Arts & Culture The Arab Art Issue

Jassim Al Qamis on the power of content creation

"I realized that I could make significant change by creating videos and written content"

.للقراءة بالعربية انقروا هنا

By Dana Al Rashid

Kuwaiti director, writer and content creator Jassim Al Qamis.

It is difficult to categorize Jassim Al Qamis; he’s a writer, director and simply put, a content creator who is always busy with new projects. His portfolio ranges from directing his 1980s play (Al-Thamaneenat), which enjoyed immense popularity in Kuwait, to his comedy web series Taqdir Al-Ehtiaj, to his online Arabic platform Manshoor.

I feel very fortunate that he was able to gave me a bit of his valuable time to conduct this interview over the phone, after the pandemic eliminated any chance of conducting it in person. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us a little about your beginnings and your journey into the world of content creation.

Jassim Al Qamis: Directing has always been my dream. However, I found myself majoring in something else as a result of my father’s request. After that, I worked in politics from 2005 to 2015 due to my desire to make an impactful change in society. That being said, I realized that I could make significant change by creating videos and written content, such as TV shows, series, or platforms to publish articles. At least, that’s how I see it.

What are your thoughts on working independently? Do you think it suits you?

Jassim Al Qamis: Personally, having a routine doesn’t suit me at all even though I benefited a lot from my experience of working at Shell. Nevertheless, I don’t find myself in a strictly-timed working environment that demands I wear a uniform and repeat tasks in a routinely fashion. As someone with various interests who loves to see change, I find working independently more fitting; not to mention the freedom of movement which you wouldn’t normally have in a conventional job since I can virtually work from anywhere around the world. Therefore, the different projects I’m working on take up most of my time.

Your 1980s play was performed at Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Cultural Centre and was well-received, which resulted in it to be re-performed several times. Tell us a little bit about that experience.

Jassim Al Qamis: The 1980s play came to me by chance when my friend, Faisal Khaja, the director of the centre, was looking for content to be featured at the centre. I proposed making a show about old Kuwaiti music, then I determined the time period that would frame it as a collection of songs and media from the 1980s. I don’t consider myself as a director, but I had to direct the show in collaboration with artist Ahmed Budham after many directors refrained from collaborating due to having too much on their plates. That was when the centre’s director suggested that I direct the show. It was a successful experience thanks to the compatibility between Ahmed and me, in addition to his striking vision, which is the result of his nature as a visual artist.

What amazes me is that I wrote the script for Taqdir Al-Ehtiaj before this and waited for an opportunity. Then, I put it aside waiting for the right chance until I worked on 1980s, after which numerous opportunities presented themselves.

A promotional video for the 1980s play.

What is the secret behind 1980s success, in your opinion?

Jassim Al Qamis: I believe that the secret lies in that we avoided using the media that was popular in the 1980s. Rather, we used slightly less popular songs and series clips, reviving viewers’ memories in the process. I didn’t want viewers to see something that is readily located in their recent memory. The goal was to make them remember what they saw through a rich audible and visual experience that would arouse their nostalgic emotions.

Tell us a little bit about your platform Manshoor.

Jassim Al Qamis: Manshoor is an independent website that publishes articles that fall under different topics such as culture, philosophy, arts, society, as well as public interest, creating a free and open space for the Arab youth to share their thoughts. I published the platform with Ali Al-Nisf under the name “beopen.me” at the end of 2014, when we were still employees. My collaboration with him was of utmost importance as he had the ability to operate and manage the project. We formed a team together in Cairo to work on the website and cover the cultural scene in the Arab world.

The goal behind launching Manshoor was to have means of production for us in the future, which is what indeed happened with the projects that followed, ranging from shows to various programs.

Why Cairo in particular?

Jassim Al Qamis: I figured that we had to be in a culturally-vibrant country with a large number of diverse competencies ranging from editors to translators to web managers, and I had prior knowledge of the active cultural landscape in Cairo. We, as Arab youth, all have the same concerns and aspirations one way or another. This has contributed to creating a tribal or fraternal feeling between the Manshoor team. In other words, it’s a like-minded cultural community in which we work comfortably with each other.

Taqdir Al-Ehtiaj is a series that won the hearts of a lot of viewers and it was featured on the online platform Telly. Tell us a little about its production experience.

Jassim Al Qamis: After 1980s was performed, I found what I had been missing as the success of the performance accelerated the pace of work on Taqdir Al-Ehtiaj. I considered it as an audition, not only for the audience, but also for us as producers and directors. It’s a new type of sitcom for the Gulf region.

Inspiration for the series came naturally and serendipitously. It’s the result of a transient dialogue between the Kuwaiti director, Yarub Burahma, and me, when he noticed that some governmental departments served as a good setting for a series.

How has the novel coronavirus pandemic and home quarantine affected your work?

Jassim Al Qamis: Some projects were postponed while others were canceled. I was working on a play for the upcoming year. However, its theme has become irrelevant for a post-pandemic era. The psychological aspect has also taken its toll on my writing, as the plethora of talk about the pandemic in the media is disrupting and raises many questions that remain unanswered. However, I was able to reach a balanced point, and I have thus continued writing and working despite the current circumstances.

One cannot control or change external factors. I don’t know when the pandemic will be over or when theaters will be opening their doors again. Nevertheless, I can work on writing and creating content until things become better.

 Your content is very diverse and ranges from shows to series and spans across different platforms. What motivates you?

Jassim Al Qamis: Naturally, I like diversity. I’ve never spent much time doing the same job as many different things resulted from my diverse interests. For example, my work in politics and my interest in public matters prompted me to launch Manshoor, whereas my interest in arts and culture has resulted in something entirely different – the 1980s play.

The media content I created spawned from my feelings of alienation I felt in my community. It was a way to communicate with others who I could relate to, in addition to spreading awareness and different ideas in society to make it more diverse and open to others. It has created feelings of belonging, brotherhood and culture.

 What are your future projects?

Jassim Al Qamis: I think that I’m still in the beginning of my career and I’m optimistic about what the future holds. A comedy project for next Ramadan and a new play are currently in the works. There are also many projects that will see the light pretty soon.


Dana Al Rashid is a Kuwaiti writer and artist. She has a weekly column in Al Jarida Newspaper, and she also writes and illustrates for several independent magazines.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

This article has been translated from Arabic.