A huge amount has been written and filmed - and spread via social media - on events that have unfolded in Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia and Syria over the last 18 months. Apart from bringing about the removal of long-term dictators such as Gaddafi and Mubarak, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has also given birth to an explosion of pent-up creative energy in various forms.
South African documentary filmmaking team Francois Verster, Neil Brandt and Shameela Seedat have taken to heart the idea that social and political revolution is not merely a recent phenomenon, but has long-standing and powerful roots in historical and artistic traditions within the region.
In 2006, they started developing a feature-length documentary film which would look at various issues in the region through the lens of a collection of stories - the famous 1001 (or ‘Arabian’) Nights - and an accompanying piece of music inspired by it, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade symphonic suite. As the film developed, it became clear that Shahrazad, the princess who saves lives by telling stories, is a source of great creative and often feminist inspiration: an early human rights activist who uses her imagination to save lives. The 1001 Nights is often regarded as one of the greatest inventive works of all time.
Director/producer Verster decided to take the figure of Shahrazad as a starting point in exploring how myth and storytelling play a vital role in creating the necessary conditions for ideas on freedom and equality to explode into popular action. Filming on The Dream of Shahrazad
began in Turkey and Egypt in mid-2010, and then the ‘Arab Spring’ happened, directly slotting into the trajectory of the film. The Dream of Shahrazad
celebrates the legacy of Shahrazad and the Nights in the context of current on-going events, and looks at how storytelling and other art forms interact with political change. Weaving together a web of music, politics and storytelling, the film follows a series of unforgettable characters, all of whom draw their inspiration from the Nights and whom, like Shahrazad, put creativity to new political use, thereby opposing violence, misogyny and other forms of oppression.
Early sequences cut for the film have already been hailed for the innovative way of combining different art forms and for how the magic of ‘The Nights’ is finding its way into the documentary form.
Verster writes, "My previous film A Lion's Trail explored Africa's position in the world through the history of one song, and I thought that use of Rimsky-Korsakov's suite could extend this idea in a new arena. Building a documentary film around an existing piece of symphonic music presented an exciting creative challenge. This film has been a huge personal voyage of discovery for me, and it has evolved in unexpected, exciting and radical ways. The idea of testing how far the "magical" element of fantasy can be employed within documentary reality is also very exciting for me"
The film is due for completion in October. After filming over 200 hours of material in Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon, the project is currently in the early stages of final editing but still needs completion funds even though it has already been supported by The Jan Vrijman Documentary fund, The Sundance Documentary Fund, the NFVF and Spier Films. These funds were raised partly as a result of taking part in the Durban FilmMart, a co-production of the Durban International Film Festival and the Durban Film Office in 2009, which was a critical instigator in getting the attention of institutional funders. To finish the film, Verster and Brandt have decided to make use of social media by launching a crowd-funding campaign to raise the shortfall.
Brandt writes, "South African filmmakers have yet to make optimal use of the power of social media and crowd funding to finance their films, so [our] team is hoping this will be a first in SA to use the platform successfully, to harness the power of hundreds or thousands of supporters contributing micro-financing to a project via trusted platforms such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, a system that is already is changing the way independent documentary producers finance films and build their audiences internationally."
Previous collaborations between Verster and Brandt include the multi-award winning documentaries The Mothers' House
, Sea Point Days
and the Emmy Award
winning A Lion's Trail
The crowd-funding platform for The Dream of Sharhazad
can be located at www.indiegogo.com/The-Dream-of-Shahrazad
The team has also launched a website for the film (where more information, video clips, pictures and more can be found) at the following address www.dreamofshahrazad.com