Nujoom al-Ghanem on the Intersection of Poetry and Film

Emirati poet and filmmaker Nujoom al-Ghanem (@NujoomAlghanem) has published seven poetry collections and directed and produced four films. She has toured the UK with her poetry and has won several filmmaking awards, most recently for Amal:

downloadArabLit: You started out writing poetry, correct? Have you ever written stories? What made you jump from poetry to also producing films? 

Nujoom al-Ghanem: In the early days of my exploring writing forms I did write short stories, but this wasn’t the reason why I started making films. Basically, I decided to purse film for my higher education. I studied video production in Ohio University in the US, then went to School of Film in Griffith University in Brisbane Australia to do my master’s degree. I came back to my country full of passion and enthusiasm to make use of my learning and training in the professional world.

AL: What is similar between writing poetry and producing films? Is your poetry influenced by your filmmaking? Your filmmaking influenced by your poetry? 

NG: The similarity I would say not in the process or the technicality but the way we look at the aesthetic aspects and the approach to the story or character that is going to be filmed. I wrote poetry before I knew photography or learned cinematography. If there is an influence, it would definitely be the film that got inspired by the poetic way of observing and experiencing the world and reflecting it through the film-works. I think the poet doesn’t need to be a filmmaker in order to write, however, filmmakers need to learn how to be poets in approaching their ideas.


AL: When you have an idea, how do you know whether you want to express it in poetry or in film? 

NG: Ideas are born into their own forms and with their own characteristics, details, and features. The birth moment might help in deciding the outcome of the idea, however, and from personal experience, I realized that most of the time, the structure of the writing suggests the sort of artistic frame for the piece of work/idea.  There is something else that makes it more likely to be either a poem or a film, which is the language. A film would start with logical set of shots/scenes, whereas a poem will probably start with series of rhythmic words even if the style I’m adopting is free verse rather than metric. The film script is a technical document even if the final outcome is arty or poetic, whereas poetry is a clear aesthetic form that has its own sound and shape.

AL: How is your process for writing poetry similar to / different from creating a film? 

NG: Creating a film is a long, collective, technical and multi-stage process that requires preparation, planning, and consent agreements with other parties who I would like to call team members or shareholders. It’s more likely to be industrial rather than an individual sort of craft. Poetry is a very personal and a solo experience that is best performed when the writer is isolated or in a solitude so he/she could be in a good environment to produce – a sanctuary that is so familiar and intimate. Of course, not all the writers are the same, but most of the writers need to be on their own to work, in a cell, and sometimes distant.

AL: Would you ever stop writing poetry and focus entirely on film? Or vice versa?

NG: It’s not about making such decision, for poetry will always be part of the way I see things and the way I make my films.  I think one has to be sensible in following the inner call for the type of art the individual needs to produce. The form is just a frame-work.


AL: What other poets’ work is interesting to you? What other filmmakers? 

NG: I’m still fascinated by the classical Haiku poetry and feel that no human art could reach that intensive and comprehensive way of expression the way Basho, Buson, Issa, and Fuhaku have done in their amazing meditative way of noticing the things around them. Similarly in film I still feel amazed by the work of film masters such as Bergman, Antonioni, Kurosawa, Tarkovesky, Bresson, and others. This doesn’t mean that I’m cut off of the current cinema. In fact, I consider myself quite connected to today’s cinema and its movie-star directors. Maybe I’m nostalgic to evocative experiences and watching authentic cinema styles. Unfortunately, as in literature, the majority of what has been produced for the screen today becomes indifferent.

AL: You are writing scripts for fictional films — but not stories? You are not interested in writing stories or novels? 

NG: I had a personal dream that in the year 2013 I should publish my first novel. I’ve realized that I wrote a feature film script, which is equivalent in size and dramatic structure to a novel. I’m content that I’ve put together a massive fictional art-work that is ready to go to the next stage, which is production. In art, there is no limit or ceiling as long as you keep your own compass tuned towards the right direction.


“The World’s Heart” and “The Morning Starts with the Colour of Dust” by Nujoom al-Ghanem, trans. Khaled al-Masri

“Immigrant,” by Nujoom al-Ghanem, trans. Khaled Mattawa

More poetry on Jehat

A trailer for the film “Amal”: