As twelve-year-old Yasmin (played by the spellbinding Yasmine Nawarj) discovers she is coming of age, her older sister Ahlam (the beautiful Raean Al Masri) realizes that the only future for her sibling lies in escaping the fate that awaits her if their father (a menacingly perfect Hassan Mutlag Al Maraiyeh) has his way. Together they then embark on a journey through their wildest nightmares and come out on the other side, ready to live their lives as human beings, not simply women. It's a tale that hits home, not only because of the story it tells but the way in which Abu Eisheh tells it -- complete with masterful cinematography and VFX that would make a young Spielberg jealous.
A Calling . From the Desert . To the Sea is Abu Eisheh's fifth film, a follow up to last year's Oscar shortlisted Tala'vision, which we watched and loved, and interviewed him about in 2022. As with Tala'vision, the talented filmmaker's latest is a film school project. In fact, A Calling . From the Desert . To the Sea is Abu Eisheh's graduation project from Filmakademie BW in Ludwigsburg, Germany and he called to his aid students from sister school Animationsinstitut -- with both institutions on board as producers and financiers -- along with the Jordanian company Shaghab Films, and other co-producers from both Germany and Jordan.
The film is written and directed by Abu Eisheh, with cinematography by Philip Henze, who also served as DoP on Tala'vision. The haunting music accompanying the film is by Nils Wrasse, with stunning production design by Rand Abdelnour, and costumes by Farah Karouta. Mario Bertsch served as VFX supervisor and Lennard Fricke, along with Max Pollmann as VFX producers -- while Till Sander-Titgemeyer served as animation lead. But on this latter point, we won't disclose any more since the film needs to be enjoyed with a completely fresh viewpoint, without knowing about it.
A Calling . From the Desert . To the Sea is a stunning piece of filmmaking, the kind of work that needs multiple viewing to truly absorb in full. Abu Eisheh envelops the story with various themes, and a few lessons for those of us watching. But the educational side of a film about women's empowerment in the Middle East isn't what mesmerizes us, the audience, while watching his film. It's the wonderful care the 30-something filmmaker shows for his characters and the great wisdom that he tackles his story with, making A Calling . From the Desert . To the Sea the kind of film that changes the world -- making it a better place.
One viewer, one viewing at a time.
I caught up with the insightful filmmaker during this year's Cairo International Film Festival, where his film world premiered during a jam packed shorts program and where the audience clearly couldn't get enough -- of the film, its wonderful heroines and the crimson robed filmmaker who made it. If I've tickled your fancy, read on.
You have this really special quality where as a male filmmaker -- you get to make these stories that are about women. How do you manage that so well?
Murad Abu Eisheh: I grew up with women all around. I have four sisters, and then my mom's family. I don't have uncles, it was just women, all women. I was always bullied in school actually because I was not like the other children -- I was always playing with my nieces and my sisters. It was a different sort of upbringing.
And at the same time, I try, in all my productions, to keep women close to me as well. For the production, in feedback sessions, and research -- I also have to dive myself into research, into the topics I'm tackling which in one shape or form affect the outcome. In this film, for example, the decisions that young boys and girls have to make in our society.
It's fascinating because you do it so well. And you do it so naturally, and I now understand, because those are the stories that you grew up with. But have you ever faced criticism for telling women's stories as a male filmmaker?
Abu Eisheh: No, not really... So far, I did not get any criticism and I got more praise on the angles that I'm trying to tackle. And, actually, on the contrary, I get a lot of women walking up to me and telling me how they are able to relate to the characters. Or what happened in my past film Tala'vision, several women walked up to me and told me of exact situations that they've been through, that the film was almost one to one with their situations, which was really shocking for me.
And I think the key in it as well, other than discussing it beyond the gender of it, is taking it to a more universal aspect. So I need of course women to understand and connect with the characters I'm creating but at the same time, I need as well men -- my target audience is more Middle Eastern men actually, to really be able to connect with these stories. Because if we're going to see any sort of change in the way our societies function, both genders need to understand each other better. And in this case, the male perspective really helps.
I never thought of it that way because I watch it of course, as a woman, and I see the woman's side. Of course, an audience is made up of male and female viewers. You're not going to have just audiences of women and why would women be your target audience anyway.
Abu Eisheh: With all due respect, they understand their suffering, you don't need to convince a woman of her own suffering, actually. So that's my approach.
So, in your first film, it was a Syrian story. And in this film, it's sort of a story without a real location. What's that about?
Abu Eisheh: I'm Jordanian, I live in Germany and I think it's due to the fact that I feel a bit like a citizen of the world. I'm really all over the place.
I'm really into politics, and I really try to understand our Region. Maybe it's due to the lack of faith in the current borders that are existing in the Middle East and what problems they generated. I don't really believe that much in this division of these borders that I feel are a bit artificial. Especially if you go for example to the north of Jordan, and you're sitting in this village and realize that half of the people in that village, as well as their grandparents, are married to people from the next village, on the other side of the border, but they are Syrian, and we are Jordanian... They speak in the same accent even and so you understand that okay, I tell my stories in this Region that I'm from and I'm interested in, and I feel like all the struggles, and the context of it all is one that actually binds us.
So your latest film is world premiering at the Cairo Film Festival. How do you feel?
Abu Eisheh: I feel really happy to be honest, especially that it is premiering in an Arab festival. Because the entire point of the film is to address local Arab populations or in particular the male population for me. So it would have been nice as well to premiere at any other place in the world, but specifically to this story, I feel it's special that we're premiering in the Arab world.
Are you a little nervous? Because the subject matter is so complex...
Abu Eisheh: I'm not sure if nervous is the word... I'm maybe looking forward to it more. I've pitched this film, wrote it and worked on it for years with these wonderful, talented people. And I feel like tonight is the night that I actually share my opinion on a very sensitive topic. Maybe I'm nervous about the Q&A that follows, as I need to be very careful with my wording. You know, the film discusses a very sensitive matter and I don't want the message of the film to be lost, because of a mistake or mishap during the Q&A.
We love your short films but of course, I would also adore to see a feature from you. Do you have anything planned?
Abu Eisheh: I'm working on two feature films. One is actually an Egyptian story that I've been working on for two years already. We're already in the script stage. And the other one I am not at liberty to say much, but it's a North American adaptation of a novel.
Abu Eisheh: I really can't say...
Images courtesy of the filmmaker, used with permission.