Rainbow Theatre lives up to its legacy

Art house theatre seeks to fill in missing pieces in Jordan's growing film industry

Industry, Jordan

Rainbow Theatre lives up to its legacy

Nestled in a cozy corner of the street of the same name, Rainbow Art House Theatre offers the local Jordanian filmgoer a cinema experience that is not only entertainment and popcorn, but also an educational continuation of a legacy that began over 50 years ago.

“The street was named after the cinema, not the other way around,” says Yazan Al Ghazzawi, managing director of the theatre. 

The space's rich history, along with Ghazzawi's unique taste, create a cinema experience that is uniquely Jordanian. Established in 1952, the Rainbow Cinema was one of two theatres opened by film enthusiast Mohamad Al Taher in an attempt to bring commercial theatres to Jordan. The space has been through many phases in its history, from being the best cinema in Amman to hosting the legendary comedic Nabil Sawalha and Hisham Yanis Theatre in the 1990s. 

Ghazzawi took over the ideally located theatre, one of the best-equipped cinemas in the country, in October of 2010. The success of the place is in the numbers, with the audience steadily increasing and the uses for the space continuously evolving.

Ghazzawi has been working in the film industry for a number of years, with a background in organising film-related events and in alternative cinema. Initially, he wanted to start an international film festival in Jordan and that idea evolved into the art house theatre, as he put the festival idea to the side for the moment. 

One of his intentions in the current phase of Rainbow Theatre history is to fulfill some of the missing pieces necessary to nourish and expand the Jordanian film and arts industry.   

Promoting arts and culture of all types, Rainbow Theatre acts as a popular venue for a variety of shows including stand-up comedy, magic shows, theatre and music from Jordan and throughout the region. 

The Film Club allows the theatre to bring in movies of all kinds, including new releases that don’t usually screen in theatres in Amman, including everything from cult films, alternative cinema and classics to films made locally and in the region.   

“The Film Club is our effort to educate audiences and promote alternative film culture,” says Ghazzawi. “If you’re trying to build an industry for audiences, as an audience you need to be exposed to this because we have a lot of talent here in Jordan, and as an artist you need to have a venue to perform regularly.” 

The key is getting the audience to see the art of film as opposed to only its entertainment aspect, and this is what Ghazzawi believes will build an audience and keep initiatives such as this theatre growing. 

The theatre bridges the divide in the Jordanian film industry between the work that the Royal Film Commission, the Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts (RSICA) and the School of Audio Engineering (SAE) have been doing to create filmmakers, and having an audience who wants to watch those films.     

“If you’re a Jordanian filmmaker and you’re taught to make a film, what’s the point of making a film if there’s no receptive audience?” says Ghazzawi. 

In its own way, the illegal DVD market has contributed to filling this vacuum. Yet the Rainbow Art House Theatre attempts to go even deeper in the hopes of having a fully thriving film culture in Jordan. 

“We are playing Ken Loach's new film tonight and, even if Hammoudeh DVD has it, most people aren’t going to go there and ask for it,” explains Ghazzawi.   

The theatre acts as a community hub where films are not only shown, but also film discussions are cultivated and encouraged, with film events that range from Sundance Film week, EU Film Week, UN Women's Film Week and the Franco-Arab Film Festival that are always accompanied with question and answer sessions. 

And the unique vibe of the space itself makes people feel at home in the theatre, giving it a community atmosphere, as the manager is often involved in the discussions following the films. 

RSICA film student Zacharia Jama frequents the theatre often and finds it to be an important supplement to his ongoing film education. He feels that what makes the theatre unique is the way in which Ghazzawi expresses himself through the theatre, in addition to the place's abundant history. 

“The theatre has a magic about itself,” says Jama, “it feels like the theatre has a clean soul and Yazan is the soul keeper, so he ensures that cinema in this house is respected.  The place is really therapeutic, most so if you’re studying film.” 

With all that goes on, from the RSICA Cinema Studies class that takes place at the theatre to the rich variety of films that are shown throughout the month, Jama can easily find himself frequenting the theatre four times a week or more. 

“Rainbow Theatre for me is my film house of worship," he continues. "Literally the day I get here, I go to the theatre or I check what they’re playing. I watch more films there than I do at home.” 

All of these various elements add up to create a space where the audience intentionally seeks out the space, making specific plans based on the programming. 

“Our theatre is not one where on a Friday or Thursday night you’re going to come by and say, 'What’s on? Let's watch it!'” says Ghazzawi. “Even if it’s a smaller audience, at least the audience who are there are there for a reason: to watch this film or this show specifically.” 

And while the numbers may not be huge, the potential repercussions for Jordanian cinema are definitely there, as the space continues to grow and expand. 

“In my mind this place hasn’t filled ten percent of its potential," Ghazzawi concludes. "There’s still so much more we can do and, as long as there are artists and as long as there’s content, there will still be more that we can do.” 


Deema Dabis

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