Although it is far from pushing Morocco from its perch, Jordan is the rising star of the Middle East and North African locations scene. The country improved the terms of its fledgling cash rebate in May, raising its top rate to 25% from 20% and lowering the minimum spend to $1m.
It hosted seven international shoots in 2018, topped by JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, and the Netflix-backed Arabic-language fantasy series Jinn, which shot between capital city Amman and the ancient Nabataean city of Petra.
Abrams chose the country’s famous Wadi Rum sandstone and granite valley as a backdrop for the latest instalment of the Star Wars series, describing it as “breathtakingly beautiful and the perfect location for our film”.
Ahead of the release of The Rise Of Skywalker in December 2019, Wadi Rum’s iconic landscape graced the big screen in Guy Ritchie’s live-action retelling of Disney’s Aladdin, starring Will Smith, which shot in Jordan in late 2017 and early 2018.
All this activity has resulted in the steady growth of an ecosystem of production servicing companies and crew with world-class skills, services and equipment. There are no large studio facilities in the kingdom as yet, although one is expected to be announced soon.
The Royal Film Commission, which oversees the rebate and other support schemes, acts as a one-stop shop for incoming productions. A number of titles are using Jordan as a stand-in for neighbouring Syria and Iraq, with more international and local features dealing with the events in these countries over the last 15 years coming through the pipeline.
In 2018, these included French drama Escape From Raqqa, the Netflix series Messiah and Greg Barker’s Sergio, about the charismatic UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, who died in a bomb attack in Baghdad.
The teeming capital city of Amman has also proven a versatile backdrop. It stood in for Tel Aviv, somewhat controversially, in 2018 for an untitled Netflix series, while a Damascus-set drama will shoot there later this year.
Jordan’s popularity continued into 2019 with the January shoot of Danish feature Daniel, following the true story of a photographer captured by Isis in Syria in 2013. The production did not hit the required local spend threshold to qualify for the rebate but producers Morten Kaufmann and Signe Leick Jensen at Copenhagen-based Toolbox Film were drawn to Jordan for the landscape in the north of the country, which is similar to that in the story’s real-life backdrop of Syria.
The production was, however, able to tap into exemptions on VAT, coming in at around 16% on most goods and services. Jordan is mulling whether to lower the threshold for the rebate.
Unlike the exotic locations of Star Wars and Aladdin, the Daniel production shot in the altogether grittier sites of a decommissioned power station and run-down state boys school, dressed to look like Isis camps.
Further films that shot in the territory this year include the Saudi feature Shihana by Khaled Al Hagar, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune and Indian director Blessy’s Goat Days, about the struggles of a migrant worker in Saudi Arabia.
Most filmmakers are drawn to Jordan because of its stunning and varied scenery, which is for the most part easily accessed by road. The climate is dry in summer with average temperatures of 30 °C (86 °F). The weather can become relatively cool in winter, with temperatures averaging around 13 °C (55 °F). Areas around the capital of Amman have been known to see snowfall around November.
The capital city of Amman has served as a location for several feature films. It is home to several impressive historical structures such as the Amman Citidel, the Roman Theatre and the historic area of Jabal Amman. There are also modern areas of the city and a new high-rise business district is currently under construction.
The ancient city of Petra is also a major draw for filmmakers, including monasteries, tombs and temples hailing from the Byzantine era.
Other draws include unique natural landmarks such as the Dead Sea, the Jordan Rift Valley, the Wadi Rum (the Valley of the Moon), the desert castle of The Quseir Amra and the Neolithic structures of Jerash.