Interview: 'Theeb' Director Naji Abu Nowar on Bedouin Culture and Being Selected as Jordan's Oscar Submission
Jose here. Set in 1916 Theeb centers on the title character, a Bedouin boy, played by Jacid Eir Al-Hwietat, who’s lived his whole life in the desert. He is being trained as a guide by his older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh) and the opportunity for him to try his new skills arrives when a British soldier (Jack Fox) and his companion (Marji Audeh) hire the siblings to show them across the desert. As they discover they are being tracked by enemies, Theeb is forced to fend for himself in the unknown. Combining elements of coming-of-age stories and adventure films, director Naji Abu Nowar is able to craft the rare film that entertains and enlightens. He subverts genre conventions in unexpected ways, for instance this time around it’s the nameless white man who treats others with contempt and shows little regard for their traditions.
If anything Theeb is a necessary film, which might be why it was selected by Jordan to represent them at the Oscars. I sat down with director Nowar to talk about the autobiographical elements in the film, learning film distribution lingo, and how instinct is what matters the most when it comes to directing.
JOSE: Let’s get started with a business question. How is it to have your film being distributed in the States?
NAJI ABU NOWAR: It’s amazing! I lived in the desert making this film with the Bedouin, and the edit was done very close to them in case I had questions, so we really almost finished the entire film completely separated from the industry. We just assumed since we weren’t an English language film we would never play in America, so it’s been such an amazing ride to see the film do really well in Britain, and to now see it in America is unbelievable. We hope audiences respond.
JOSE: The film won awards at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, but I’m sure as a filmmaker your purpose is to do films that go beyond festivals? Especially because Theeb is essentially an adventure movie, not an art film. [more after the jump]