When Matt Damon met Fayiz* How Fiction reshapes Reality - The Case of Wadi Rum

Bana Sa’adeh David Schessl

“When Matt Damon met Fayiz” is an artistic research project for which a robot with a 360° camera was built to investigate the impact of the international film industry on the Jordanian desert, Wadi Rum.

In December 2019 we spent several days in Wadi Rum (Arabic: وادي رم‎ Wādī Ramm), also known as the Valley of the Moon, exploring the landscape and the impact of its exposure to the film industry. We interviewed members of Bedouin/Bedu tribes about the adaptation of their traditional livelihood to modern westernized ones. In addition, we experienced for ourselves how the industry of fiction has the power to reshape reality.

This particular desert has functioned since the 1960s as a terrain for several famous films, such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Martian (2015), Aladdin (2019). On the one hand, the desert’s golden sand is a perfect setting for films serving on a platter all the clichés of western fantasy: from mysterious belly-dancers to oil sheiks. On the other hand, the desert’s landscape can be enhanced to give the impression of an extraterrestrial environment: dry, infertile, dangerous. A number of films about the exploration of foreign planets were shot there, just to mention a few: Red Planet (2000), Last days of Mars (2013), Prometheus (2019) or Dune (2020).

The exposure of Wadi Rum to the film industry has tremendously increased tourism in the area. Our specially built robot overcame hills, sand, and heat to investigate the impact the film industry had on the life of the native inhabitants, local economy, architecture, and even the landscape itself. Similar to the Curiosity robot that Nasa sent to Mars, our robot collected images and artifacts which were “left behind” by the film industry in the desert: a series of upright car wheels, blankets to hide plants, plastic rocks, and even a potato. Our investigation led us to understand that the barren landscape was not barren at all, but actually provides the perfect surrounding for potato farming. The resulting movie of our project takes a look at the ruins fiction has left behind and tries to unearth the reality that remains.

*The title is referring to Fayiz Mohammad, who is a Jordanian Bedouin from Al Salhiya tribe of Wadi Rum. Fayiz was a farmer and a herder before pursuing his career in the filmmaking business and working with famous actors such as Matt Damon.


(c) David Scheßl


(c) Bana Sa’adeh


(c) David Scheßl




January 2020
Wadi Rum
Bana Sa’adeh David Schessl