Adam Hedengren
Last updated: 12 September, 2012

A journey into the heart of the Middle East

Shake the Dust is a documentary by director Adam Sjöberg that challenges the way the media portrays underprivileged youth around the world.

“I wanted to create a film that would dignify these ‘struggling communities’ and humanize their lives and cultures to a Western world that often sees them, even unknowingly, as incapable of changing their situation,” he tells Your Middle East. 

“Hip-hop and break-dancing organically became the best way to tell that story because it is so universal and, at its heart, hip-hop has always had a core emphasis on social and societal progress and change.”

Did you ever face any challenges when travelling across the Middle East?
There are often obstacles when filming anywhere – especially in the Middle East. I have yet to be able to film in Gaza, one of the possible locations for shooting. I spent 5 days on the Egyptian border last autumn awaiting permission to enter and never received it. Yemen was, of course, hard to navigate. It is one of my favourite places I’ve ever been, but it wasn’t easy to get a visa and I wasn’t able to leave Sana’a when I was there. Egypt was easy to get to – and the budding hip-hop scene especially after the Arab Spring has been one of the most inspiring aspects of filming so far.

In what ways would you say that your experiences from the Middle East are different from other regions?
Middle Eastern culture is a paradox to me. It is at the same time one of the most beautiful, diverse, and exciting regions. But it can also be stigmatized and misunderstood. There are certainly heightened risks when traveling in the region. But part of the soul of this project is to try and reverse wrongful stereotypes, and right the wrongful perspectives the West has on the region. That is why the entire region – with Yemen being a central location – has been crucial in the making of this film.

Did your travels through the Middle East bring you any hope about the region’s future? Change is always slow… and complicated. I started filming in Yemen right as things were getting violent in Egypt in 2011. So much has changed in the last 2 years. There are lots of reasons to hope – and my connection to the youth of the Middle East has been a huge source of inspiration to me. Many of the hip-hop artists and break-dancers I’ve worked with are actively educating themselves and working towards non-violent social change and, even though sometimes every step forward seems to be accompanied by a step backwards, I’m incredibly hopeful for the future generations of these places.

Have you ever witnessed dance or music bridging conflict between different societies and groups?
There isn’t one specific example that comes to mind. But a common theme in the break-dancing world is summed up in the “battle.” A break-dance battle is a peaceful way of combating in an opponent in a sportsmanlike way. Embedded in the culture of break-dancing is a sense of healthy pride, but also working hard to compete, and leaving your “battles” in their proper place. Often break-dancers will battle opponents, but finish the battle with encouraging words. Theirs is a friendship that exists around these competitive scenes that breeds a healthy understanding about how to deal with conflict. It’s ironic to me, but poignant, that the break-dancers’ arena for competition is a “battle” – but they have a deep understanding of how to foster peace in their mini communities.

Finally, what is your most memorable moment from the Middle East?
I will never, in my entire life, forget the Yemeni wedding that I attended in Sana’a. The guests were spilling into the streets, waving their Jambya’s in the air, throwing confetti and firecrackers, and dressed in the traditional Yemeni wedding attire. The break-dancers I was filming joined the dance circles and danced the traditional dances. But then the crowd broke into a circle in the middle of the town square and the break-dancers began pulling out power moves and wowing the crowd. It was such a great example of this new kind of dance being infused into their ancient traditions. Yemeni’s LOVE to dance, so they were yelling and cheering the whole time.

Adam Sjöberg is running a crowd funding campaign in order to complete Shake the Dust, if you would like to give him a helping hand, visit Kickstarter.