Discovering the Art of the Scene with Amin Matalqa  

Last week we hosted another insightful Heartland Film Institute seminar with special guest and host, Amin Matalqa director and writer of 2008 Festival Grand Prize Winner and Truly Moving Picture Award Winner, Captain Abu Raed.

As students from various high schools and colleges, educators and fans of the film filled the room, guests began to mingle and enjoy their complimentary hot coffee, tea and oatmeal. You could instantly sense excitement for what was to be an educational and heart-felt presentation.

As everyone took their seats, the seminar began with a brief introduction of Amin and his relationship with Heartland. Amin then proudly took the stage and began by showcasing some of his original work. He showed two shorts one entitled Affliction Day, a fun film about a guy who tries to escape a Michael Bolton song that follows him wherever he goes. The second short, Awakening (My First) was about an ordinary man who has a very unordinary day, a very deep and thought provoking display. He used these films to express to young filmmakers the importance of allowing creative freedom and to have fun while gaining practice and experience creating films, even if it’s just on your own with no budget.

He then began to share his experience writing and directing his first and only feature film (so far!), Captain Abu Raed. Filmed in Jordan in only 23 days, the film’s inspiration came from a mix of things – growing up Jordan, encouragement from others to create a film that showcased Jordan while addressing universal issues and the passing of Amin’s grandfather whose personality he believed was much like that of Captain Abu Raed. Amin shared that the original script had no conflict, but as it developed, familiar social issues were added such as child abuse and poverty. Amin first showed the trailer, told a little about what the film was about and how Heartland played a role in reimbursing Amin for the film’s expenses (we’re so glad we could help!).

Amin’s intention through his seminar was to show aspiring filmmakers as well as general audience members that there is more to a scene than the written word. Using scenes from the film, he read through the original script before showing the scene to the audience. In great detail, he worked to show the evolution from script to screen and what was special about how each was shot according to the emotion he wanted to portray. Depending on the scene, he expressed the importance of empty space to convey awkwardness and loneliness, the use of a hand-held camera to make a scene more realistic and the emotional benefits of having very little dialogue.

Throughout the seminar, Amin encouraged the audience to share different ways they might shoot the scenes and what changes they would make. Questions were addressed throughout the seminar, allowing the audience to engage with him and learn more about his experience and thoughts on film. He closed by sharing words of advice for aspiring filmmakers.

Once the seminar was over, Amin had lunch with many of the guests and answered other questions they had about his journey. It was wonderful to see creative minds come alive in the room as they talked through filmmaking with Amin. It was obvious that everyone wanted to get as much advice and insight from him as they could before he left to go back home to Los Angeles.

The greatest surprise to the Heartland team was the amount of high school students in attendance. When we began contacting high schools around the area earlier in the year, we learned how much the current economy was hindering schools’ budgets and resources, thus preventing many schools from participating in outside events. We were astonished to learn during the seminar that almost 100 of the about 150 people were actually high school students. We are so grateful to the schools and educators who provided this day for these students.

The seminar was another great success and we are so thankful that we could have Amin with us and share so much with this audience. Stay tuned for some video taken from the seminar including an exclusive interview with Amin! Also, be sure to mark your calendars for the next Heartland Film Institute on April 15!