Main content

BBC Arabic Young Journalist Award Winner 2015: Jumana Saadeh

Jumana Saadeh, BBC Arabic Young Journalist Winner.

I never knew that an intensive three days could be so key in changing the way I thought about something. But this was the case with my BBC Arabic Young Journalist Award, which offered me a camera kit and training at the BBC in London with award-winning filmmaker, Dean Arnett.

The Training

Over the course of three days, Dean and I discussed the important aspects of telling a story. I had come in with the idea that having an interesting character that lives in unusual circumstances is enough, but Dean taught me that it’s not: to keep an audience interested, they need to see a journey, a life that is changing, or a conflict that the character is trying to get through.

Dean taught me the rule he refers to as the "HEC" rule, which consists of the three aspects to engage your audience. First, the character needs a "Human Condition" that is about to change. The second thing to bear in mind is the "Emotions". A character should be full of emotions and perhaps the most important emotion is “Empathy”, as that is the international language that everyone can understand. And last, but not least, is "Context”. A story should be told smoothly with a clear end and beginning for each chapter.

One of the best outcomes of this workshop was learning how to use my new camera. The award also granted me a Canon X350. I did not know much about using it, but Dean taught me its many advantages, particularly for shooting documentaries. Some of its main benefits are that the mic is attached to the camera, there is no need to change lenses, it is light, the settings are easy, the battery lasts for a long time and the compressor gives you the chance to shoot more footage per roll. It’s a good camera for ‘shoot-and-run’ shots, just what we need to record immediate action as it happens.

Practicing on the camera I felt very empowered, and in full control of the shots I wanted. Self-shooting also saves time and money. What’s more, in documentary production, you should always be prepared because sometimes there’s not much time to ask someone to take the shot for you.

After this concentrated learning experience, it was clear to me how I want to proceed with my next film. The idea I came into the training with did not change, but the treatment is different now because of the magic question "why?” which I kept being asked in the training. Why do I want to do this film? Why is this important to be shown? Why should the audience be interested? Thinking of solid answers put me on track.

The impact of feedback from experienced people about my ideas at this early stage of my career is so important. It made me believe more in some aspects of the story when they liked it, and made me think twice about the things they didn't.

There is one thing that Dean did not want me to forget: with the help of sample scenes we watched together, I learned how to tell a story visually without any words spoken, narration or interviews. Filmmaking is the art of moving pictures and not a novel or a book.

After the workshop was over my time with the BBC Arabic was not quite finished. I had sessions with the editorial stuff regarding my next documentary. They spoke to me about BBC standards and how to always reserve the integrity of a film. It is great for an early career filmmaker to be aware of the BBC documentary standards. They are not easy, but worth learning from the outset.

I really encourage young journalists and first time documentary filmmakers to submit their films now to the BBC Arabic Festival for 2017, the call is open now.

Jumana is a winner of the BBC Arabic Young Journalist Award.