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Arab Web Series “Shankaboot” Grabs an Emmy

Apr 07, 2011

Written by Ourouba Hussein, New Media, DFI

They “shanked the Emmys”!! (This is how they like to say it!) If that expression doesn’t click in your mind, you’ll just have to watch “Shankaboot’s” episodes, at www.shankaboot.com

They rocked! They shook the International Digital Emmy award ceremony! They WON!

Shankaboot, a Lebanese production, is the first Arabic web-based series to win the prestigious international award.

On February 22, it was announced that nominees from 8 countries would compete in this year’s 6th International Digital Emmy Awards, including Brazil, Canada, Lebanon, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Turkey and the UK. There were 12 nominees in 3 categories, Digital Program: Children & Young People; Digital Program: Fiction and Digital Program. This was the first time that Lebanese and Turkish programs were nominated in the Digital Categories. Shankaboot, competed in the “Digital Program: Fiction” category and grabbed their prize on MIPTV’s opening night at Cannes, April 4.

Shankaboot is an interactive web series produced by Beirut based production company Batoota films, in conjunction with the BBC World Service Trust. It was conceived as a vehicle for exploring social problems that are often overlooked by mainstream media in the Arab world. The aim of the project is to present these social issues from a fresh perspective and to prompt an exchange of opinion between young adults across the region.

Shankaboot takes us into the beating heart of modern Beirut street life, following 15 year old Suleiman, Beirut’s most ubiquitous delivery boy, who struggles to overcome the difficulties of life without a family. It is a show where you can see pimples on Suleiman’s forehead and listen to the language of common people, easy to identify with. It is not a show where one can expect the happy endings and hyperboles so common in much TV and film.

Take this big disappointment for instance: Suleiman lives to find his mother, who mysteriously disappeared in his childhood. When he finally finds a picture of her by pure coincidence, a flashback puts him face to face with harsh reality. His client, Lina tells him that the woman in the picture was a neglecting mother, who died long ago, after leaving her family to pursue the career of a war correspondent. Among the newspaper articles that Lina has been keeping for her, Suleiman finds one with his photo as a child holding roses. It is titled “Goodbye, Suleiman the rose peddler”!

The photo forces Suleiman to remember that this woman was only someone he met occasionally when he roamed the streets to sell roses. She was kind, but she was not a mother. His tender age at a time of terrible loss clearly caused some confusion. After many flashbacks of Suleiman the child, enjoying the love and gifts of a mother, we find out that he was in fact an orphaned and confused little kid, who so fell in love with the feeling of having a mother, that he created one in his memory where none really ever existed.

Elements like this create a program about people, living through the tumultuous recent history of Lebanon. It is a show meant to encourage a collective identity, and meant to distance people from elements of the society fiercely dragging them into repeated sectarian clashes and political instability. It is a show that discourages social division, encouraging people to unite under the common social issues that should become their strongest tie. Shankaboot is intended to be a social unification project, and this mission has been doubtlessly successful. One must only take a thorough look at the growing stream of interactivity in their web forums.

DFI had a chance to talk to Producer Katia Saleh, in Beirut, few days before the announcement of the winners. She straightly said “we don’t expect to win at all.” And she added, “but even if we don’t win, we will be back from Cannes with nominees medals. Having been nominated is in itself, a big deal”.

Well…win they did.

Congratulations to Katia, and the whole “Shankaboot” team.

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