Interviews // Dur Jamjoom (Kum-Kum)
Interviews // Dur Jamjoom (Kum-Kum)

Interviews // Dur Jamjoom (Kum-Kum)

Harmony Witte: Okay, thank you. Congratulations on having Kum-Kum screen at Tribeca Film Festival!

Dur Jamjoom: Thank you so much. It’s been a blessing.

Harmony Witte: What was your role in the film?

Dur Jamjoom: I have many roles in this film. I’m the director, writer, producer, editor, partly cinematographer.

Harmony Witte: You also did sound too.
Dur Jamjoom: I think I did sound too.

Harmony Witte: You wore many hats!

Dur Jamjoom: Yeah. Well, as a student film, you need to wear these hats to contain the budget.

Harmony Witte: Can I get a brief synopsis of the film?

Dur Jamjoom: Basically, this film is a poignant story about a 17-year-old girl, her name is Duna, who invites her friends to her beach house, having a fun day. However, a tragic incident happened, and it changed the perspective about Duna, and she started to see life in a different way.

Harmony Witte: How did you come up with the idea for this film?  

Dur Jamjoom: This is inspired by a true story. It happened in 2012 when I was twelve years old. It’s about my friend who passed away at the age of twelve. And basically, my other friend invited her to a beach house, and she wanted to ride a jet ski and she doesn’t know how to ride the jet ski. There was an eight-year-old boy who was driving the jet ski and she wanted to hop on, and she wasn’t wearing a life jacket, and she doesn’t know how to swim. And there were so much waves happening, and she fell off from the jet ski. And he looked back and he didn’t find her. So, they kept on looking around to see like for 2 hours and a half until they found like a floating body. And unfortunately, she passed away. I remember I wasn’t there. But the next day my sister came, and she told me,” I have to tell you something.” And I told her, “Okay.” And she told me that your friend passed away. And I didn’t believe her. I thought like she was pulling a prank or something. And I told her,” No, you’re not. You’re lying.” And she told me, “No.” she told me the part that I just told you that she was riding the jet ski, and they couldn’t find her, and she passed away. And I was in such a shock that I couldn’t understand that this is really happening. My friend that I just saw yesterday is just gone now. So, I couldn’t comprehend with all these new emotions. Because at the age of twelve the only thing that I was thinking about was just like finishing homework and having fun and just being a kid. And at the age of twelve people used to call me like my heart, it’s like a tin can. Because I didn’t really understand the idea of emotions. Like for example, my grandfather, my mother’s father who passed away a long time ago, everyone was crying, and I didn’t understand the idea of why are people crying? Like they know that he’s gonna die because he’s old enough to die. Like at this age it’s like you don’t need to cry. I think I was trying to hide away from weakness. I don’t know what I was going through, but I didn’t want to show weakness. I didn’t want to show that I could cry. So, when that happened, I was in the funeral, and I was overwhelmed with so much these new emotions that was going on. I felt like my body was heating up and my throat was, that urge when you are about to cry, and you don’t want to cry. And I started, I bursted. I just didn’t know what was going on. And I started to cry and cry and cry. And I discovered this new emotion. And do you know this part when the Grinch, he doesn’t have a heart and then when he understands about the idea about Christmas and it’s about love and whatever and, and his, his heart started to grow. So, this is how if you, I’ve just gave you like an image of how my heart was. So, when that happened, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions and I started to look at life in a different perspective and I started to look at it with like I grew up, because I was like a kid and I started to understand the, the major or the chaos that could happen in life. So, then we took an intermediate course at university, script writing. I started to write this idea and then I started like, “oh, why I should write about my friend who passed away.” Because she was a huge impact in my life. Because I was such an outsider for so long. Because I didn’t relate to any of the other girls. Because, you know, at the age of twelve, between going to a kid to a teenager, they go through these phases like, oh, let’s have parties and whatever and these teenage vibes that I wasn’t really into it, and she was the only one who I felt connected to. Because she was like a pure angel when I saw her. So, I felt so connected to her. And I wanted to write this story because, as a thank you to her, because she inspired me to become a better person, to be better, and to be a better Muslim. And so, when that happened, I started to write the script, and it took me, like a year and a half to finish the script. And then the year of 2023, I finished the short film.

Harmony Witte: So sorry for the loss of your friend. That’s really sad. This is such a beautiful film about the nature of grief, and it lingers with you for a long time after the film ends. Do you find that a lot of people approach you wanting to talk about the grief they’ve experienced in their lives after they see it?

Dur Jamjoom: When I screened it at Red Sea Film Festival, which is in Saudi Arabia, a lot of people came up to me and they were so inspired by the cinematography at first. And then a lot of people came to me and said that “thank you so much for doing this film, because I also, too, lost a friend. And I totally understand what you’re going. What you went through so alone and nobody understand what they were going through.” And when they saw that, they felt like people do feel like what I felt. So, they felt connected. They felt that their emotions are being spoken in front of them, you know? So, yeah, a lot of people came up to me and they were grateful that they saw something like that.

Harmony Witte: I really appreciated how you captured some of the ritual around a death in your culture and the way that so much of its universal. Was it hard to decide which elements of the rituals to include in a short film?

