The INEA project team included a film producer and director. Their task was to produce short films about the work of the archaeologists and anthropologists involved. As producer Vanessa Edwards explains, their role proved to be far harder and yet much more rewarding than she could ever have imagined.
“Thank You!” A wide smile spread across Jouma’s face and he gave a big “thumbs up”. The Bedouin’s delighted response to our film was the perfect end to a long and complex project.
More than five years ago I was sitting in my rather grey office, staring at the rain when an email dropped into my inbox from Dr Emma Jenkins. She wanted to know whether anyone from Bournemouth University’s Media School might be interested in collaborating on a research project in Jordan. She had a simple idea: a short film might be a great way to enhance the impact of her latest archaeological research. She sent a “group” email in the hope that one of the Media School’s practitioners might be interested. Remembering the warmth and beauty of Jordan fondly from a holiday to the Middle East, I sat at my chilly desk and typed a quick reply: “Yes, please!”
The project had a slow start. Emma went on maternity leave to have a family and I had other commitments. Added to that, as anyone in the academic world knows, it also takes a long time to craft a good grant application. Throughout the early planning, we had no idea whether the Arts and Humanities Research Council would agree with Emma’s idea to take a film team with her to Jordan.
When we finally got the go-ahead I was both delighted and terrified. How on earth would we produce a film that was both academically rigorous and at the same time, interesting for an average viewer? Emma and I came up with a plan to make two short films: a tourism video to encourage people to visit some of the most less-known archaeological sites in southern Jordan, and a shorter careers video aimed at young people thinking of studying archaeology at university. Luckily we had already recruited award-winning director Andy Marsh to the team and he developed a strong visual style to make the most of the stunning landscape.
All the filming was carried out during the main digging season in April/May 2014. I found the whole experience a big culture shock. I spent most of my career working for large media organisations and shamefully I didn’t realise that I’d had a bit of an easy life! Archeologists are tough. They work hard, often in difficult conditions and they generally live on site or in local accommodation. It gives them a unique relationship with the landscape and the people living there. Andy and I shared that experience with them, working as they worked and meeting local people in their homes and communities. It was hot and dusty, but for the most part it was also an exciting and utterly transformative experience (although Andy probably didn’t think that when the men’s tent blew down as they slept).
As a daily news journalist most of my career had been spent dropping into a community, spending a few days to get my story and then leaving again. This was a different process. The archeological team were our clients and we needed to show their work in a fair and accurate way, but equally we all understood that the films needed to be accessible. Even more importantly, we all had a strong ethical commitment to produce work that would benefit the local communities where we were working and if possible, help them to attract more visitors and income.
Our final films are far from perfect. Working in such a collaborative way is challenging and in retrospect there were certainly ways we could have done things better. Having said that, we were all working from a blank template. For example we were committed to producing an Arabic version of the film, but having had no experience working in a second language I slipped-up at virtually every point in the production process and it took far longer than we had planned.
The culmination of the filmmakers’ contribution came last week when I travelled to Jordan to screen the film at three locations. Carol organised the first showing to coincide with the launch of tourism accommodation at the historic village of Al Ma’tan. The cooperative that runs the village as a tourist attraction will use the film to show visitors when they stay in the new bungalows.
The launch was a big event for the community. Local women cooked regional specialties and organised a bread making demonstration; some of the older residents showed-off their favourite game and the young daughter of our colleague Hussein Shabatat read from the Koran. It was an immensely proud moment to see the site formally opened by Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez.
A couple of hours further south, we screened the videos at the Wadi Feynan Ecohotel; another site featured in the film. The video will be shown to residents at the hotel to give them an insight into some of the work being carried out by archaeological teams in the Feynan area.
Our last stop was the tent of Jouma Ali Zanoon and his Bedouin family, pitched on their summer site at the top of a hill. Jouma is one of the stars of the film. It’s the Bedouin tradition to shower people with hospitality. The cool breeze lifted the sides of the tent, as we were given glasses of sweet tea and a delicious meal of grilled chicken and bread.
Finally, we propped-up our laptop and showed our work. It was hard to concentrate on the screen with the distraction of the spectacular landscape and the comedy of baby goats tripping in to steal the leftovers from lunch. Jouma and the entire family gathered around the little screen, shading it from the sun, as the children read out loud from the subtitles.
Watching grandma nodding in approval and hearing the youngsters’ shrieks of delight, Carol and I knew all the hard work was worth it. This film will provide a lasting record of the work being done by archaeologists across southern Jordan; it will be a valuable resource for tourists visiting the area; but hopefully it will also have an impact on the lives of many people living in southern Jordan and for me, that’s what matters most of all.