Our right to creativity
In November last year, a local production received the first ever International Emmy Award won by a Jordanian for a 2007 series on a love story during Israel’s 2002 incursion into a West Bank city.
Al Ijtiyah (The Invasion) won Emmy’s new telenovela category for the best international drama series. Jordanian producer Talal Adnan Awamleh accepted the award in New York City.
The winners of what are known as the Oscars of the television industry were selected from among 40 nominees from 16 countries competing for 10 international Emmy categories, excluding US productions. The series on the Israeli incursion into the Palestinian city of Jenin was shot on location in Syria, with Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian actors.
All the above obviously is a standard news item that most of us are familiar with by now. In fact it is old news. Many also probably believe Jordanians missed seeing the series because, being in Arabic, it was carried by Jordan Television, which hardly anyone who can afford not to watches anymore. But that would be an inaccurate assumption.
This Jordanian series has never been carried by Jordan Television. I am told that the possibility was considered, but the idea was ditched for “financial considerations”. This implies that perhaps the commercial company that produced the series wanted to be paid for it and probably at market rates, and that JRTV may have baulked at the suggestion to pay top rate for a Jordanian product.
I sound sarcastic because I find it amazing that this Jordanian producer hasn’t received more attention and consideration from us. He has been relegated to the pages of neglected creative work while Jordan Television continues to bore us with hours and hours of badly choreographed, shoddily sung, repetitious and pitiable “songs” that masquerade as vehicles for nationalistic sentiments.
Our nights are filled with “historic” series that drone on in classical Arabic, systematically forcing viewers to switch off from this channel that is obsessed with downgrading its product and removing any entertainment or creative value from its programmes. The only links left between JRTV and the Jordanian population that it is supposed to address are the 8 o’clock news and a couple of early morning talk shows.
But let me go back to creativity and achievement. Arabs, Jordanians included, look for signs of any effort that can give a sense of national pride, achievement and self respect to otherwise defeated populations. So when someone achieves worldwide acclaim for a home-grown product, I find it shocking that we would even allow a debate on whether to share this product with the public people based on “financial considerations” that amount to someone, somewhere, not wanting another someone to get credit, as well as money, for their work.
The people at JRTV who determine the guidelines for the operation of the station must remember that they have been appointed to safeguard and guide the flow of knowledge to the people, raise the standard of our national visual and audio information network and provide information and entertainment to the population. They are not a censorship body, nor should they, in this time and age, accept any such role.
The Jordan Times columnist Yusuf Mansur recently argued for the need to nurture creativity in Jordan in order to empower the national economy with the tools for success. He put forward the suggestion that creativity needs to be removed from the deadly cycle of downgrading achievement and denying success. The “fan club” of this concept has gone on and established a creative Jordan website into which entrepreneurs from all walks of life in Jordan are contributing to the 1,000 steps to a creative economy.
Mansur argues that Jordan “can deliver world-class creative work”. I argue that Jordan has already delivered several pieces of creative work, including this one produced by Awamleh. What Jordan now needs is the executive will to allow these entrepreneurs to find a home and a launching base for their creativity.
The leadership of this country, at its highest level, has invested energy, time and money into the support of creativity, but this investment is being halted by an executive authority that is unable to relieve itself of the shackles of bureaucracy and fear of anything “different”. We need to be allowed to be creative in order to excel. In fact, we not only want to be “allowed”, we want to ensure, protect and defend our right to be creative. This right needs to be met by an executive authority that is not afraid of enriching, strengthening and guaranteeing that right.
Jordan Times By Nermeen murad
The first Arab Emmy winner has a message for us
For an Arab watching last week’s 36th International Emmy Awards Gala carried live from New York on international satellite television networks, the whole event would usually have seemed to have little relevance. Ever since the Emmy Awards contest was launched by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences more than three decades ago, European – and especially British – television programmes and personalities have always captured most of the awards in the 15 categories available.
But when a Jordanian-produced television mini-series named Ijtiyah, based around the 2002 Israeli invasion of a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, was announced as the winner in the Telenovela category, I got a sense not only of pride at an Arab television drama gaining international recognition, but also a feeling that Arab television does have the capacity to develop and to go global.
The key, as I see it, to this ground-breaking success
came from the way it created a moving personalised story
out of an aspect of the Middle Eastern experience, and
for the way it tapped into a broad range of pan-Arab
While working in Jordan in the 1980s and early 1990s, I had the chance to meet Adnan Awamleh, the CEO of Arab Telemedia Productions (ATP), the company responsible for the series. Then as now, Adnan was a believer in the power of Arab television drama to move forward into new areas of creativity. He also recognised the importance of winning international recognition to achieve his goals.
