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  • التاريخ
    08-May-2010

Filmmaker explores Amman’s real, imagined divides

جوردان تايمز -

AMMAN - Most people in Amman see it, many live it and a few come forward to talk about it. But Dalia Koury placed the capital’s social divide in the forefront of her documentary “Amman. East vs. West”.

In the 28-minute film, originally aired on Al Jazeera last year and screened at the Royal Film Commission on Wednesday, Koury uses eight separate vignettes to explore the real and imagined divides between the eastern and western areas of the capital.

The visual divides are clear - schoolchildren in east Amman struggling to clamber over the rubble of torn-down buildings to get to school, while parents in west Amman are offered valet parking at a private school; teens try on the latest designer sneakers at Mecca Mall, while others rummage through used shoes at Souk Jumaa in Abdali.

Through interviews with eight subjects, Koury’s film tackles stereotypes on both sides of the divide - those from west Amman looking down on east Ammanites for a perceived lack of culture and education, while east Amman residents criticise their western neighbours for lacking communal bonds, accusing them of shying away from their Arab roots.

An investor and an art collector from west Amman complains of the hardships he faces in travelling for work while giving Koury a tour of his indoor pool, while a man who works long hours as a service taxi driver expresses concern on whether the education his children receive in a public school in the eastern part of the capital will give them a better future.

The documentary hints that the social barrier between east and west Amman runs much deeper than simple economics - ranging from cuisine to language, dress and even customs - an alarming divide that is emerging in major cities across the Arab world, according to the director.

In the film, Amman Mayor Omar Maani notes that the labels of east and west have become subjective, as some people lump neighbourhoods that are geographically west Amman into the east Amman due to economic demographics.

He cites initial poor city planning, due to the unexpected demographic growth following the 1948 and 1967 wars, as the basis for the geographic divide, underlining the need for public areas to unite the different communities.

Through people’s stories - some humorous, others tragic - Koury shows that Amman has evolved into two separate cities. That it is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the two worlds was clearly demonstrated as one concerned young mother, who works in west Amman and lives in east Amman, struggles to find a private school that would send a bus to pick up her daughter.

Koury said she was inspired to explore the visual and actual divides in the capital after watching children struggling to walk up a hill of rubble to get to school in Hay Al Gaisieh.

“When I saw this image of these three girls walking to school, I was really shocked and it moved me to start thinking about east and west Amman,” she said.

The director, who was born in Kuwait and has lived in west Amman, Canada and the UK, said she was concerned about the emergence of a “classist society” in the Kingdom.

“Across the world classism is not as stark or as in your face as it has become in Amman. It literally is like one neighbourhood is in a completely different world than the other,” she noted.

For her, the east-west divide starts in early childhood, in terms of education.

“The concern for me is that when you have a society that has a two-school system, one for the rich at JD5,000-JD10,000 a year, and another for JD3 a year - obviously it is not a healthy society,” she said.

If public schooling in the country was up to standards, families would be more willing to put their children in government-run schools, stressed Koury, who believes this would create a “more equal society”.

“The documentary is a chance to pause and say, by the way, this is what is happening on the other side. Let’s just reconsider - things seems well right now, but they won’t be well if we keep going this way,” she said.

However, since there is no state funding and little public funding for films in Jordan, according to Koury, many directors are forced to rely on financing from broadcast stations, which are geared more towards pan-Arab issues rather than local concerns.

“Ammanis are not reflective film-wise because there is a lack of funds for directors to explore Amman issues,” she said, urging young filmmakers to tackle social issues that often go unnoticed.

“We really have to consider the present to evaluate our future direction before it’s too late,” she added.