Comm Alum Premieres Feature Film at Sundance

Laith al-Majali '05 is at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, this week for the premiere of a feature film he edited and produced titled, "Captain Abu Raed." Majali and his creative team learned in November that their film had been selected for viewing at the prestigious independent film festival, which runs through Jan. 27.

"Our film had just gotten into the Dubai Film Festival when we heard the good news," Majali said during a phone interview from Utah. "It's really exciting. Out of 900 films (considered for) the world cinema dramatic competition, they only chose 16 for the festival. There is a lot of buzz on the film. We were originally having four screenings at Sundance, and now we're having eight and all of them are sold out. For Sundance, the main thing is to get U.S. theatrical distribution with one of the big studios that distributes independent foreign films."

Majali says he and his partners in the film always set their expectations high.

"From the moment we started, we never knew how far we could go, but we always thought good about it," he says. "We thought nothing less than a nomination for the Oscars. It's gratifying to see all our efforts and the collaboration of 120 people from 16 countries end up in such a beautiful film."

Set in Majali's native Jordan, "Captain Abu Raed" tells the story of a lonely janitor at Amman?s International Airport who finds a discarded captain's hat in the trash at work. A neighborhood boy spots Raed wearing the hat on his way home and believes Raed is an airline pilot. Raed wakes up the next day to find a group of neighborhood children waiting eagerly at his door. A friendship ensues, and Raed takes the children around the globe through his colorful, fictional stories and encourages them to follow their dreams.

Through family connections in Jordan, Majali met producer David Pritchard, whose Emmy Award-winning work includes "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," and "Family Guy." Over coffee one day, Pritchard challenged Majali and fellow Jordanian Amin Matalqa to write an original Arab language film produced in Jordan. It took the pair about 10 minutes to come up with the story, Majali recalls. Matalqa wrote the first draft in a week, followed by two years of re-writes before shooting began. They shot the entire 90-minute film in Jordan over 24 days, with Matalqa serving as director.

"There has never been a feature film coming out of Jordan for theatrical distribution around the world, so to be the first, it's quite important," Majali says. "Hopefully, the success of this movie will start a new movement in Jordan to think about cinema in a more serious manner."

Majali also hopes that the success of the book and current film "The Kite Runner" will expose more Americans to Arab culture, including Arab films.

"'The Kite Runner' has reached people who may never have thought to see a film in a foreign language," he says. "Hopefully, the success of that film will allow films from that region to come here and find a new audience. Film is the best way these days to communicate with other people. When they see the characters we have in our film, they have such universal appeal that they could be anywhere. Having those universal themes will allow our films to cross over."

Majali came to Elon in 2001 as the university's first King Hussein of Jordan Scholar. Hussein's widow, Queen Noor, established the scholarship to help a Jordanian student attend Elon. A communications major, Majali was one of Elon's most visible students. He'd been on campus less than a month when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred and served as a unifying voice during campus gatherings. 

Today, Majali splits his time between Los Angeles and Amman. He is looking forward to the film's premiere in Jordan on Feb. 5. His ultimate goal is to secure an Academy Award nomination for the film in 2009. He credits the skills he learned at Elon for much of his early success.

"Elon is where I got my base and was allowed to develop my own projects," Majali says. "Doing my own projects and seeking out internships are the main things that have helped me out. And having mentors like professor Ray Johnson and (staff member) J. McMerty to look at my work and help me out, that was the big thing."

Majali is working on scripts for several films as well as indulging his other passion--photography. "I was lucky enough to get my break and hopefully this will allow me to do my work, which is to make films."

By Jaleh Hagigh


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