As Adnan and his son Talal, who produced Ijtiyah,
took the time for a hug at the podium to celebrate their
achievement, I became quite convinced that Arab
television drama has the talent and the capability of
appealing to international audiences.
The greatest significance of this landmark may not be the award itself, but the model it serves for other television companies in the region. Arab TV drama has long relied on playing up the political, social and economic features of Arab life, but has paid little attention to putting a human face to their stories, something that I believe has inadvertently fed into what we call the Western stereotyping of Arabs in the context of politics and military conflicts.
It may be necessary to present characters in their capacities as political leaders, freedom fighters, professionals and intellectuals, but that should not obliterate their essential nature as human beings who have the same dreams, the same sorrows, the same joys as all other people. I think we Arabs need to humanise ourselves in this way on television and in the media rather than expect others to do it for us. It is this human face that furnishes us with the moral power we badly need to get recognition from others; material wealth, political or military might will never achieve quite the same.
It is more than a little ironic to learn that when Ijtiyah was first released in 2007, there was only one Arab satellite television channel willing to carry it, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC). For many broadcasters at that time, though Ijtiyah was centred around the heroic Palestinian resistance to the Israeli invasion of the Jenin refugee camp, its playing up of a romantic relationship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman was seen as undermining the whole moral purpose of the story.
It was argued that the romance between the two acted as a kind of smoke screen that hid the moral implications of a brutal military invasion of an unarmed Palestinian community. I can’t say that as I watched this mini-series, I ever had any sense of confusion about the immorality of the Israeli assault. Like most other viewers, I’m sure, I was able to view the political and the human in parallel. Daring Palestinian resistance to the invading forces was clearly played up in the series – and so were Palestinian aspirations to fall in love, to dream of a happier future.
Arab television and film companies have long faced
the challenge of bringing together the different
components of a production – technical, political and
human – not always with great success. However, ATP
solved the problem by bringing together a host of
pan-Arab talent to work on Ijtiyah.
ATP itself is a Jordanian company, the director of the series was Tunisian, the cast members were drawn from Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians. It was shot at a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, and Syria also provided assistance with military hardware – and even fighter planes – for the realistic action sequences.
If this collaborative venture proves anything, it is
that Arab television production is unlikely to reach
global audiences on the basis of individual national
initiatives. If a company needs creative talent, it has
to tap into larger pools that can only be found at a
It is true that Ijtiyah failed to find its way on to most Arab television screens for reasons that reflect the varying interpretations of the messages it contained. But when an Arab mini-series wins such acclaim from an organisation of the standing of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, we may need to rethink our approach to what we want to watch.
Jordan takes home first ever International Emmy® Award
This year Jordan has been sharing Jordanian produced screen stories with the world. The result? A long list of awards are being reaped by first time filmmakers and veteran producers and many in between.
The latest win gives Jordan a place in history with a first ever International Emmy® Award!
At last night's New York Gala, the TV series Al Igtiyah was honored the International Emmy® Award in the Telenovela category. Produced by Talal Awamleh, Arab Telemedia Productions, the story is set in the West Bank against the back drop of the atrocious invasion of the Jenin Camp by the Israeli Army's 'Operation Defensive Shield'. Al Igtiyah is a story of life, love and struggle of everyday Palestine far beyond the stereotype of news reports. Mustafa, a Palestinian fugitive and the Israeli Jew Yael fall in love against all odds, sharing a story of humanity despite occupation, violence, prejudices and the struggle for survival. Written by Riyad Saif. Directed by Shawqi Al Majeri. Starring Abbas Al Nouri, Saba Mubarak, Iyad Nassar, Nadera Emran.
Some of you may be asking how come you've never heard of Al Igtiyah and that you haven't seen it across your satellite screens. Well, that's because broadcasters refused it! When Talal Awamleh produced it independently and offered it to stations in the region, they all said no, except for LBC who screened it twice. Last night's win is an incredible endorsement. 2008 is ATP's 25th year of business producing out of Jordan. This Emmy® win is a fantastic way to celebrate a silver jubilee!
The rewards of creating and producing our own screen stories and sharing them with the world are huge. The impact of the screen production industry is big on our local economy, and provides one of our most important export products to markets everywhere.