Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar’s Bedouin desert-set “Theeb,” the pluriprized Arab adventure pic with Western tropes recently acquired by Film Movement for the U.S., is scoring standout box office success on the Middle East circuit, marking a rare case of an Arab art movie playing well with the home crowd.
“Theeb,” which means “wolf” in Arabic, is about a Bedouin boy who outwits potential enemies during a danger-fraught mission at the height of World War I. Nowar shot it with mostly nonprofessional actors after spending more than a year living with a Bedouin tribe.
Pic bowed at Venice — where it won best director in the Horizons section – then went to a slew of fests including Toronto, London, Abu Dhabi and Cairo. Abu Nowar was Variety‘s 2014 Arab Filmmaker of the Year.
“Theeb” had its Jordanian premiere March 19 under the desert stars in Wadi Rum, while going on pan-regional Arab release through cinema chains including VOX, Reel, Cinescape and Grand Cinemas.
It has pulled $115,000 in its first 13 days on release off 19 screens, seven of which are in the UAE, two in Jordan, three in Kuwait, five in Oman, and two in Lebanon, distributed by Cairo-based MAD Solutions. That compares favorably with Nadine Labaki’s smash 2007 hit “Caramel,” which totaled some $300,000 in the Arab world, excluding Lebanon, over a longer time span. “Caramel” is considered a rare case of a pan-Arab hit and also an Arab box office benchmark.
The innovative MAD Solutions strategy was to release the film in a couple of countries every week to build buzz through multiple preems, capitalizing on good word of mouth from the fest circuit and thumbs up from critics.
“Theeb” is an artistic, beautifully made film that breaks the mold of what is considered to be a successful film in Kuwait,” enthused Hisham Al-Ganem, manager of Kuwait’s KNCC Cinemas, noting that the only Arab titles that usually do well on his screens are commercial Egyptian fare.
“We hope that ‘Theeb’ has broken the glass ceiling for other art films to be taken seriously and shine at the box office, not only in Kuwait, but in all Arab countries as well,” he added.
In Kuwait “Theeb” pulled a record-breaking $25,000 in three days from three screens.
Plans are now under way for Mad Solutions to release “Theeb” in Palestine, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, and perhaps also Morocco and Tunisia.
It’s very rare for a non-Egyptian film to be released in so many Arab countries.
In the U.S. Film Movement is reportedly planning a late 2015 theatrical release, followed by on-demand, digital and home video outings.