Last night I had the fortune of getting to watch Mahmoud Massad’s award-winning documentary, “Recycle”. To say that it was a full house would be the understatement of the year. I watched the film from the floor of an aisle, while others hovered around the door, standing. I think the oxygen in the theater depleted right around the time the film ended. So suffice to say, Jordanians showed up to watch and support yet another local film that’s been making waves.
By now, most people know the storyline. A middle-aged religious resident of Zarqa struggles to make ends meet, mainly by trying to make a living through collecting and selling cardboard materials to the recycling plant. Meanwhile, the early life of Zarqawi is traced in parallel lines.
The film is essentially about the economics of extremism, and how unemployment and poverty create the perfect recipe for people to turn extremist, especially when a catalyst enters the fray: in this case, the American occupation of Iraq. The film is at times humorous and at times sad, depending on the unfolding of events. Abu Ammar is a complicated man and the film depicts him as such. He is at odds with the ideology of Al Qaeda and the events of September 11th in New York, not to mention November 9th in Amman, yet he believes a Muslim should not live or work in a non-Muslim nation. I think what’s interesting about the film is that it shows how economics can defeat pretty much everything, even religion, ideology, political beliefs, and culture. When one is forced to put food on the table for his children – in this case 8 – you can expect them to surrender even the most precious elements of their principles.
There is a very strong Jordanian-element that runs throughout the film and it’s evident every time a character says something concerning religion or politics. We have this tendency to know-it-all, even the least educated of us will give sermons as if they had tenure, and you can see that very clearly in the film. It is indicative to some extent, of how such talk creates more confusion and there are points in the film where Abu Ammar’s friend, who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, appears to be conflicted with what to believe over certain religious ideals.
Moreover, the film also arouses the debate of who is considered a moderate? Audience members will always differ as to whether Abu Ammar himself is a moderate or an extremist, and I suppose this stems back to the idea that most people see themselves as moderate and see others as being more to the left or right of the ideological spectrum. Personally speaking, I wouldn’t consider Abu Ammar a terrorist, yet for western audiences there may be the feeling that anyone on screen with a long beard and talking about Islam is a terrorist and thus this film is reduced to one which “humanizes” a terrorist. I don’t believe that to be true. I think Abu Ammar is merely a conduit through which audiences are presented with an understanding of how extremism is created, and the conditions in which it breeds.
This may be an unpopular look into Jordanian life, but it is nevertheless, a look.
I enjoyed the film and felt it was an accurate depiction of life in Zarqa, not to mention the impact of unemployment and poverty on a man’s psyche, let alone his beliefs. Massad won for best cinematography at Sundance in the World Cinema category, and I think that is one aspect of the filmmaking process that stood out throughout the documentary.
It is interesting to note that both Recycle and Captain Abu Raed are very unique and different films about different things and different perspectives, which allows them not to be in competition with each other. Both are brilliantly filmed and I believe that together, they have created a powerful benchmark for Jordanian filmmaking, be it a feature or a documentary.