Theeb is a visually stunning classic adventure film about a Bedouin boy, or nomad, who outwits his enemies in the desert. Fraught with danger, the twists and turns of his journey lead him in an unanticipated direction. Theeb is set in 1916 in an area of western Saudi Arabia, then known as the Hejaz. "At this time period you've got World War I going on, the Ottoman Empire has been going on for 400 years and it's starting to crumble," said producer Laith Majali in a Q&A session following the screening on Wednesday, February 17th with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. "It takes place at the same time and place as Lawrence of Arabia," he said.
The concept for the film started out as a "Bedouin Western" but then the story developed. "The Bedouins, their stories have not really been told - the culture is dying," Majali said. "The knowledge that they possess of surviving and living in the desert is not just a loss for us - but a loss for humanity as well." Q&A moderator Alfred Madain explained that the film's director Naji Abu Nowar, who is half Jordanian and half English, lived in the desert for a year, building up trust within the Bedouin village and community. Initially, convincing the Bedouin to act was very hard. "Most all the actors, except Jack Fox the Englishman, all of them are non-actors," said Majali. "They are Bedouin tribe members from the last tribe to settle in the south of Jordan," he said. "They were chosen from within the community."
The main character Theeb, played by Jacir Eid, was a "very shy kid who would always sit in the corner and not say anything and the director thought he wasn't going to be able to do anything in front of the camera," said Majali. "But he's one of those people that once you put that camera in front of him, he shines. He just took on the role." His brother in the film, played by Hussein Salameh, is Eid's real life cousin - so that relationship was already established and helpful to their acting. Notably, there are no women in the film. Majali said this is because they were not able to convince the Bedouin tribes to cast female actors. "A lot of women worked on the film," said Majali adding that the women made all the props for the film and now sell them to tourists. "It's the first time they've been paid," said Majali. "It's creating a very interesting dynamic between the males and females in the community." The Bedouin tribes told the film crew that they would be happy to let women try out for their next film if they do it.
Q&A with Laith Majali (L) and moderated by Alfred Madain (R)
The Bedouin cast had 8 months of acting workshops to prepare for their roles. "Acting and cinema is so foreign to them," said Majali. "They had never seen a movie in a theater." For the premiere of Theeb, the newly minted actors traveled to the Venice Film Festival where they watched their film for the first time. "They were watching their film alongside nine-hundred other people and that was their first experience with cinema," said Majali. "The whole experience was quite moving. To see a Bedouin man cry, that tells you a lot," said Majali. Asked what returning to the desert has been like for the Bedouin actors, he said, "They've been back to the desert. They are celebrities and loving it." Two of the actors will travel to Los Angeles for the Oscars this weekend. Asked what the Bedouin actors think of their experiences in different countries, Majali said, "On every trip they say, this is beautiful but there's nothing like back home."
Theeb is Director Naji Abu Nowar's first feature film - it is also the first Academy Award nomination for Jordan.