JJ IN CHARGE
“Movies change people.” —JJ Khateeb
Jehad “JJ” Al-Khateeb, a senior in the Film School, has had a busy and incredibly ambitious senior year. He says without the help of his sister, Shereen Al-Khateeb, and her husband Badr Sfeeran, a photography major whose unique eye for composition has landed him praise in not only his own department, but also dazzled film majors alike, these films could not have been made.
Having produced, directed and written more than a few films just in the past two semesters, Khateeb has carved a name for himself in not only the Film School realm, but the theater as well.
In his most recent feature film, The Muser, Al-Khateeb worked with actors in stage C on a set he built himself with the help from some fellow film students. The film is shot like a play, staying in one setting (a cafe) the entire film and maintaining a 180-degree view for the audience. While the camera moves in for close-ups, for the most part, the viewers are left in the audience’s perspective.
The Muser is a futuristic steampunk telling of a world where art is a privilege designated to only a select few, the inhabitants of the cafe. All four artists ( a comedian, a dancer, an artist and a writer) struggle with particular aspects of their art while a murder investigation is underway.
“The media’s BS, lies and politics.” —Al-Khateeb on the messages behind his films.
A Town Called Theocracy is another one of Al-Khateeb’s ambitious undertakings, and delves into the playful mind of senior writing major Mark Feigenbutz, who also stars in the film. Feigenbutz’s character runs a movie theater in the town of Theocracy where movies have been banned. Feigenbutz is then approached by an out-of-towner (played by Feigenbutz’s real-life fiance Lucy Madeline). Anyone unfamiliar with the work of Feigenbutz—whose stand-up career has both delighted crowds to the point of tears and weirded them into uncomfortable silences—will be more than pleased with A Town Called Theocracy. The chemistry between Madeline and Feigenbutz is undeniable, but the real connection comes from Al-Khateeb’s personal direction.
Visually, the film plays like a Wes Anderson film. Whacky, though symmetrical and unified, quick cuts to amplify the humourous drags in time and interlayed narration all come together to make Feigenbutz’s writing, an immersive reality; one that despite the absurd nature of the town’s laws, makes the viewer want to go to this movie theater if only to catch a made-up movie critique by Feigenbutz.
“For everything I do there is always activism involved,” —Al-Khateeb
Undoubtedly political in his productions, Al-Khateeb’s own experience with social unrest in his home country of Syria informs the viewer of the greater issues that are at hand. That being said, the agendas Al-Khateeb’s films are fairly universal concepts about peace and the oppressive nature of artists censorship. He allows for a world that can be believed just enough, and mixes it with fantasy and comedy to ease the mind and let the story take hold. Rather than be rattled or enraged by Al-Khateeb’s message, the viewer laughs at the absurdity of absolute power.
For his experimental film shot last semester, JJ won Best Experimental Film at the Harvard Film Festival. A Town Called Theocracy recently premiered to an almost-full house at the Screen, along with 4 other phenomenal senior showings and a teaser for the muser.
“To market this film.” —Al-Khateeb’s response when asked his plans for post-graduation.
Jackalope Magazine met with Al-Khateeb multiple times over the duration of the Spring 2015 semester to talk about his work. In our final week together, Al-Khateeb had just finished his last shift working at the DFC. Graduating on May 16, Al-Khateeb isn’t planning on leaving just yet.
“I just want to finish this on my own,” says Al-Khateeb, whose main focus will be marketing The Muser, which is scheduled for release and screenings in the Fall.
In the future, Al-Khateeb has two more feature length films he wishes to shoot and one more short, but in his quest for perfecting his craft, Al-Khateeb’s humbling presence will certainly be missed in the film school, as well as the greater SFUAD campus.
As for this Jackalope writer, Al-Khateeb was the very first person I met on campus. He said that I looked like I needed a cigarette because I was pissed off. After insisting I was not upset but rather suffering from a severe case of resting angry face, we smoked and chatted together.
Gathering interviews with him over the past couple weeks has been enlightening. JJ’s charisma and careful attention to his fellow peers gives him the edge—keep a close eye on him: Whatever he has in the works is bound for success.