AMMAN — When Ligiah Villalobos arrived in Jordan from the US earlier this week to screen her film “La Misma Luna” (Under the Same Moon), it was the first time she set foot in the Middle East.
On Wednesday, as her visit to the Kingdom was coming to a close, she said was going to return to America a changed woman.
“I’ve been surprised at how much we have in common,” the Mexican-born producer and screenwriter told reporters.
Villalobos is in the Kingdom with US filmmaker Laura Nix as part of the Film Forward international touring programme, an initiative of the Sundance Institute and several US federal agencies to enhance cultural understanding by screening films around the world.
“I was really moved by how open and welcoming the community has been as a whole,” Villalobos said.
“La Misma Luna” was screened for the public at the Rainbow Theatre on Monday and also for university students and local filmmakers in Amman, Madaba and Sahab, with the screenwriter engaging in a dialogue with the audience.
The 2008 critically acclaimed film “tells the parallel stories of nine-year-old Carlitos and his mother, Rosario. In the hopes of providing a better life for her son, Rosario works illegally in the US while her mother cares for Carlitos back in Mexico,” according to the Internet Movie Database.
“Unexpected circumstances drive both Rosario and Carlitos to embark on their own journeys in a desperate attempt to reunite.”
Villalobos said the feature was not simply about illegal immigrants, but also about understanding “why undocumented workers are important in the US society” in a manner, she discovered, was similar to the importance of such workers in Jordan.
“Throughout history, the undocumented labour force in Jordan has been just as vital to the growth, evolution and progress of this country as the undocumented labour force has been to the growth, evolution and progress of the United States,” Villalobos wrote on Film Forward’s web portal.
“When I mentioned to some of the students how the United States was known as a ‘Nation of Immigrants’ they informed me that Jordan was known as a ‘Nation of Refugees’,” she added.
As for Nix, screening “The Light in Her Eyes”, a documentary shot in Syria before the uprising erupted in 2011, in Jordan was a unique opportunity.
“This is exactly the community that we wanted to reach,” she said at a media roundtable organised by the US embassy.
“The Light in Her Eyes” follows Houda Al Habash, a conservative Muslim preacher in Syria who founded a Koran school for girls in Damascus around 30 years ago, according to the Sundance Film Festival’s YouTube channel.
“… ‘The Light in Her Eyes’ offers an extraordinary portrait of a leader who challenges the women of her community to live according to Islam, without giving up their dreams.”
Her film was screened for teenage girls at the Baqaa Refugee Camp and students at the University of Jordan in Amman and the Hashemite University in Zarqa.
It was also shown at the Rainbow Theatre on Wednesday and is scheduled to be screened in Karak on Thursday.
Nix said she found the audience of some 80 girls in Baqaa facing the same issues that the girls in the documentary are dealing with, trying to “sort out the message they get from their religion and the message that they get from their community”.
“The girls spoke back to the movie,” she noted, adding that showing the film, which she co-directed, in Jordan was “the closest” she could get to Syria.
Other films screened within the Film Forward tour, which is in cooperation with the Royal Film Commission and the US embassy, were “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Town of Runners”.
The films focus on universal themes such as family, women’s roles and community to shed light on the differences and similarities between cultures, according to Meredith Lavitt, director of the Film Forward initiative.
Within the programme, eight films and filmmakers from the US and abroad are selected to participate by the Sundance Institute and the partners each year, travelling to four domestic and four international locations, according to its website.
“We think that controversial is good,” said Jill Miller, consultant to Film Forward, adding that the screenings generate a discussion where it is not necessary for everyone to agree.
Lavitt echoed her sentiments, adding that the goal is to reach communities that normally would not have had the chance to see these films.
“The idea is, yes there are borders, but borders can be crossed… we have to keep jumping the fences and find a way to unitet hrough film.”