people a positive voice through hero-based storytelling encourages cross-cultural understanding and the appreciation of people everywhere who are working hard to make the world a better place.
In Addition to conducting the workshops we also produced a story about RSICA as a featured hero for MY HERO. This took us to the future site of the Red Sea Institute for Cinematic Arts (RSICA) located in Aqaba, Jordan. The breathtaking Red Sea and views of the Arabian Desert are certainly conducive for creative storytelling and will be a great asset to the students who study film at RSICA.
Included in the trip South were visits to the cinematically historical Wadi Rum, where scenes from Lawrence of Arabia were shot.
Then a visit to the Rose City of Petra was like walking through time. This imaginative landscape inspired scenes in Spielberg's Indiana Jones.
After visiting these memorable locations in Jordan we returned to the RFC for final outputs and The Screening. The room was packed with all forty participants and some of their loved ones proudly by their sides. The look of accomplishment on their faces made it all worthwhile as beaming smiles of pride graced the room, which was a hum with Arabic conversations.
Tania Hadid from the US Embassy was touched by the quality and inspiration she found in the films. Mohannad invited the princess who sent her congratulations to the participants, and was sorry to have missed it. The movies were uplifting. It was fantastic to see what could be accomplished in such a short amount of time.
Chris and I fell in love with the Jordanian people and this fascinating country. I feel like some of the most meaningful moments were seeing the young Palestinian boys with Chris and I on a genuine playful level. I saw that no matter what these boys have heard about Americans there is no doubt that they now see this funny guy - Chris - who is a good person - who is fun and playful and who really cares about them. These kinds of connections happened with all of the people involved - including us. What had we heard or learned about Arabs prior to this trip? And now we sense that some lasting friendships have developed through this cultural exchange - heart to heart - person to person. I thank the good people at the US State Department who have the insight to create these kinds of exchanges for these very reasons - thank you.