Jordan does not have a long history of cinematic arts, but at the Red Sea Institute for Cinematic Arts in Aqaba students learn how to make films, being encouraged to critical debate and discourse. An interview with Paolo Remati, head of the institute
Mr. Remati, you have been working in the film industry for more than 30 years, with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and as a director of the TV department at the Australian Television and Radio School. What made you come all the way from Australia to Jordan and take up the position as a director of RSICA in Aqaba?
Paolo Remati: Before coming to Jordan I was very privileged to work with Aboriginal people in Australia, where we established national indigenous television. From that experience I understood very closely that there are enormous challenges in empowering people through the visual media to take control of their own stories. The attraction for me to come to Jordan was that this is like a road less travelled. Where else would you want to be other than in the Middle East right now?
At RSICA we are training bright young people from all across the Arab region, not only Jordan. When you bring people together across cultures and borders and you try to unlock their potential as storytellers, you get some very interesting results.
Cultural identity and religion are very important topics in the Arab World. How are they being debated at the school?
Remati: The notion of identity is one that we absolutely promote and it is inextricably linked with religious practices. We do not impose any censorship over the content that our students wish to manufacture. What we do do however is to impose the notion of professional respect and courtesy. One of the challenges here in the region is the authoritarian character of the mainstream education system.
Some students see the professor as the fund of all knowledge. We try to encourage critical debate and discourse. For the first year students this is a real challenge. Some of them come and say: "What, I am allowed to have an opinion? To think on my own?". And we reply: "Yes, in the arts it is your opinion which is the most highly valued!" We encourage people to be articulate. If you have a particular view on a particular subject, then go tell that story. But tell that story well.
RSICA's core offering is a two-year course for postgraduates, leading to a Master of Fine Arts in cinematic arts. What can the graduates do with this degree?
Remati: It enables our students to work in the industry, but also to become teachers, because it is a terminal degree and that enables you to pass the knowledge forward. Some are working in television, others are working on set for international productions. All of our graduates are now working within the screen industry or within the screen education industry. We have a 100 per cent employment rate amongst our former students.
The school is quite expensive. Do talented people with limited financial resources have a chance to get in?
Remati: Yes, the school is expensive, but the ratio between the teachers and the students is very low: We have 14 professors and 48 students, because it is a very intensive course that relies on a high level of support. The partners of RSICA try to make sure that the financial capacity is never going to be an impediment to education. Creative talent is not a function of the size of your wallet. Virtually all students from varying degrees have some financial aid or scholarship.
Aqaba is a small town. What is the advantage of having the RSICA located here?
Remati: One of the reasons that it was located here is that Aqaba is part of an economic development zone, the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ). But there are also other advantages:
One is that by bringing people together away from their everyday lives, whether it is in Amman, in Cairo or in Beirut, we are in a sense on foreign territory for everybody. So everything is new for everybody. Having people come together from all around the region in this place requires a different level of creativity and of collaboration. Secondly, look at the landscape here – it is unique. Point the camera in any direction and you have a stunning landscape.
The RSICA is also offering acting classes for the local population. How do people in Aqaba respond to that?
Remati: In order to create films you need cast and certainly in Aqaba there isn't, so we offer an actors' studio on a weekly basis which also helps us to engage with the local community. We found some tremendous actors here in Aqaba. We do not operate in isolation, and certainly we feel we have to give something back to the local community. This year in addition to the actors' studio we have introduced the music studio as well. Practically all films have music, and I would like to have locally created music.
The imperative here is looking for cultural authenticity. We have younger actors, one in particular that I can think of, he is a young De Niro, he is just such a talented young man, and if there was no acting class, we might never have discovered this.
Most of RSICA's students have an Arab background. How far can RSICA contribute to deconstructing stereotypes about Arabs and the Middle East and vice versa?
Remati: We can make a small contribution. As a multicultural school, we use English as the language of business, but the content is created by the creators in their first language, i.e. mainly in Arabic. This leads not only to jobs and to the growth of an industry, it leads to these non-tangible results, like national identity, social cohesion and cultural exchange. So really RSICA is a very good prototype for a cultural exchange mechanism.
Interview conducted by Martina Sabra
© Qantara.de 2012
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de