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The Hakawati's Daughter

Rana Kazkaz, Anas Khalaf, Palmyre Badinier

Syria, France

synopsis

Syria 1960s. Located within the maze of Damascus’ Old City sits the centuries old Al Nawfoura Cafe. This magical place is where Sharazad’s father, Abu al Kheyr, the Hakawati, sits on his throne to tell a continuous fairytale every night of the year.

Once upon a time, especially during Ramadan, the cafe was bustling with people - a captivated community eager to listen to this nightly ritual. But as time has passed, so has the audience who are more interested in the newly introduced television, putting both the cafe and the Hakawati tradition in jeopardy of survival.

Now aged, the time has come for Abu al Kheyr to find his successor. And although Sharazad possesses her father’s gift for storytelling, only a Son is entitled to the position. Unfortunately, Sharazad is Abu al Kheyr’s only child.

Regardless, Sharazad decides that she is going to claim the throne and save this dying tradition. But when Abu al Kheyr denies her the role, Sharazad is forced to train Qais, the chosen heir. However, when it becomes clear that Qais lacks the right spirit, Sharazad has no choice but to confront her family and society in order to restore the tradition of storytelling to its rightful place in society.

intention

We got married in Damascus knowing we’d be six months pregnant at the wedding. We wanted to follow tradition, but we also wanted it to adapt.

For Anas, the pre-marriage pregnancy was freedom from the traditional Muslim values with which he was raised. For Rana, it was a way of challenging society’s expectations.

The scandal ended up being minor, however the gossip that ensued was major. Years later, Rana is still referred to, often by people we don’t know, as “the one who was pregnant at her wedding.”

To this day, this is a story that we, and apparently others like to tell. Why?

Syrians take great pride in their traditions. So, when untraditional events happen, there is a kind of enjoyment in them. Our pregnancy added a moment of excitement to an otherwise consistent way of life.

The experience inspired us to examine our other traditions, such as that of the Hakawati.

Like many traditions in the Arab World, the role of a Hakawati, (storyteller) is an inherited one; passed on through the generations since 600 AD from Father to Son.

Sadly, it seems that this has also been the course of leadership in Syria.

We love storytelling and therefore the tradition of the Hakawati, but it’s a dying one. Since the introduction of the television into Syrian society in the 1960s, subsequent generations have gradually become more interested in that, and as a result, the art of oral storytelling has become in danger of extinction.
And so, interested in adapting traditions, we asked our fellow Syrians, “What if the key to preserving the tradition, just happened to be a woman… a female Hakawati, a Hakawatieh?” “Impossible! Never!” was the reaction. Of course, we disagree. And through this film, we hope to re-inspire our countrymen to not be afraid of changing the ‘storyteller’.
We want to make this an animated film. The Hakawati’s Daughter is about possibility, not reality. Animation will allow us to dream. It will allow us to fantasize with sounds, colors, atmosphere and expressions and show how 1960s Syria was different from the present: mini-skirts, flowing rivers, a country exploring democracy and unity. It also allows us to portray things that we are not able to shoot because of the current situation. And although the film is geared towards an adult audience, animation triggers memories of childhood, fairytales and the stories we were told … the right frame of mind for dealing with possibility.

budget & financing

We are currently polishing the script and approaching animation experts. Our goal is to have those key project elements in place by early 2013 in order to start with the main part of the financing - approaching broadcasters, distributors and sales agents and apply to the various funds. For the development, Les Films de Zayna secured the MEDIA Development grant (€ 60.000) for this project. We believe that 30% of the budget can be raised in France, and we are seeking other international co-producers who would like to join us on the journey of this unique film.

distribution & sales

As a producer based both in France and in the Middle East, when Anas first pitched The Hakawati’s Daughter to me, I saw in the story of the last Hakawati and his daughter a compelling way to portray Damascus, its society, and some of its challenges. And when I read the first draft of Rana’s script, I understood it was a unique occasion to make a film about this particular and not very well known part of the world. Anas and Rana are among the few filmmakers who have an insider’s point-of-view as well as the skills to create a Syrian film that’s able to target a wide audience. I immediately knew I wanted to be part of the adventure. Presently, Damascus has not been spared any of the violence that is taking place in Syria. And this past Ramadan, the Hakawati did not have much of an audience as he sat on his throne in the old coffee shop. Syria is a diverse country. I think that producing this film today will offer a wide audience the opportunity to have another image of Syrian society; one that is still part of its culture but is currently vanishing in the conscience of the world given the current circumstances. This story is universal and deeply rooted in its culture, and this is what Les Films de Zayna has in common with the project. Syneastes and Les Films de Zayna are handling the development of The Hakawati’s Daughter. We have already produced Deaf Day, a short film shot in Damascus that allowed Rana and Anas to have their first opportunity to co-direct a film. This experience gave us a clearer understanding of the challenges faced when making a Syrian film. Deaf Day premiered in the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last year before being selected for Palm Springs and other international festivals. The Hakawati’s Daughter was awarded a full scholarship to the Mediterranean Film Institute while attending Thessaloniki’s Crossroads coproduction market. It was also one of six shortlisted projects out of almost 150 entries for the Shasha Grant Award in Abu Dhabi, where it won Second Prize. We Europeans dream of 1001 Nights and Shahrazad’s storytelling gift that saved her life. And this film is about exactly that – about storytelling and about how this possibly can save our soul – but told with a modern twist that will address both European and Arab audiences. This animated fairy-tale for adults also deals with the universal conflict between generations and clearly addresses a slightly older audience of 45+, the biggest group of cinema-goers in Central Europe and the under 40ies as a secondary audience. To target the latter, we want to create a universe of storytelling in the digital world. That way, a younger audience can dive into the mysteries and fantasies of storytelling in the Middle East and into a Damascus that might have existed or will have the chance to exist.

Can a Syrian woman maintain the tradition of the Hakawati when gender prohibits it?
827-rana-kazkaz
Rana Kazkaz

Film Director

828-anas-khalaf
Anas Khalaf

Film Director

859-palmyre-badinier
Palmyre Badinier

Production

production notes

directed by
Rana Kazkaz

Anas Khalaf

produced byLes Films de Zayna
52 rue du Sergent Bobillot
93100, Montreuil
France

in co-production with
Synéastes - Syria
Anas Khalaf
anas@syneastes.com

Seeking co-producers

total production budget
€ 3.500.000

current financial need
€ 3.000.000