London, United Kingdom (PressExposure) June 25, 2009 -- A Palestinian woman of Christian background from Jordan, Hanan Kattan has broken down the barriers imposed by Middle Eastern culture and tradition to become not only a successful business woman, but a film producer with her own production company.
Kattan, in partnership with Shamim Sarif, founded Enlightenment Productions and together they have written, adapted, directed and produced two major feature films in less than three years which are due for back-to-back release in the US and Canada in November, 2008.
The World Unseen and I Canât Think Straight are both based on novels by Sarif, and explore unconventional relationships and how women find the strength to overcome adversity.
âIn the Middle East, Arab women are not usually encouraged to explore the meaning of happiness and passion. Introspection is not commonâ says Kattan. âInstead the emphasis is on doing what is expected within the norm of society and the social fabric.â
Growing up in Jordan was a wonderful experience for Kattan. âI grew up with a larger-than-life paternal grandfather who was warm, generous, inspiring, who gave back to the community, was highly successful and who taught me from a young age that I can achieve whatever I am passionate about,â recalls Kattan. âHe also taught me that being a woman from the Middle East should not have a bearing on what I decide to do with my life.â
But life in the Middle East had its drawbacks âWhat I love about that part of the world is the food, some of the music, the warmth of the people and some aspects of the lifestyle. But there are many aspects that I find hard to deal with,â says Kattan. âYou are assessd by your family name, your religion and background which are a very important part of oneâs identity in the Middle East verusus oneâs individuality and personal accomplishments. And there are still many social taboos.â
Kattan herself resisted labelling with youthful rebellion that saw her getting into trouble for not accepting everything she was told, and questioning most things but those taboos still haunted her when she decided to come out regarding her relationship with Sarif. It caused friction with her family and some shock value in the society she grew up in.
âIt took me a while to come to terms with being gay, and in my twenties I went through several engagements in an attempt to conform to what was expected of me. But I realised I did not want to live dishonestly. Life is too short.â
No matter where we come from, our history and upbringing are intrinsic parts of who we become, and Kattan is no exception. As a film maker, she is very much influenced and affected by who she is. âI feel terrible that a large percentage of Arab women have a constricted voice and a limited say in the fabric of society,â she says. âThey are given the freedom in their homes and with their children, to a certain extent, but when it comes to many other issues women still have a constrained voice and not many choices or possibilities to develop and explore their passions.â
Although this is changing, the reform is taking place within confined limits of what is acceptable. âIt takes a lot of strength and courage for an Arab woman to first find her voice and understand what deeply matters to her as a person and then to have the courage to express her voice and to take steps towards achieving her goals, dreams, desires and passions,â says Kattan. This is why she is so moved by partner Sarifâs work, and inspired to make the films of her stories.
âShamim has very strong female protagonists who inspire, motivate and challenge and who take small steps to make a big difference in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. I hope some of those characters in our movies and in Shamimâs novels will help women to find their voice and what matters to them,â says Kattan.
Having taken on â and conquered â the formidable task of producing and selling two feature films back-to-back without any prior experience in the film industry, Kattan has every reason to feel proud of her achievements. âI have always enjoyed being in business; it was a natural fit,â she says. âBut the passion for my partnerâs novels and scripts and her asking me to produce her films - a field that was completely new to me - inspired me to produce both of Shamimâs novels with her directing them.
âWe make a wonderful team as we operate from the same premise which is our passion for the material.. The learning curve has been tremendous and the adventure has been wonderful despite the many stresses.â
Given the inherent constraints imposed on women from the Middle East, Kattan could easily be recognised as a strong role model for other young Arab women but she believes itâs most important to first look to yourself. âI try to inspire and support my partner, my children, my family and friends,â says Kattan. âI also try to reflect on how I am living my life, the choices I am making, and the people with whom I choose to surround myself.â
In an effort to create positive change in the world, Kattan and Sarif are planning to set up a foundation focusing on children and education, particularly in Africa. The couple have strong links with the continent through Sarifâs heritage, and the father of their children.
âIt is our small way to contribute, to give our boys an example of how important it is to think outside of themselves by helping others,â says Kattan. âI hope it will help focus them on what is important in life.â