Bye Bye Bedouin?
Mira Emmerling | On 10, Sep 2013
For over forty years, the ‘Bedouin series’ Made in Jordan held television viewers in the Arab world spellbound. Today, in competition with the occidental and Turkish series, Jordanian production calls into question and prepares to market a new style of TV series. Disbook investigated in Amman on the set of the first Jordanian comedy-drama.
By Audrey Gordon
After the death of her father, Zaïn inherits a debt-ridden society. She tries to revive it. The series chronicles the daily life of this production agency. The daily life of “normal” Jordanians, their love stories, money, everything.
On set it is jeans, hat and sunglasses. We are far from the ‘Bedouin dramas’ with traditional costumes that are so dear to Jordan. Since the 1970’s they flourished in Gulf countries, using the pride of the Hashemite kingdom, always filming outdoors in beautiful scenery. The production of Jordanian Bedouin series has dropped: to around four series per year until the middle of the 2000’s and one series in 2010.
«Today, people want to see their problems on television, their daily life,» says Mohammed Yaghi, president of the Jordanian Producers Union. The tendency is towards ‘social dramas and ‘village dramas’ (as opposed to stories of nomads). Is that the consequence of the invasion of the American series or the adaptation to the formidable competition of Turkish dramas? «Today, you can go in any house in the Arab world, you can find the entire family seated in front of a Turkish Drama, confirms (or laments?) Mohammad Yaghi. We see luxury and beautiful girls.»
But above all, they are modern stories, stories of people today.
Thus Tima Shomali, (executive producer) and Saba Mubarak (actress and producer) proposed a challenge: to produce a modern Jordanian series. ïThe first ‘dramady’ (dramatic comedy) is entitled Zain. «It was inspired by a series like 30 Rock in the United States, says Tima, it’s a first here, a new style, an occidental style.» She sold it to MBC TV, which is the most widely watched channel in the Arab world. For Saba, an icon of Bedouin series, the stakes are high. «I want to change the way people think about television, I want people to feel connected to our series.»
No one really expects to compete with Turkish series, but they do hope for the beginning of a new era in Jordanian production «that has no real industry, no real identity», says Saba.
Two seasons of 15 episodes will be broadcasted starting in April. On deck, there is a lead Jordanian actress, an Egyptian director of photography, an Egyptian guest- star coming to play the role of the angel-investor of the production agency and a Syrian co-star. «Today, if you want to sell, you have to think Pan-arabic,» said Adnan Al Awamleh, who is a pillar of Jordanian television and creator of private group Arab Telemedia group, more than 25 years ago.
Pan-arabic and modern, are those the keys to success? In 2007, Arab Telemedia Group produced a contemporary socio-political series, The Invasion. Made in Syria, with Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinians actors, the series tells the story of an Israeli incursion in the Palestinian village of Jenine. It was a triumph in the Arab world, and given the Emmy Award for the Best International TV Series in 2008.The first and only Emmy for an Arab series in history.
Despite this trend, the Bedouin series still exist. If the Gulf stays away from them, they can still be exported in Indonesia, Malaysia or Pakistan. A project of 30 episodes co-financed by public television is in process. And for the next Ramadan, the last Bedouin series produced by AT Group is currently in post-production. Extracts show many fightings in costume in the desert, with all kinds of special effects: stills on one image, time-lapses, slow motion in black and white…
A few minutes away, in the most fashionable part of Amman, the last calls of «Action» for the series Zaïn resonate in English and Arabic.
DID YOU KNOW?
1. The language that is the most frequently used for the dubbing of TV series is Syrian Arabic because it is the most comprehensible accent in the Arab world. And more: when it come to dubbing Turkish dramas, because Syrian diction resembles something like Turkish, it means that when you do not know the actors, you can almost believe that the series is not dubbed.
2. Today, Jordan is described as a ‘paradise’ for Middle Eastern directors. There are several reasons for this. First, the picturesque countryside, the stability of the country and the political anti-censorship. In addition, the Royal Film Commission of Jordan (RFC), the official government organization, has existed since 2003. It is the source of numerous advantages for both local and foreign productions: free access to public places, location scouting, custom exemptions on imported equipment, lack of income tax for actors and foreign teams, and free security on the set. It also organizes training workshops dedicated to Arab writers, directors and producers, such as RAWI or Med Film Factory, as well as film screenings. In 2012, Jordan drew films from India, Germany, Sweden, the United States, Canada and China.
3. Ramadan is a favourable period for TV series. The biggest productions are planned exclusively for this part of the year. According to Adnan Al Awamleh, a pillar of Jordanian television, television has changed the lifestyle and religious practices of people during Ramadan. Many spend the whole night eating and watching TV… and sleep during the day.