Kuwaiti producer talks about new generation of Arab film-makers

As a producer and director, Nadia Ahmad has developed major musical theatre productions in association with the National Council of Arts and Culture and the Amiri Diwan in Kuwait.
Sunday 08/03/2020
Kuwaiti actress, journalist and former MBC talk show co-host Nadia Ahmad. (Courtesy of Nadia Ahmad)
Big ambitions. Kuwaiti actress, journalist and former MBC talk show co-host Nadia Ahmad. Courtesy of Nadia Ahmad)

Nadia Ahmad is a renowned Arab media and film personality. The Kuwaiti actress, journalist and former MBC talk show co-host describes herself as an art and social activist. It has been a long route for a woman who wrote her first play at age 16.

Ahmad has appeared on stages in Kuwait, Beirut and New York, winning acclaim from theatre stalwarts and critics.

As a producer and director, she has developed major musical theatre productions in association with the National Council of Arts and Culture and the Amiri Diwan in Kuwait. She has contributed to redeveloping the Kuwaiti art scene but it is in her social work that most ignites Ahmad’s passion for the performing arts.

In 2011, she co-founded the Loyac Academy of Performing Arts with her mother, Fareah al-Saqqaf, and other committed women from Kuwaiti society as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The organisation runs highly sought-after university-level film-making programmes for young people in the Middle East.

Ahmad spoke to The Arab Weekly in Beirut, delivering persuasive comments producing a new generation of film-makers and harvesting talent for a living.

Providing alternative education is critical to helping the younger generation find the artistic fire within and make them feel they are change agents of history. When young people are heard, they go a long way personally and professionally.

The Arab Weekly (TAW): “What characterises this new generation of homegrown Arab film-makers in the making?”

Nadia Ahmad (NA): “Our film-makers are reflecting on themselves, which is a great sign of intelligence. Our young cohorts want to remain as close and as authentic to themselves and their daily experiences as possible.

“Unlike previous customs of Arab cinema, they are turning the mirror on themselves, to cause ripple effects on their audience purposefully. They want to pioneer change by recounting untold narratives. It goes beyond pure entertainment.”

TAW: “What common inspirations and aspirations do they share?”

NA: “In the Middle East, we have this tendency of sanctifying artists while only the active creation should matter. Younger generations aspire to channel their unique energy. They offer thought-provoking stories that shake people’s feelings, beyond the pursuit of Oscars and other international prizes.

“They want to put their pain on screens. Pain shared is pain divided. Much better than blowing it up. They aspire to be heard and seen.

“In our 4-month programme, young people are doing wonders on screen. Let us imagine what they could achieve with a full feature film.”

TAW: “How cut-throat are they compared to the previous generation?”

NA: “They are reappropriating new genres previous generations have not explored. We have seen the reinvention of old Kuwaiti women’s traditional tales. We have seen fantasy as a genre and the interpretation of horror and thriller in the most poetic aesthetic manner.

“That cut-throat approach stems from the frustrations that many young people feel, women and men alike. In the Middle East, we are grateful to see them turn those feelings into creative genius. Also, the industry as a whole could see more women in film-making and that would be cut-throat, too.”

TAW:  “Why don’t we see their work more often in big theatre movies?”

NA: “Few dare to approach big theatre movies and smaller ones are slowly disappearing. We have had Studio Image Nation in Abu Dhabi showing real interest.

“To widen audiences, we need to do community work that has not been done before. Moreover, these people are creating their own movies and reach bigger, more short-span audiences organically on other mobile digital platforms. The films created at Loyac film camp in Lebanon are travelling to festival screenings as far as Kuwait and South Africa and that is change.”

TAW: “What attitude and know-how do young Arab film-makers need to make it?

NA.: “I believe we still need to nurture a healthy can-do attitude. Nowadays, it is too familiar for young people to think that they cannot make a difference. Learning they cannot do without a healthy sense of ‘I.’ Nevertheless, they must learn the ‘we,’ too.

They can empower themselves from people who are different. It is a sensitive, quite risky balance to know how to, at times, delete the ‘I’ and tame the godified ego. They need to learn to be in the service of others through the arts to make a life worth living.”