First World War movie Theeb tackles desert location filming in Jordan

First World War story Theeb filmed entirely on location in Jordan. The director and producer spent a year living with the Bedouin to tell their story, set in 1916, of young Bedouin boy Theeb and his older brother who escort a British soldier and his guide to a well on the way to Mecca.

Anglo-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar and his British producer Rupert Lloyd – who had previously lived in Jordan for five years – spent months with a Bedouin tribe to get a sense of their lives and how they were adapting to the changing world. The process informed the screen story of Theeb, which means ‘Wolf’ in the Bedouin language.

We consistently got stuck in the sand. I can’t count the amount of times the Bedouin had to rescue us.

Naji Abu Nowar, Director

“Naji was keen to make a Western,” Lloyd says: “Both of us have connections to Jordan so it made sense to make it there.”

“We included [the Bedouin] in the creative process from day one and that helped to forge our mutual respect,” Nowar explains: “This creative collaboration played a significant role because one of their main fears was the misrepresentation of their culture.”

Jack Fox plays British soldier Edward, but was the only professional actor involved in the shoot. Everyone else was recruited from the Bedouin tribe, including Jacir Eid as Theeb.

The crew were specifically selected for their hardy attitudes and experience. Filming was in fact postponed until the individuals they wanted had finished shooting Kathryn Bigelow’s terrorism drama Zero Dark Thirty, which was in production locally at the time.

“We knew having the right crew would be crucial to the success of the shoot,” Lloyd explains: “We sold it as an experience – it was going to be tough.”

Nowar and his production team filmed in the same part of the country where David Lean shot his iconic Lawrence of Arabia in the early 60s. They in fact had to specifically avoid these locations as they couldn’t afford to waste takes by having tourists and vehicles stray into the frame.

Theeb was shot in Jordan in three different terrains,” Nowar comments.

“For Theeb’s tribal territory we shot in Wadi Araba in the military border zone next to the Israeli border. For the maze-like Pilgrim’s trail we shot in Wadi Rum and for the Ottoman fort we shot in Daba’a, which is about 70 km south of Amman.

“Pilgrim’s canyon, where most of the film is set, required a very specific type of geography. It took several months to find and it just happened to be in the middle of nowhere. It took us an hour of off-roading to get there every day.”

Plans to organise the shoot as a nomadic unit proved impractical, given the specific filming locations involved and the logistics of looking after the crew.

“Keeping the crew supplied with essential fuel, food and water would have been too costly and too dangerous in a vast area with no cell phone reception,” Nowar says: “Instead we lived in a catered-for desert camp. It still involved some hefty off-roading and didn’t have phone reception, but it did have running water and a generator.”

We knew having the right crew would be crucial to the success of the shoot.

Rupert Lloyd, Producer

Sand and heat were among the major obstacles Nowar and Lloyd faced during the five-week shoot. Despite shooting in the autumn, temperatures routinely nudged past 40 Degrees Celsius and in Wadi Rum they were hit with sand storms, rain and a flash-flood.

“We consistently got stuck in the sand,” Nowar recalls: “I can’t count the amount of times the Bedouin had to rescue us.”

Theeb will be launched on DVD on 12 October 2015.

(Images: Rupert Lloyd)

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