Jordan has long been a favored international movie-making destination, thanks to its unique landscapes and locations, as well as a respected local film industry led by the Royal Film Commission (RFC). The country’s cinematic ambitions are now being helped by Gareth Unwin, the British producer behind the Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech.
As well as scouting for locations for an upcoming movie, Unwin has been visiting Jordan over recent weeks to help the RFC draft a plan to better promote the country as a place to shoot movies and TV shows. “I think the high ambition is to make Jordan a destination of choice for international producers while also building a sustainable domestic industry,” Unwin told Venture.
He highlighted some of the positive aspects of the Jordanian film industry. These include what he termed as an appropriate “westernized” sense of doing business, the absence of red tape when applying for film permits and access to equipment, as well as the absence of government interference in the movie making process.
But he also pointed out some of the downsides, such as a limited local professional workforce, and the need to constantly keep up with the ever-evolving technology used in the production of film, TV, and media. Limited studio space is another issue that Jordan needs to address, he said.
To create a sustainable industry, Unwin and the RFC have been discussing the possibility of establishing a film making fund, to help film makers defray some of the costs. They have also contemplated the possibility of encouraging the government to introduce tax breaks for the industry.
The British Embassy is also involved in the talks to leverage the experience the UK gained in the creative industries sector, which today employs 1.3 million people and contributes 5 percent of GDP. The value of the sector in terms of exports is $28 billion, said Steven Anderson, head of UK Trade and Investment, Jordan. He added they will utilize Unwin’s experience in Jordan to assess the infrastructure and then ultimately use that in a model to promote Jordan to other producers.
“What we are trying to do at the embassy is [contemplate] how we can build on our skill set and more importantly look at where Jordan wants to go and where we can match the two,” said Anderson. “I think the vision from His Majesty is certainly there, but it’s the implementation and delivery which is always the problem here.” In a recent visit to the United States, King Abdullah met with representatives of the US film industry, urging them to benefit from investment opportunities in the Kingdom.
Unwin is now set to use Jordan to film a new war movie called Kajaki, about a group of British paratroopers on tour in Afghanistan. While filming, Unwin is planning to work as far as he can with local crew and cast, while also running master classes for them during the course of the shoot, which will last between four to five weeks.
He is also considering Jordan for another movie that depicts the life of Lady Hester Stanhope, an adventures English woman who lived in the UK in the 1800 and travelled throughout the Middle East. She ended up creating a hospital in Syria.
“I think the most important thing is that Jordan has a long history of film making,” said Unwin, who noted that one of his favorite films of all time was Lawrence of Arabia, the 1962 David Lean classic that was famously partly shot in Jordan.