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Interview with ‘Captain Abu Raed’ Director Amin Matalqa

posted on: Aug 19, 2009

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BY: Ameera David/Contributing Writer

‘Captain Abu Raed’, the first independent feature film to come out of Jordan in the last 50 years, has certainly taken the international community by storm. This beautifully told story has thus far amassed 27 international film awards including Sundance Film Festival’s ‘World Cinema Audience Award’ (2008) and ‘Truly Moving Picture Award’ (2009).

The film follows Abu Raed, a lonely airport janitor who lives passively, never pursuing his dreams of seeing the world. Finding a discarded Captain’s hat in the trash at work one day, he wears it home and in doing so attracts the attention of the wishful neighborhood children. Initially reluctant, he soon takes the children to colorful places around the world through his fictional stories and inspires them to believe in their own ambitions.

The widely acclaimed film was written, directed and partly produced by Arab American, Amin Matalqa. In between his hectic US touring schedule, Matalqa took some time out to share his experiences with Arab Detroit.

Arab Detroit: First we are curious to know, where were you born and raised?

Matalqa: I was born in Jordan but we immigrated to the US when I was 13. We first came to California but later settled in Columbus, Ohio.

Arab Detroit: Did you love films at a young age or did it develop later in life?

Matalqa: No, no, I always wanted to make movies. I loved American films in Jordan, so I was so excited that we lived down the street from a movie theatre in Columbus. There was not a single film that played I didn’t see. I was just really into the arts at a young age. For fun, I would draw and write small movie sketches, so I started playing with ideas very early in life.

Arab Detroit: So did you move to California right away to pursue your passion?

Matalqa: You know it’s funny, I didn’t. I actually enrolled at Ohio State University with the intention of studying film, but 6 months after I joined, they canceled their cinema department. But, I decided to stay there and get a degree in business instead. After graduation, I worked for about 5 years, but the whole time I knew what I really wanted to do. So, in 2003, I quit my job and moved out to Los Angeles. I went from a high paying job and stability to working a part time job struggling to make ends meet.

Arab Detroit: Is ‘Captain Abu Raed’ your first film?

Matalqa: Well, it’s my first feature length film, but before that, I produced 25 short films. It’s interesting though— I never thought my first film would be Arabic. Up until the point I wrote ‘Abu Raed’, I had only envisioned myself making American films.

Arab Detroit: Where did the idea for the movie come from?

Matalqa: My colleague David Pritchard (executive producer of the film) pointed out to me that there were no films being produced in Jordan that had reached out to an international audience. He really encouraged me to go make something universal—something that Charlie Chaplin would want to be in if he was alive today. He advised me to develop a story that could capture the Jordanian culture without any commentary on politics.

Arab Detroit: We know that the film has been received well in America. What has been the reaction amongst Jordanians?

Matalqa: There was huge enthusiasm for the film in Jordan! Amman is really trying to build their film culture, and they have been very supportive to the film. And although there aren’t really any major theatres outside of Amman, there were great efforts of distributing it all across the country. We had screenings in smaller cities with audiences that normally would not have had access to it. We have received a lot of positive feedback.

Arab Detroit: Can you describe in a sentence why Arab Detroit readers should see this film?

Matalqa: Sure. It’ll make you laugh and then possibly cry. Most of all, it’s an entertaining film with a very meaningful message at the core. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Arab Detroit: Can you give us a sneak peak at what’s next for you?

Matalqa: I have about 9 different projects on deck, actually. Next up, I have a romantic comedy that will be shooting early next year. After that, I will be shooting a comedy about four Arab Americans who get stuck in a small town in Iowa, capturing the hilarities of their foreign circumstances. I have a lot coming up, and I’m looking forward to it!

‘Captain Abu Raed’ was released recently in the US and opens in the Detroit area on Friday, August 21st.