Not just a filmy location

T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –
MUSCAT, april 28 –

Time could be linear or non-linear. But, for now, film buffs in the Sultanate —who look amongst themselves for filmmakers of the caliber and range of a Kaouther Ben Hania, who lampooned misogynist attitudes (in The Challat of Tunis); or a Samira Makhmalbaf, who deftly explored a man’s anachronistic interpretation of the vices of the world vis-à-vis female safety (in The Apple)—would do well to appreciate the complex mathematical function of time. There is beauty in waiting.
Movies have always held their ground, wielding the sheer power of the medium, which is also the message, most of the time. No one will be inclined to question Banksy’s take on film as an incredibly democratic and accessible artistic endeavour, though some may not be impressed by his elevation of it as the best option to change the world. Some still use this visual medium just to “re-decorate the world”.
Omanis love films. And, they had their first full-length Omani feature film in 2005, when Khalid Zedjali made Al Boom with an entirely Omani cast and crew (except the cinematographer). The film marked a milestone in Oman’s filmdom.
Al Boom, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, narrates the story of a scheming businessman who is intent on building a highly commercial beach resort in the village of Al Boom even if it means displacing its gullible inhabitants. It was also an attempt at highlighting Oman’s rich culture and heritage including folklore, music and dance, apart from its tourism potential.
But Omani film aficionados had to wait a long seven years to get to watch the second Omani feature film. Aseel, again by Khalid Zedjali, told the bewitching story of local Bedouins.
Another noted Omani feature film is Souq al Dhulam, which was scripted by Mohammed Redha al Lawati, directed by John Ikram and produced by Ammar al Ibrahim. The romantic flick Once in a lifetime, written and directed by Salim Bahwan, stands out for its use of the local Jebbali language of the Dhofar mountains. It celebrates the culture and traditions as well as food and sartorial legacies of the hill people.
On a different note, Oman is becoming a choice shooting location for movies of all genres from different parts of the world. While this has something to do with the sustained promotion of Oman as a niche tourist destination that boasts a uniquely rich and diverse landscape and an authentic cultural heritage, the country acting as an artistic backdrop in foreign movies serves to promote it among potential global backpackers. All this have helped keep the filmy conversation going in the country’s public domain.
However, even as we readily admit that Oman stands to gain much from films, in terms of art, tourism and economy, do film-makers, let alone the art form itself, get the attention they deserve from relevant quarters? That is debatable.
Meanwhile, new-gen film-makers in Oman hold great promise. They see them as a tool to question entrenched social attitudes and perceptions. For instance, Maitham al Musawi explores the Arab (Omani) identity in the context of cultural globalisation in his short film Gel, while The Beard shows how growing a beard can act as a catalyst for large scale conflicts and hate. He also touched on the sensitive issue of racism in the Middle East.
Film-makers such as Sultan Khalfan al Abdali and Jassim al Battashi have explored the possibilities of the medium with élan, bringing in new perspectives and establishing themselves on the international film circuit.
The emergence of daring young Omani women film-makers such as Fatma al Salmi (who is also board member at Oman Film Society, which strives to promote the art of film-making in Oman and organises events including international film festivals towards this) and Muzna al Musafer has added a totally different dimension to Oman’s film world.
Still, availability of Omani actresses continues to be a nagging issue, even as female film-makers don’t shy away from sensitive issues concerning Arab women. Muzna’s award winning film Niqaab examines the veil as a dress code for Muslim women, and has won accolades at the Dubai Gulf Film Festival in 2010.
Social media too has its undeniable role in popularising cinema in Oman. Lately, youngsters are increasingly using YouTube to upload their short documentaries and films that deal with a number of social and cultural issues.
Oman also has a few quality production houses. Barasti Productions, founded by Omani film-maker Amer Khatib and wife Julia, is a team of international film and TV producers, providing the full range of human and technical resources needed to make films in the Sultanate.