Monday, April 07, 2008

On Bab el 7ara 3 and the state of cinema in the Arab world

Last night I was having a tea with the producer of Bab el Harra (I'm not too sure if that is the correct title) and we had an interesting conversation about the state of television series and cinema in the Arab world. I had asked him whether the boost in quality and popularity of Syrian dramas could potentially spill over into cinema. He said that unfortunately the Arab world is not a nation of cinema goers, most countries do not have decent cinemas or these are banned (such as in Saudi). In Syria, cinemas are mostly for conscripts and high school kids who are playing truant so there is no longer a cinema "experience" worth speaking of as say, our parents or grandparents generation might have had. The other problem is the exorbitant price of making films and the equally impossible way of making back any money on it what with the strong levels of DVD piracy we have. As a result, the only viable enterprise is making television series which can then be sold on to satellite channels and this looks like remaining the case for the forseeable future.

As the conversation progressed I also discovered that he has handled several productions for Al Manar (Hezbullah's media outlet) and he had an interesting thing to tell me about a series called Al Shattat (the fragments). Personally I had seen a few fragments on Youtube and I found it's caricaturing of Jews grotesque, still, the segment had been edited by MEMRI so perhaps I shouldn't be that surprised. The series was about the origins of the world Zionist movement and centered on Herzl's dream of creating a state for the Jewish people. Not one Arab channel broadcast the series apart from Al Manar, citing the fact that they feared "pressures". He did not elaborate on these pressures much, apart from the fact that once while they were beginning production of the series, his assistant was told that somebody from the American embassy in Damascus was on the line wanting to speak with him. He answered the call and was asked whether his company was handling the production for this series. Quite surprised, he confirmed this and was then asked how much it was all going to cost them. Still not sure what they wanted to know, he made up a figure of a few million dollars to which the answer was that they would have a cheque ready for him for 9 million dollars as long as he also brought the master and discontinued production. He refused, telling the woman "I was fighting in 1967 and I did not get the chance to screw Israel then, I'll be damned if I give up on my chance now!" and hung up. The series was completed and broadcast from a variety of locations. Whilst Israel tried to interfere with the transmission of most of Lebanon's channels, al Manar continued to broadcast. I don't recall hearing about this though it would not surprise me.

Oh and the man also confirmed my deepest fears, Abu Isam has been killed off and will not be starring in Part 3, which will be considerably more political and topical. I also took the opportunity to pass on a few ideas of mine to him, in the faint hope that he might mention this with a writer one day. I did not ask him if he'd consider me as an extra, that would be too forward for our first meeting.

3 comments:

Serene said...

Waseem. Ile zamen ma 3am iktob. Badde a3rif - shu bya3mil il wa7ad bi kil el noise pollution yalle bit fout bil ras u ma btitla3? Mish 3arfe leih 3am is2alak la ilak. Bas yimkin 3andak afkar 3an el mawdu3.

poshlemon said...

Wasseem,

min addak ;) producer of Bab al 7ara w osas w khbar!

Actually, Al Shattat caused mored problems with regards to broadcasts in Europe and US for Manar than they had to begin with.

I am very hurt that Abu Isam won't be in Part 3. It's been out since January now. I don't know what to expect but as far as my knowledge of Bab al 7ara, Abu Isam was a very important character and his absence will be felt.

oh, and next time you meet him, while you ask him if he'd consider you as an extra, would you please mention my name in passing hehe!

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