Roads To Olympia: Filming in Jordan

by Aaron Weiss

Originally Published July 28, 2016 on HuffPost 

 Director of Photography, Ashton Harrewyn in Petra, Jordan

Director of Photography, Ashton Harrewyn in Petra, Jordan

It takes a world of talent to make a feature film. But sometimes, it also takes the talent of the world. The latter statement certainly applies to Roads to Olympia the narrative feature film about three athletes trying to overcome social obstacles to realize their dream of competing in the Olympic Games, which is ambitiously shooting on three different continents and in three different languages. Recently, the crew successfully wrapped production on the Middle Eastern segment of the film, which was shot over the course of several weeks in Jordan. The production can attribute much of that success to the help and guidance of the Royal Film Commission (RFC), Jordan’s non-profit government initiative whose mission is to develop and support the film industry in Jordan.

Founded in 2003, the vision of the RFC is to create an internationally competitive Jordanian film industry. George David, the Managing Director of the RFC, believes that vision has begun to be realized. “The RFC has largely contributed to the development of the film industry in Jordan, from the rise of competent and skilled crew, to the promotion of Jordan as an attractive filming location,” he said, “ten years ago, there was hardly any Jordanian film produced by Jordanians in Jordan. The number of foreign productions shooting in Jordan has increased considerably.” To that end, in recent years, Jordan has housed the production for such United States-produced blockbusters as X-Men: ApocalypseThe Martian, and Rosewater.

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The RFC provides a full array of support and services to feature film shooting in Jordan including production services such as facilitation with locations and liaising with government entities like the army or police force, workshops and training for beginning and intermediate filmmakers and year round film screenings. David considers the continued development of Jordan’s film crews to be the RFC’s biggest strength. “We are very proud of how the crew force developed in the past ten years,” remarked David, “the talents and skills available in Jordan are now a match to many of the top film hubs around the world.”

This fact was not lost on Yanal Kassay, the Co-Producer of Roads to Olympia’s Jordanian unit. “Because so many foreign productions came to Jordan, a lot of local crews began to be built up, to the point where Jordanians, who already had ambition to make their own films, no longer have to ship professionals in anymore. We’ve always had the stories to tell, but now we have the crew,” said Kassay, who has an impressive resume working on numerous feature film projects made in Jordan such as Zero Dark Thirty, and The Hurt Locker, “gradually, we built an industry here and now one of the biggest strengths that Jordan has is its film crews.” Last year, one of Jordan’s own films, Theeb, which Kassay helped to produce, was nominated for an Oscar and won a BAFTA. To Kassay’s point, Jordan’s film crews have become so talented and well versed, that other countries in the region have now begun to import Jordanian crews to work on their productions. 

 Co-Producer Yanal Kassay

Co-Producer Yanal Kassay

With a burgeoning infrastructure taking shape, David believes that because of the dedicated work of the RFC, the future is bright. “We honestly believe that the RFC has largely contributed to the positive development of the film industry.”

Kassay agrees. “The RFC’s initiative is to promote films in the Middle East, in Jordan in particular, with the long term goal of the success of the Jordanian film industry. They are very open-minded to the type of stories that are being told in the Middle East and in Jordan, as long as they are respectful to the region. But they have always given us their full support and have always been there for us.”

Thanks to its unique and varied picturesque landscapes, the emergence of the RFC, as well as the continued participation of high quality productions, Jordan has quickly established itself as the true hub of film production in the region. A film-friendly beacon in the Middle East and one of the homes of Roads To Olympia