Jordan, box-office gold
I NEARLY choked on my pita bread in Jordan when Ben Affleck walked into the restaurant where I was having lunch. But I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Jordan is the film location for many huge blockbusters including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), The Hurt Locker (2007) and Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2008). This year, Jordan even hosted the launch of Tropfest Arabia.
With location scouts always on the lookout for new, exotic locations, Jordan has proven to be a safe Middle Eastern country to film in, with a good infrastructure, varied scenery, low production costs and a progressive royal family supporting the film industry with a passion. After all, King Abdullah II owes his very life to the filming of Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. Let me explain.
That story is a movie yet to be made, but once upon a time, an English lass called Antoinette (Toni) Gardiner was working as a secretarial assistant on the set of Lawrence of Arabia filmed in sensational Wadi Rum.
On to the location walks King Hussein of Jordan whose soldiers worked as extras in the film. The rest, as they say, is history. Toni changed her name to Muna and had four children including Prince Abdullah, the King’s first son, who later became king himself.
Wadi Rum is a moonscape-like area where real-life Lawrence (of Arabia) based himself with the prince, as together they plotted to oust the Ottomans in 1912. Wadi Rum is even called Valley of the Moon, and the landscape hasn’t changed since Lawrence’s time.
About a four-hour drive south of Amman, the capital city, you could spend days in this nature reserve exploring the rock bridges and honeycomb caves.
Adventurers can climb its 1800m cliffs that rise out of the desert, hot balloon over its majesty, mountain bike through the gorges, or take to the dunes in a 4WD. But the best way to feel Wadi Rum is by camel.
Because Wadi Rum is a nature reserve, there are no shops. However, the visitors’ centre has rest rooms and a restaurant, while the local Bedouin village sells exotic handcrafts such as traditional checked headdresses (kaffiyeh), and amber perfume. Other films shot here include Transformers, thanks to the assistance of the Jordanian Air Force.
While you’re in Wadi Rum, stay overnight at Captain’s Camp in a traditional tent made of goat’s feat on a zarb (meat and vegetables cooked underground), and sit by the fire listening to live music played on Bedouin instruments.
If you were sitting on the edge of your seat during Oscar-winning blockbuster The Hurt Locker, visit Madaba where the war zone in Iraq was depicted because of the similarity of the landscape, but the safety of the country. In her acceptance speech, director Kathryn Bigelow lauded the hospitality and cooperation of the Jordanian people and its industry professionals who assisted production.
An hour south of Jordan, Madaba is the kingdom’s mosaic centre, and houses the largest mosaic map in the world which is made of over two million pieces of stone, dates from the 6th century, and depicts the ancient world as it known: The Dead Sea, Jericho, Jordan River and Jerusalem among the most legendary sites.
If you’re inspired, Madaba has a specialist training school for mosaic artisans. Madaba was mentioned in The Bible as far back as 1200BC when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. An archaeological park also has remnants of water cisterns and a town hall that the Romans built.
While you’re in Madaba, eat in the stone courtyard at Haret Jdoudna Restaurant. You might just see a famous actor walk in.
Indiana Jones fans just have to visit Petra. Over 2000 years old, the UNESCO World Heritage site is now an empty city where scenes from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade were filmed in 1989 over three days. Director Steven Spielberg says filming in Jordan was “fantastic”, with Queen Noor herself driving him to the set every day. Visitors to Petra stay in the town of Wadi Musa and enter Petra by foot or horseback through a narrow gorge with cliffs towering overhead. As Spielberg will tell you, one of its most awesome buildings is The Treasury: a 45-metre high ornate and well-preserved tomb carved into the pink rock face.
What a perfect location for Indy to come upon the final resting place of the Holy Grail in the legendary movie. At its peak in the 2nd century BC, Petra is thought to have been home to about 40,000 people. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, take a night tour when Petra is lit by 1800 candles.
Affleck and his cohort from the Royal Jordanian Film Commission were giving nothing away about what they were working on, but when you next see a stunning Jordanian landscape up on the big screen courtesy of Mr A, remember you read it here first.
‘Jordan is the film location for many huge blockbusters including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’