Film & TV

Theeb Director Naji Abu Nowar on Having His Film Return to Miami

Theeb, a foreign-language film from Jordan, made its South Florida debut during Miami Dade College's 32nd-annual Miami International Film Festival (MIFF) earlier this year. During the festival, the film took the screenwriting prize and left audiences — and critics — in awe.

Told from the perspective of the nomadic eyes of Theeb, a 10-year-old Bedouin boy, the film is languorous yet rich in mystery. Theeb tells the story of a boy who must grow up fast in a remote part of the Ottoman Empire, in 1916, as he is confronted by a cynical new world filled with murder, greed, and treachery.

"I can remember, when we finished the film, we never expected to release in America."

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The film's director and writer, Naji Abu Nowar, grew up in Great Britain and Jordan and vividly remembers the stories from Bedouin culture. Speaking over the phone, the director says, "My father used to tell me those kinds of stories, and I have relations who originally come from a Bedouin tribe. I had been out to the desert with them and to certain areas of Jordan where they come from."

Nurtured by his teenage experience of watching Akira Kurosawa's samurai movies at the National Theatre in London, the seed for Theeb was planted in the director's mind long ago. He says of Kurosawa: "If he could adapt samurai and Japanese culture in that way, then I can adapt Bedouin culture and stories that I read as a kid."

When Theeb had its Florida premiere in March, it arrived riding a wave of accolades. "It's just been a crazy, amazing ride," Nowar says of the film's success and countless recognitions. Most recently, Theeb was announced as Jordan's submission to the Oscars for consideration in the competition for Best Foreign-Language Film.It may be simply a submission by the small Arab country's film industry among scores of films from around theworld, but it still means a great deal to Nowar.

"That's just incredible," he says about representing Jordan for the Oscars. "I mean, it's really difficult to describe... I can remember, when we finished the film, we never expected to release in America. That was something we always dismissed."

Despite all the unexpected success of Theeb, the Magic City continues to hold a special place in Nowar's heart. Miami, he says, is the first U.S. city that took a chance on him, back in 2009, when he debuted Death of a Boxer at the Miami Short Film Festival. Winning the screenwriting award at this year's MIFF made him feel as though he'd come full circle, he says. "On a personal level, that award was really amazing for me... It was really great to graduate to feature level through Miami again.It was a really big thing for me because the first film festival that I ever played in and I ever went to was the Miami Short Film Festival... I've never had that experience. [And] to this day, it was just one of my absolute very best experiences."

Starring Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen, and Hassan Mutlag Al-Maraiyeh. Directed by Naji Abu Nowar. Written by Naji Abu Nowar and Bassel Ghandour. 100 minutes. Not rated. Opens Friday, November 20, at Bill Cosford Cinema (University of Miami Campus, 1111 Memorial Dr., Coral Gables, 305-284-4861,; Miami Beach Cinematheque (1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305-673-4567,; and Tower Theater (1508 SW Eighth St., Miami, 305-642-1264,

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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos ( if not in New Times.