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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Nawaf Al-Janahi's 'The Circle'

One of my favorite films this year that I couldn't wait to see since first learning about it at the 2010 Taormina Film Festival was The Circle (2009) by the young and up and coming director Nawaf Al-Janahi from Abu Dhabi. Born on the same year and only four days after me, I have to admit my pride to be a '77 aquarian when seeing such greatness. The Circle left me in deep contemplation about life and indeed as soon as it ended, I found myself watching it immediately a second time. Here to speak with us about his breakout feature film is Nawaf himself.



ME: Hey, Nawaf, thank you for this. Can't wait to hear you speak about The Circle. First, can you share about how you got into acting, writing and directing? In which order did you start and when did you know that you had to make films?



NAWAF: I started acting at the age of seven with my late father Mohamed Al-Janahi (who was one of the pioneer actors/directors in the region). Acting was very exciting and I loved it so much, but later on I started getting more concerned with how stories were told visually, and got more and more curious about the way films were made. I used to daily watch so many films, and I was always trying to find out how things were done. The passion of telling stories using the camera increased inside me, and I got so involved that at the age of 14 I decided that cinema will be my path, career, and life. As for writing, well, in the beginning I found myself in a position where I had to write my own films. When I first started out I couldn't find the right people, who share similar views and passion, to work in my films. And, I didn't want to wait to find one, so I started writing on my own. But as the years passed, you get to know more people, and new bloods joined the movement. I wrote all the films I did so far (four short films, and one feature), but now I am preparing for three new films (two features and one short), none of which I have written. I like that because it is important to share different point of views with other creative minds. And of course focusing on directing gives you the space and energy to be better on what you do best.



ME: Well, it is evident you started at a young age. And as a writer myself, it is your writing that strikes me the most about the film. It is very thought provoking and almost novelistic the way it jumps from live action to the main character Ibrahim's POV voiceovers as he contemplates death. Can you speak first about The Circle? For those who haven't seen it, what is it about? What inspired you to write this story?



NAWAF: I have always wanted to address the relationship between death and destiny. I wrote the screenplay back in 2001, but couldn't do it back then due to lack of finance. In late 2006 I decided to make it again. The story revolves around two main characters: Ibrahim and Shihab. Ibrahim, a poet and a journalist, discovers that he is dying soon from a fatal disease. He confronts his crook partner, Bader, and demands his share to make sure that his wife has a better life after he's gone. Shihab, a professional thief forced by his boss to do jobs for him in order to pay off a huge debt, plans to quit crime world to take care of his younger sister. They both meet accidentally just to begin seeing the world with different perspectives.



ME: How has The Circle been received nationwide in the UAE and also internationally?



NAWAF: It was received very well, in a way I didn't even expect. It had great reviews from well known respected film critics. The film's premiere at the Gulf Film Festival (April 2009) was spectacular. Tickets were completely sold out about 7 hours before the screening. We had an absolute full house of diverse multinational audience consisting of critics and filmmakers, as well as regular individuals and families. The film was described after the screening as "amajor turning point in Emirati and Gulf cinema". Later, it was selected in various film festivals internationally, and had its European premiere recently at Taormina Film Festival in Italy, in its 56th edition.



ME: Wow! That's quite a feat to be named ‘a major turning point' in cinema for your country! Huge congrats for that! Can you tell us where you filmed it and if you have any stories while filming?



NAWAF: The Circle was shot in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, during February and March 2008. It was a very cold winter that year. In the scene where Abdulmohsin Al-Nimer (who played Ibrahim) goes into the sea, he seems very well composed, but in fact he was freezing. The water was so cold we had to cover him with warm towels after every shot.



ME: I always love hearing about the filming because of that; the weather never seems to cooperate in films! Do you want to make a statement with The Circle? I mean, the film is about a man about to die who gets killed, and a virtuous man who doesn't want to steal decides to rob his ex-partner. I love that your film calls into question the existence of black and white ethics in a world that is apparently held together by ethics. Can you explain how your film reflects Abu Dhabi society and also why it is also a universal story and not just one close to home?



NAWAF: I think such themes exist everywhere. Destiny puts us in situations and life patterns that are very similar across the globe, that's why we identify with stories that focus on the human soul, which is the same anywhere you go.



ME: Please tell us about cinema in Abu Dhabi, for people like me who don't know. I know there is a reputable international film festival there and new emerging UAE cinema.



NAWAF: Abu Dhabi has always been leading the way in establishing a serious cinematic existence in the UAE, and the region as well. The Emirati active film scene that we know today started back in 2002 with the Emirates Film Competition, which was held in the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi. In the past years serious steps have been taken too by Abu Dhabi government and cultural authorities in the city to create a solid educational foundation by bringing in well known film academies and colleges to the country. And recently, the big move of producing 3 feature films a year, announced by the internationally acclaimed Imagenation Abu Dhabi. I think such major steps and well thought strategies will change a lot in the country, and will pave the way for a full active Emirati film industry.



ME: What are your plans next? Can you speak about Sea Shadow (2011), your next feature yet? How are your developments on this film?



NAWAF: Sea Shadow is my new feature film, and it's fully produced by Imagenaton Abu Dhabi. The story is set in a typical seaside Emirati neighborhood, where traditions and the local culture make it harder to express love and emotions openly. The story follows 16 year-old teens Mansour and Kaltham, who commence a journey of self discovery, after life in their neighborhood is shaken up by misunderstandings, mix-ups, and wrong decisions. The film is set to be shot in the city of Ras Al-Khaimah (UAE), in October/November 2010.



ME: Awesome! I do have to say that your titles alone- The Circle and Sea Shadow- just scream depth and poetry. So, I'm already looking forward to see Sea Shadow. What would you say to new indie filmmakers worldwide. I mean, you are pretty young for such an already accomplished filmmaker.



NAWAF: I believe it all comes down to commitment and dedication. Some people think it's all about passion; no it's not. The heart is important indeed, it is what drives us, but it must be backed up with a sharp clear mind too. One must search, and do their home work to be better at what they do. You have to know your steps, plan your path, and not let obstacles get in the way. Chances don't come so often, so you have to make your own. Those who wait may end up waiting for a very long time. This is hard work. It's not easy, and should never be taken for granted.



ME: Very well put. And I might add to that, it is indeed a cutthroat industry and very difficult for artists. It takes an unfaltering drive and willingness to work from waking to sleeping and, having said all of that, there is no method to entering the madness of filmmaking. Anyway, that's my measly two cents. Thanks a million Nawaf. Your rule! Plus, you're the best zodiac sign. lol! Here here for the Age of Aquarius! Watch out for Nawaf Al-Janahi as he takes on the world stage of masterful filmmaking!


Check out Nawaf's cool website here:  

Interview by Vanessa McMahon on September 02, 2010.

director Nawaf Al-Janahi



See trailer for The Circle here:




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