Jordan’s King Abdullah II recently announced that his country will partner with the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television to create a new film school. The Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts will be aimed specifically toward youth of Middle Eastern background and based in the city of Aqaba — significant for its proximity to the various nations the school wishes to serve, including Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The graduate school, which will offer a three-year Master of Fine Arts degree, will start construction on its state-of-the-art facilities this year and will begin admitting students in 2008. The campus will feature digital screening rooms, animation labs and sound stages with green-screen and motion-capture abilities, in addition to digital and print library resources.
The institute’s courses will be taught in English, in an attempt to bridge cultural differences between the various Arab speakers and Israeli students while allowing English-speaking specialists to come and teach. The king conferred on the project with director Steven Spielberg, who, in a statement, hailed “the importance and significance of such a venture for the people and the future of the region.”
Inviting Israeli students to attend the school has sparked some heated debate, particularly among Arab bloggers, who are skeptical about the institute’s chances for success. Its supporters include prominent Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir, who participated in the school’s inaugural ceremony in New York, alongside Samer Mouasher, commissioner of the Royal Film Commission of Jordan. The school’s mission is close to Katzir’s heart: His 1994 hit “Out for Love… Be Back Shortly” dealt with the Jordanian-Israeli peace accords.
According to Katzir, the long hours and hard work required to serve on one another’s student film crews will help unify the students as they navigate through potential ideological differences. “Once you bond with your peers, it’s very hard to make a movie against them,” he said in an interview with the Forward. “Basically you’re creating something positive together; you’re creating life.”
Katzir also spoke glowingly of the Jordanian king, calling him “a visionary” for being able to see the need for such an institution in the Middle East. The filmmaker feels that the school will have the ability to cross cultural boundaries, since “film affects our hearts rather than our brains.”
Caroline Lagnado is a writer in New York.