Saleem was the first Jordanian feature film to compete in the Contrechamp category at the Annecy Film Festival. LM spoke with filmmaker Cynthia Madanat Sharaih on the film’s reception following its screening at the Annecy Film Festival.
It portrays the story of Saleem, a 9-year-old boy who is displaced and forced to restart his life after escaping his war-torn city with his mother and two brothers.
Saleem was the first Jordanian feature film in competition at the Annecy Festival. How was this experience?
We are very proud to be producing the first Jordanian animation Feature Film, and for this film to be selected in Annecy, and up till now it has actually won a prize at Cartoons on the Bay for best soundtrack, so it has participated in two festivals up till now, and is already selected in 10 festival so far (we cannot disclose all of them yet) and we are just beginning or festival circuit. We are very happy and honoured, all the hard work and dedication and creativity of the team is paying off, and we are very glad that the story and the message of the film are resonating with people internationally. Annecy was an amazing experience, the people we met, the films we watched and the sessions we attended, the learning experience for our team was invaluable… we also had a booth at the MIFA and connected with a lot of other companies, professionals and filmmakers, press, students and studios, and other countries, it was so enriching and valuable.
The protagonist Saleem is only nine years old but already has a troubled past behind him. How can the movie be useful to talk about mental health?
All around the world, children of all ages are impacted by traumatic events and hardships causing stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and all kinds of mental health and emotional issues, and recently we are seeing this even much more than before and all over the world. It is becoming part of the story of many children, so as filmmakers, if we are telling stories about children and for children and for the adults in their lives, this story is a must! Through Saleem, we highlight a child’s resilience and ability to adapt and the beauty of community and the amazing power of hope-filled storytelling to overcome tragedy. We hope this film will be a source of inspiration and will shed light and encourage conversations about mental health.
We did not stop at producing the film, but along with the film, we started a mental health support tool, which we developed with expert psychologists, based on the story of Saleem. We called it Amal For Children and Amal means hope in Arabic. This subscription-based website is a one-of-kind media tool that includes guides and a curriculum that people and organization can utilize to help vulnerable children in their care, these are evidence-based therapy and clinical modalities that we weaved seamlessly together with entertainment to be useful tools to help children overcome and deal with trauma. This is now available in English and Arabic, and we aim to translate and dub it into many other languages as we expand and distribute it to several regions.
Have you planned a merchandising development, or other collaborations around the film?
Saleem has a distributor for the MENA region right now, Front Row Filmed Entertainment. We are exploring possibilities for distribution in other regions for the film as well as merchandising development. And we are also building collaborations and PR around the Amal For Children mental health tool, trying to build awareness around it as well. We are networking and seeking collaborations in that sense.
Curated by Rossella Arena