Jordanian film ‘May in the Summer’ debuts in Sundance festival

28-01-2013 12:00 AM

Ammon News - by Jordan Times & AP

AMMAN/PARK CITY, Utah — Jordanian feature film "May in the Summer" premiered at the US Sundance Film Festival, which concluded on Sunday, to audience acclaim, a Royal Film Commission (RFC) statement said.

Written and directed by Jordanian filmmaker Cherien Dabis, the film also stars Dabis as Arab American woman May, who reunites with her family in Jordan while she plans her wedding, amid doubts about her relationship and difficulties with her dysfunctional relatives.

The film's screening kicked off the US dramatic films' competition, whose winners were announced late Saturday.

The RFC statement said the movie's theme addresses "the value of diversity", a main focus of the Sundance Film Festival.

“The Screenwriters Lab in Jordan has produced great artists like Cherien Dabis,” Robert Redford, the festival’s founder, said on the opening night, in reference to the RAWI Screenwriters Lab, held annually by the RFC in Wadi Feynan.

Dabis took part in the lab while developing her acclaimed debut film “Amreeka”, which also premiered at Sundance in 2009.

“Shot entirely in Jordan, this film is not only a postcard for Jordan's [tourist attractions], but also a [light-hearted] reflection of our culture and society, conveyed on a silver screen on the other side of the globe,” the statement quoted RFC General Manager George David as saying.

The RFC supported "May in the Summer" financially through the Jordan Film Fund, while it was still in the pre-production phase, and logistically during its production phase, the statement said.

Some 50,000 filmgoers from around the world attended the Sundance Film Festival, which celebrates independent filmmaking.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Dabis said she put herself through a rigorous casting process before deciding she was the right person for the title role.

Dabis had been repeatedly asked if she ever thought about acting while she was promoting her earlier drama "Amreeka", AP reported.

Unable to find just the right woman, Dabis cast herself after a long audition process, putting herself on tape several times and getting encouraging responses from friends and colleagues.

"I thought, I'm still not convinced, because I keep showing it to people who know me, and they're probably just flattering me," Dabis was quoted by AP as saying.

"I just want to send it to someone in the industry who has no idea who I am, doesn't know my background, doesn't know I'm directing this movie and can give kind of an objective opinion. So I sent my tape along with tapes of two other actresses who were up for the part."

Her audition earned kind words from her objective observer — an industry veteran who wound up becoming an acting coach for Dabis to prepare for the role.

Among the cast are two of Dabis' "Amreeka" actresses — Hiam Abbass and Alia Shawkat. Both said Dabis made a natural transition from behind the camera to the front and shifted skilfully between both jobs, AP reported.

"It's more classically normal for an actor to become a director. It's more rare to have a director become an actor. But she had it. She had it," Abbass said.

"I watched some of the tapes that she put herself on. It was very believable, and I basically said, just go for it. If this is what you feel right for you and for the story."

Shawkat also stated the obvious: that the 36-year-old Dabis already looked like she belonged on camera.

"She's such a stunningly beautiful woman. Everyone is like, 'She's a director?'," Shawkat said.

Other directors have cast Dabis in two films of their own, including one set to start shooting in Palestine this spring. Dabis said she was looking forward to working solely as an actor and may continue to shift back and forth between directing and performing, according to AP.

"I sort of took the leap of faith. I faced a huge fear. I didn't want to admit to myself that acting, that it was something I wanted to pursue, in part because I was terrified of making myself vulnerable," Dabis said.

"It's always something I've admired about actors, and that kept me very much hiding behind the camera. So now that I've taken that leap and faced the fear, I'm definitely open to it."

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