Dur Jamjoom: It wasn’t hard because the scene when Selwa, which is the secondary main character, who was praying before she passes away, because that actually happened in real life. So, before I started to write this script, the first scene that came into my mind was that scene was her praying before she passes away. I started to delve into that movie, that film, and I started to write more. And because I’ve been getting so many different sides of the story because I wasn’t there. I always started to ask people “so what really happened?” People told me “She went to the bathroom.” People told me, “No, she went and prayed and then she went to the seashore and wanted to write a jet ski.” “No, she actually did that.” I have combined all their different perspectives and I found, like a cohesive story, which is how someone’s passing can affect someone’s living. So that’s the theme and the narrative of how I wanted to go through that story.

Harmony Witte: Did you grow up playing the shell game, Kum-Kum when you were young?
Dur Jamjoom: The reason why I called it that is because it’s such a nostalgic time where my grandmother used to bring this game to us because she doesn’t want us to run around the house and break things. So, she just put this in the corner and just told us, play with these shells. And we told her, what do we do with this? And then she taught us the game, and we were so religiously into it because it became so competitive, and it became such a tradition in our place because not a lot of people know about this game. And that’s the reason why this film is a bit unique because it’s close to my heart, it’s close to our tradition, it’s close to our family. And the reason why I called the film Kum-Kum, it’s because it plays along as a foreshadowing, as a metaphor about life. Plus, because this is a game that’s like turn by turn. Sometimes when it’s your turn, you miss the hit because you have to see the film to understand the game. Sometimes you miss it. And when it comes your turn again, sometimes you get it. So, it’s basically talks about the life cycle and the cycle of life. That’s the reason why I called the film Kum-Kum.

Harmony Witte: Where was this filmed?

Dur Jamjoom: This was filmed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, beside the Red Sea.

Harmony Witte: It’s a beautiful location.

Dur Jamjoom: Yeah, it is. Because a lot of people told me, like, whenever they see me, they say “We know your style.” Because my previous films, because I’ve done six short films, all of them are in the Red Sea. They’re telling me “Hey, there is the mermaid here. She loves filming at the sea. She’s considered as a fish!” Because I have a level one free diving certificate. Whenever I go to the sea, I go underwater and film, and I’ve been getting so many ideas, and because it’s such a beautiful place to look at, and it’s like you’re seeing two worlds, the undersea life, and the above life, and just one eyesight, you know? And so, it’s cinematically beautiful, and it’s an incredible place to film.

Harmony Witte: So how did you end up in film school as a film director?

Dur Jamjoom: When I graduated from high school, I was trying so hard to find universities that teaches cinematic arts in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and I wanted to study outside, but because I’m the youngest one in the family, my parents were a bit scared for me to study abroad. Then I tried to find something that teaches or that has a course or that that gives cinematic arts. And then I found university. And they didn’t used to call it cinematic arts, they called it VDP, which stands for visual digital production, because the Ministry of Education still did not approve of teaching students’ cinematic arts. So, then I found that, and then I enrolled in it. And there were two tracks. You either want to become an animator or study in production. So, I took the production side and it’s a four-year course or a four-year program. Then I started. I did like six short films while I was in university. And we did like many, many courses, such as script writing, cinematography, editing, directing for actors. How do you communicate with actors?

Harmony Witte: Did you make a good grade on Kum-Kum?

Dur Jamjoom: Yes. With this, of course, when they saw Tribeca Film Festival, they were like “Ok, we’ll give you an A!”

Harmony Witte: Something I always like to ask creative people is, does confidence in yourself and your work come naturally to you, or do you have to struggle through some level of imposter syndrome with your work?

Dur Jamjoom: I remember the first time, when you enter to university, they do, like, an interview with you. So, they interviewed me, and the professor asked me. “How do you see success, or how do you become successful?” And I told him two words, and it was courage and commitment. So, you have to have the courage in order to do any project, because it is crazy to imagine when your work that is on your paper coming to life, you have to have that courage and belief and that optimistic point of view that this film is gonna happen. And whatever happens, if it’s gonna be bad, you’ve learned from your experience. If it’s gonna be great, then that’s great. So, you just have to have that optimistic point of view, and you have to have that courage. Plus, while you’re in the midst of the chaos of doing a film, finding cast, especially when you’re finding cast in Saudi Arabia, it’s not that easy, because my film requires females to swim, females to wear t shirts or leggings or shorts, and it’s not that easy to find females to accept that. And it took me two years to find someone to agree. And filming in locations that deals with nature, especially when filming with water. It’s not a pretty picture to see behind the scenes, you’ll just see people are drowning, and the salt water is all over the place. You just have to commit and continue on. Because I’m gonna be honest with you, it’s not easy, because while I was filming with this film, I went through, like, a panic mode because there was at one point, nothing was going right, and I had these negative thoughts and ideas. Like, this film is gonna be terrible. I’ve wasted everyone’s time. I’ve wasted all the money. I’ve wasted my time. I’ve wasted whatever. I’ve been putting so much negative thoughts into my mind that I just started to cry and cry and cry. And then my incredible producer, came and just patted on my back, and she told me, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to cry. But don’t think negatively because this film won’t move on without you”. So, she told me, she gave me those words of encouragement. And in this field, in this industry, it is amazing to think about that you’re not alone, because you have this incredible crew that are supporting you and are helping you in making this film. Something that’s amazing about this job is that whenever you feel alone, there will be always, like, 100 crew behind you, supporting you, and pushing you forward. So, this film doesn’t put the spotlight on me. It should be putting spotlight on the others, too, my producers, my cinematographers, my actors, and everyone else.

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