Jordanian multihyphenate Bassel Ghandour since graduating from USC film school has among other things worked as a production assistant on Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” and penned and produced Naji Abu Nowar’s groundbreaking Bedouin Western “Theeb.” Now he is making a splash with his first feature as director “The Alleys,” even before its launch.
Ghandour’s multi-character tale, which is now in post, is set – and was shot – in a claustrophobic neighborhood in East Amman called Jabal Al Natheef where violence, and gossip, run rampant. “The Alleys” involves a young hustler named Ali who pretends to be a white-collar career man, his secret love interest Lana, and an extortion attempt that brings Lana’s mother and an older cutthroat gangster into the picture. The promising pic just scored several prizes at the Cairo Film Festival’s Cairo Film Connection co-production market.
“Ali is a hustler who takes tourists to dodgy night clubs in exchange for kickbacks,” says Ghandour, who adds that “things change for him when an extortionist films him cavorting with his secret love interest Lana and sends the video to Lana’s mother who runs a neighborhood beauty salon out of her living room.”
Reputation, which is a big theme in the film, is important for her. When the video is sent to the mother by the extortionist to try to get some money from her she resorts to going to the neighborhood gangster to try to solve her problem. But obviously that comes at a price.
“It sort of dominoes from there. The story lines start to intertwine and collide, as other characters come into play,” the director points out.
“I think the best way to define ‘The Alleys’ is a neighborhood crime drama with elements of dark humor,” says Ghandour who also worked as crew member on Amin Matalqua’s 2007 drama “Captain Abu Raed,” the first film produced in Jordan in decades, and more recently wrote and directed the short “Freekeh,” a thriller set in a similar milieu as his first feature.
Compared with other projects presented at the Cairo Film Connection, “The Alleys” has the distinction of being the only one that’s practically completed, since Ghandour only has a couple more months of editing to do. “There is a sense of relief that we were able to get it in the bag before the pandemic,” he notes.
As for the cast, Ali is played by rising Jordanian actor Emad Azmi (A.K.A. Emad Muhtasib) (pictured), Lana is played by Canada-based Baraka Rahmani, who played the lead in U.S. series “Slasher,” which plays on Netflix, the gangster is played by well-known Jordanian actor Munthir Rayahneh (“The Invasion”), his tough female sidekick by Palestinian actress Maisa Abd Elhad (“3000 Nights”) and the mother is played by veteran Jordanian actress Nadira Omran (“3000 Nights”).
“The Alleys” is being produced by prominent Jordanian producer Rula Nasser, whose The Imaginarium shingle has shepherded award-winning films such as Yahya Alabdallah’s “The Last Friday” and Mais Darwazah’s “My Love Awaits Me by the Sea,” in tandem with Yousef Abdoul Nabi, and talks are underway with several distributors. The plan is to launch at a 2021 festival.